Donald William Wuerl (born November 12, 1940) is an American prelate of the Catholic Church, and was Archbishop of Washington, D.C. from 2006 to 2018. He was elevated by Pope John Paul II to serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle (1986–1987), and Bishop of Pittsburgh (1988–2006). He was named Archbishop of Washington by Pope Benedict XVI and made a Cardinal by him in 2010. Wuerl is the subject of controversy due to a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that said he improperly handled sexual abuse cases during his time in Pittsburgh. Wuerl has denied the allegations. On October 12, 2018, Pope Francis accepted his resignation as Archbishop of Washington, although Wuerl remains in charge of the archdiocese as its apostolic administrator until Pope Francis appoints his successor, and remains a member of the College of Cardinals, one of only ten American cardinals who could choose the next Pope.
Donald William Wuerl
Archbishop emeritus of Washington
Wuerl in 2015
|Appointed||May 16, 2006|
|Installed||June 22, 2006|
|Term ended||October 12, 2018|
|Predecessor||Theodore Edgar McCarrick|
|Other posts||Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli|
Chancellor of the Catholic University of America
|Ordination||December 17, 1966|
by Francis Frederick Reh
|Consecration||January 6, 1986|
by John Paul II, Agostino Casaroli, and Bernardin Gantin
|Created cardinal||November 20, 2010|
by Benedict XVI
|Birth name||Donald William Wuerl|
|Born||November 12, 1940|
|Motto||Thy kingdom come|
Donald William Wuerl
|Spoken style||Your Eminence|
Ordination history of
Early life and educationEdit
Donald Wuerl was born on November 12, 1940, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the second of four children of Francis and Mary Anna (née Schiffauer) Wuerl. He has two brothers, Wayne and Dennis, and a sister, Carol. His father worked nights weighing freight cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and served in the navy during World War II. His mother died in 1944 and his father married Kathryn Cavanaugh in 1946.
Wuerl received his early education at the parochial school of St. Mary of the Mount Church in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1958. He attended St Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati OH for freshman and sophomore years of college from September 1958 thru May 1960. He then attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he was a Basselin Scholar at Theological College, earning a bachelor's degree (1962) and master's degree (1963) in philosophy.
He continued his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He earned a master's degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1967. After ordination, Wuerl was sent to Rome for further theological study. He is an alumnus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum where he obtained a doctorate in theology in 1974.
He was ordained a priest on December 17, 1966. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Rosalia parish in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood and as secretary to Pittsburgh's Bishop John Wright. After Wright was elevated to cardinal in 1969, Wuerl was his full-time secretary in Vatican City from 1969 until Wright's death in 1979. Because Wright was recovering from surgery and confined to a wheelchair, Wuerl, as Wright's secretary, was one of three non-cardinals permitted inside the conclave that selected Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978. (Wright had missed the first of the two 1978 conclaves.)
In 1976, he, with Thomas Comerford Lawler and Ronald David Lawler, co-wrote a catechism for adults, The Teaching of Christ, which has since appeared in several editions and has been widely translated.
Wuerl was rector at Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh from 1981 to 1985. In 1982, he was made executive secretary to Bishop John Marshall of Burlington, Vermont, who was leading a Vatican-mandated study of US seminaries.
Auxiliary Bishop of SeattleEdit
On December 3, 1985, Wuerl was appointed titular bishop of Rosemarkie and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Wuerl was consecrated bishop on January 6, 1986, at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy, by Pope John Paul II. Wuerl and Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen worked in adjoining offices without conflict for several months until, in May 1986, they found themselves with opposing positions on proposed state legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment. At that point Hunthausen learned for the first time that Wuerl had been charged with responsibility–"complete and final decision-making power"–for several key areas normally within the Archbishop's control: worship and liturgy; the archdiocesan tribunal that considers requests for marriage annulment; seminarians, priestly formation and laicized priests; moral issues; and issues of health care and ministry to homosexuals. The division of authority only became public when Hunthausen announced it in September 1986. While some chancery officials expressed support for Wuerl, some questioned his role and saw little impact a year after his appointment. In November, Hunthausen won support for his objections to the Vatican's restrictions on his authority from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In February 1987, the Vatican announced that a commission of US bishops would investigate the situation in Seattle, and Wuerl met privately with Pope John Paul II and declined to comment, saying "I'm just going to wait and see what the commission does". In May 1987, following a review by the commission headed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Pope John Paul II restored Hunthausen's full authority as bishop, and appointed Thomas Joseph Murphy as coadjutor to assist and succeed Hunthausen. Wuerl later said the arrangement had been "unworkable". Following the restoration of Hunthausen's authority, Wuerl moved to a Pittsburgh suburb to await his next posting.
Bishop of PittsburghEdit
In 1989, Wuerl merged Sacred Heart and St. Paul Cathedral High Schools to establish Oakland Catholic High School (all three female-only schools) in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, using the buildings of St. Paul Cathedral High School.
Wuerl launched and hosted a television program, The Teaching of Christ, in 1990 and wrote an adult catechism with the same name. He taught at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh as a distinguished service professor. Wuerl has served as a chaplain since 1999 for the Order of Malta, Federal Association, USA, a division of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, commonly referred to as the Knights of Malta. Wuerl has also written regular columns in Columbia, the major publication of the Knights of Columbus in the United States.
Wuerl closed 73 church buildings, which included 37 churches, and reduced 331 parishes by 117 through merging while bishop of Pittsburgh; he was managing the remaining 214 parishes when he left in June 2006. Wuerl's plan, The Parish Reorganization and Revitalization Project, is now used as a model for other dioceses seeking parish suppression.
The mansion that housed Wuerl for over two decades, as well as his four predecessors in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was sold since the new bishop David Zubik decided to live at St. Paul's Seminary. The Jacobethan Revival house along Fifth Avenue, at 9,842 square feet (914.4 m2) with 39 rooms including 11 bedrooms, six full baths, and a half-bath, had an appraised value of $1.5 million and is one of the largest homes in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It housed an extensive collection of antiques, Oriental rugs, and art during Wuerl's residency.
Archbishop of WashingtonEdit
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wuerl Archbishop of Washington on May 16, 2006. He was installed on June 22 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29, 2006.
In April 2008 Wuerl, as Archbishop of Washington, hosted the apostolic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the District of Columbia, which included a visit to the White House, the celebration of Vespers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mass at the new Nationals Park, and an address at The Catholic University of America.
Wuerl was chairman of the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association from December 12, 2005, and was also chancellor of The Catholic University of America. In September 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith named Wuerl its delegate in the United States for facilitating the implementation of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009 to provide for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church in a corporate manner. He also heads the US bishops' ad hoc committee to support that implementation.
Wuerl submitted his resignation in 2015, as required by any Bishop who turns 75, which was accepted in 2018.
Commitment to priestly formationEdit
From 1994 until 2003, as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl served as a member of the board of governors of the Pontifical North American College in Rome (Chairman, 1998–1999), representing the Pennsylvania-New Jersey Region (Region III) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2008, as Archbishop of Washington he was again elected to the college's board of governors, this time representing the Washington DC-Delaware-Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia region of the conference (Region IV).
On November 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI elevated Wuerl to the College of Cardinals in a public consistory held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. He was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wuerl to the following: member of the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (December 2010); Relator-General (recording secretary) of the 2012 World Synod of Bishops meeting on the New Evangelization (October 24, 2011); member of the Pontifical Council for Culture for a five-year renewable term (December 10, 2011); member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (April 21, 2012); and by Pope Francis, member of the influential Congregation for Bishops (December 16, 2013).
Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and journalist, described Wuerl as an ideological moderate with regard to Catholic theological disputes, stating, "He's not an old leftie, he's not a right-wing culture warrior. ... He was totally enthusiastic about John Paul II, and then Pope Benedict, and now he's totally enthusiastic about Pope Francis. There are not many people in the church who are totally enthusiastic about all three of them."
Religion and politicsEdit
In cases where politicians and officeholders take policy positions that are at odds with church doctrine, Wuerl said the decision to offer communion should be made case-by-case: "Our primary job is to teach and try to convince people. The tradition in our country has not been in the direction of refusing Communion, and I think it's served us well." Thomas Reese said "[Wuerl is] quite orthodox theologically, but he doesn't like to play cop; he's not an authoritarian person."
In 2009, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a same-sex marriage bill. In November 2009, Wuerl signed an ecumenical statement, known as the Manhattan Declaration, calling on evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage, and other practices that go against their religious consciences. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the extension of the civil definition of marriage to same-sex couples undermines the common good of society as a whole. In the debate on the D.C. same-sex marriage bill, the Archdiocese of Washington advocated for religious liberty provisions that would protect the church's ability to provide social services (e.g. adoption) in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage.
After The Washington Post characterized the archdiocese as giving an "ultimatum" to the city and The New York Times called it a "threat", Wuerl wrote a letter to the Post stating there was "no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now." In December 2009, on the day of the bill's passage, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a same-sex marriage advocacy organization, wrote that Wuerl had "refused to alter his official position" to reduce social services in the archdiocese. On the same day the archdiocese, though expressing its view that the bill did not adequately protect religious liberty, nonetheless affirmed its commitment to serving the needs of the poor and its hope for "working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church."
In February 2010 shortly before the law took effect, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington ended its foster care and public adoption programs rather than comply with the law's requirement that it license same-sex couples for the program. The agency also modified its employee health care benefits to avoid having to extend coverage to same-sex couples.
Response to Dominus IesusEdit
In 2000, the Vatican issued a document entitled Dominus Iesus which stated that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Wuerl said it was aimed at some theologians in Asia who are addressing[clarification needed] Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, and it defends the Catholic view of the necessity of proclaiming the Christian faith to them. The document acknowledges that there are elements in non-Christian scriptures "by which countless people throughout the centuries have been and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God."
Response to Summorum pontificumEdit
After Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum pontificum (2007) authorizing Latin Church priests to celebrate Mass using either the Roman Missal as revised in 1969 or the 1962 edition, Wuerl said that Pope Benedict was "trying to reach out pastorally to those who feel an attraction to this form of the liturgy, and he is asking the pastors to be aware of and support their interest". He added that about 500 people a week were attending celebrations of the Tridentine Mass at three places in his archdiocese. He had a circular sent to his priests about a special committee that he would establish "to assist pastors in evaluating and responding to requests for the regular and public celebration" of the 1962 form of Mass. As of 2017, the Tridentine Mass was celebrated weekly in three places, the same ones as in 2007.
Clerical sexual abuseEdit
Wuerl was widely considered to be a bishop who was proactive in confronting sexual abuse. However, after the release of a grand jury investigation report in August 2018, he received a great deal of criticism for how he had handled some abuse cases.
1988 to 2018Edit
In September 1988, when Wuerl was the Bishop of Pittsburgh, he accepted a dinner invitation from a family suing the diocese for sexual abuse by a priest. Although the diocese's lawyers had discouraged Wuerl from attending the dinner, Wuerl became convinced that sexual abuse was a problem in his diocese. Wuerl settled the lawsuit with the family, and the priest involved was laicized and eventually ended up in prison. Wuerl told his staff that in cases of alleged sexual abuse, the first concern should be for the victim, the second concern should be for the victim's family, and only third should clergy consider the reputation of the church.
In the years that followed, Wuerl investigated every priest in his diocese accused of sexual misconduct and removed several. On one occasion, Wuerl laicized a priest whom the Vatican initially had protected, Anthony Cipolla. Cipolla was ordained in 1972. In 1978, he was charged with sexual abuse of a 9-year-old boy; these charges were dropped by the mother, who said she was pressured to do so by Bishop Vincent Leonard. In 1988 new charges were brought by another man, who said that Cipolla abused him from around 1981 to 1986; this case was settled in 1993, over Cipolla's objections. Cipolla consistently said that he never abused anyone.
In 1988, Bishop Wuerl banned Cipolla from ministry and from identifying himself as a priest; Cipolla appealed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, which ordered Bishop Wuerl to return him to ministry. Bishop Wuerl asked the court to reconsider the case on the grounds that its decision showed a lack of awareness of crucial facts such as a civil lawsuit and Cipolla's 1978 arrest for sexually abusing another boy. The court reversed its ruling in 1995 and upheld Cipolla's ban. Cipolla nonetheless continued to minister to the public forcing the diocese to make several public statements that Cipolla was not in good standing. In 2002, Cipolla was laicized by the pope.
In 2010, Wuerl argued that the church had made progress in confronting abusers. He told Fox News Sunday that "we have succeeded in guaranteeing that if a priest is accused, and there is a credible allegation, he is simply removed from the ministry. That is reported to the authorities, and we begin to try to heal whatever was damaged in that abuse."
2018 grand jury reportEdit
On August 14, 2018, a grand jury report released by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro alleged that the Catholic Church covered-up sexual abuse cases. The report criticized how Wuerl had handled some cases during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Wuerl disputed the allegations, stating: "While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."
The report said Wuerl made contributions to fighting sex abuse. This includes his successful effort, against resistance within the Vatican, between 1988 and 1995 to remove Anthony Cipolla for sexual abuse. However, Wuerl also allowed, based on the advice of multiple doctors, William O'Malley to return to active ministry in 1998, despite past allegations of abuse. O'Malley had admitted that he was sexually interested in adolescents. It was also reported that Wuerl had allowed Ernest Paone to be transferred to another diocese, despite a history of accusations of child abuse dating back to the early 1960s.
George Zirwas had a long history of involvement in child sexual abuse, sometimes including sadism. He had also manufactured child pornography. Zirwas' actions were known in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as early as 1987, but he continued in ministry when Wuerl became bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988. In 1989, Wuerl authorized a $900,000 settlement, with confidentiality clauses, with two of Zirwas' victims, but Zirwas remained in ministry until at least 1991 despite further complaints. After another complaint was made, Wuerl removed Zirwas in 1996. Eventually Zirwas moved to Cuba, where he was murdered in 2001.
Reactions to reportEdit
After the report was released, Wuerl launched a website, "The Wuerl Record," containing a defense of his actions during that era. After an outcry on social media, the website was deleted and replaced with a redirect. Wuerl insisted that in responding to sexual abuse claims, he had "acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."
After the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report the Cardinal further faced "intense scrutiny" regarding his handling of sex abuse cases in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said Wuerl "has no intention of resigning."
On August 20, 2018, Ave Maria Press announced that the release of a book written by Wuerl titled What Do You Want to Know? A Pastor’s Response to the Most Challenging Questions About the Catholic Faith had been "indefinitely postponed." It had been scheduled for release in October 2018.
On August 22, 2018, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik approved decisions by the boards of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School and Catholic High Schools of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to grant Wuerl's request to remove his name from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. The school will revert to its previous name, North Catholic High School. The decision was made after thousands petitioned for the change.
In response to the allegations against Wuerl, Hugh Hewitt demanded that Wuerl be dismissed as archbishop of Washington and resign from the College of Cardinals. More pleas for resignation followed. In a few days time over 60,000 people signed a petition to Pope Francis to remove Wuerl. In what CNN called a "growing Catholic insurgency," Wuerl faced more calls for his resignation, including from a priest in his archdiocese and many laymen.
At the end of August, Wuerl flew to Rome, where he met with Pope Francis. The pope instructed Wuerl to confer with the priests of the archdiocese regarding his next steps. On September 3, Wuerl met with more than a hundred priests of the archdiocese. He told them he knew nothing about the allegations against McCarrick until they became public. Many priests offered their views; some encouraged Wuerl to resign while others encouraged him to "stay and be part of the church's healing process."
On September 8, Deacon James Garcia, the master of ceremonies at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, informed Wuerl that he was refusing to celebrate Mass with him anymore, due to his handling of sexual abuse cases, and asked him to resign. Garcia also denied that this refusal to serve with Wuerl violated his vow of obedience to Wuerl as his bishop.
On August 25, 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released an 11-page letter describing a series of warnings to the Vatican on sexual misconduct by Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Wuerl's predecessor as Archbishop of Washington. Viganò stated that he had discussed McCarrick's conduct and the penalties surrounding it with Wuerl. After the report was released, Wuerl, through a spokesman, denied that he was aware of McCarrick's misconduct prior to his removal from ministry on June 20, 2018.
Alexandra Desantis of National Review wrote that Wuerl's claim that he knew nothing "borders on the absurd." Desantis concluded that if Wuerl's account regarding McCarrick is truthful, he is "the Church's most oblivious cleric."
Resignation as Archbishop of WashingtonEdit
On October 12, 2018, Pope Francis accepted Wuerl's resignation. Wuerl had submitted a letter of resignation in 2015, as required of any Bishop who turns 75; The Pope did not request his retirement.
Wuerl planned to resign in September and meet with Pope Francis before doing so. This did not happen and the Pope accepted his resignation via a letter. The letter said that Wuerl had sent a new letter to the Pope requesting his resignation on September 21. Francis appointed him to serve as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., until his successor is appointed.
Pope Francis praised Wuerl as a "model bishop" and his reply to the resignation offered this comment: "You have sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes." Reporters with the Associated Press indicated that the Pope's letter implied that the cardinal had been a "scapegoat" in the sex abuse scandal. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro criticized the Pope's decision to allow Wuerl to resign without facing stronger consequences.
On October 12, Wuerl wrote to members of the archdiocese and said, "I am sorry and ask for healing for all of those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the Church's ministers. I also beg forgiveness on behalf of Church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted."
A New York Times' editorial said that Pope Francis "misses the point," and that Wuerl was "immersed in a clerical culture that hid pedophilic crimes behind euphemisms, conducted unprofessional investigations and evaluations of accused priests, kept acknowledged cases of sex abuse secret from parish communities and avoided reporting the abuse to police."
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- A Visit to the Vatican: For Young People (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981)
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Pastoral letters as Archbishop of WashingtonEdit
- "Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge" (So Católico Hoy: Identidad católica en una época de desafíos), May 24, 2015
- "Manifesting the Kingdom: A Pastoral Letter on the First Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington" (La Manifestación del Reino), June 8, 2014
- The Church, Our Spiritual Home (La Iglesia, Nuestro Hogar Espiritual), September 14, 2012
- "Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision", August 23, 2010
- "God's Mercy and Loving Presence" (La Misericordia y la Amorosa Presencia de Dios), January 3, 2010
- "Belonging to God's Family" (Pertenciendo a la Familia de Dios), January 25, 2009
- "Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence", September 14, 2008
- "Reflections on God's Mercy And Our Forgiveness" (Reflexiones sobre la Misericordia de Dios y el Perdón), January 1, 2008
- "God's Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance" (La Misericordia de Dios y el Sacramento de la Penitencia), January 8, 2007
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Donald Wuerl.|
- "Wuerl Card. Donald William". Holy See Press Office. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington Official Site
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh History of Bishops webpage
- on YouTube
|Catholic Church titles|
| Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle
| Bishop of Pittsburgh
| Archbishop of Washington
|— TITULAR —
Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli