Browsing News Entries

Analysis: The fall of Cardinal Wuerl

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- For the last six months, Cardinal Donald Wuerl has managed to keep his head above water amid dogged and persistent criticism of his leadership. The cardinal managed to draw praise from the pope even while his priests and parishioners called for his ouster from Washington, DC, and he managed to remain in a leadership position in Washington’s archdiocese even amid a growing body of concern about his ability to lead a diocese at all.

 

But this week, Wuerl seems to have reached the end of whatever combination of luck and skill has kept him on his feet.

 

It now looks clear that Wuerl’s mandate to lead, and whatever was left of his legacy as a reformer, are gone. All that is left now is for the pope to announce his successor, and for Wuerl to make his quiet exit from public life.

 

CNA reported last week that in 2004 Wuerl was made aware of an allegation that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had engaged in inappropriate behavior with seminarians. This was a surprise to some, since Wuerl has denied for months that he had ever heard even rumors about McCarrick’s alleged sexual behavior.

 

Set against last week’s revelation, Wuerl’s seven months of denial appear to undercut completely his decades-long career, which until the events of the last year was marked by a reputation for competence and reliability.

 

After months of repeated and increasingly narrow denials, news that Wuerl forwarded 14 years ago a direct accusation against McCarrick to Rome is seen nearly everywhere as the final blow to the cardinal’s credibility.

 

Wuerl is the Archdiocese of Washington’s apostolic administrator, essentially a placeholder for his own successor. His resignation as Washington’s archbishop was accepted by Pope Francis in October 2018. At that time, the move was widely understood as a response to the cumulative weight of scandal following the McCarrick revelations and the July release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse, in which he was named more than 200 times.

 

Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop with reluctance, heaping praise on the cardinal as he did so.

 

“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. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” the pope wrote in October.

 

In the light of last week’s revelations, that praise now looks, to many Catholics, to have been seriously misplaced.

 

--

 

When the first accusation against McCarrick was made public in June last year, involving the abuse of a minor, Wuerl spoke of his “shock and sadness.”

 

In the following weeks, numerous accusations surfaced about McCarrick’s conduct with seminarians in the now-famous beach house, and even in the cathedral rectory in Newark.

 

Wuerl was repeatedly asked what he knew about McCarrick’s apparently serial misconduct with minors, priests, and seminarians. The cardinal responded, on camera, that he had never even heard rumors about his predecessor.

 

In a private address to Washington priests about the subject last summer, Wuerl joked that bishops are “often the last to know” about widespread rumors.

 

His tone shifted after it was discovered that he had known for more than a decade that McCarrick was accused of sexual improprieties with seminarians.

 

In a letter to Washington priests sent Saturday, Wuerl said that when he “stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors [about McCarrick],” his denial “was in the context of the charges of sexual abuse of minors, which at the time was the focus of discussion and media attention.”

 

“While one may interpret my statement in a different context,” he wrote, “the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior concern his abuse of minors.”

 

On several occasions last year, a spokesman for Wuerl told CNA that the cardinal took “no particular interest” in where McCarrick lived or ministered during his retirement - especially as it pertained to his contact with seminarians. CNA was told Wuerl was unaware of any reason he should be concerned about McCarrick’s seminary domicile.

 

Wuerl told priests this weekend that his words were being placed in a “different context” than one in which he said them. The effect of his denials seems to be that his entire life of ministry is now being evaluated in a “different context” than the one he would have preferred.

 

--

 

In August 2018, former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released his first “testimony,” a letter that alleged, among many other accusations, that McCarrick’s life and ministry had been restricted in his retirement by order of Pope Benedict XVI.

 

Vigano charged that McCarrick had been ordered out of the seminary where he lived, and that Wuerl was well aware of both his predecessor’s situation and of Rome’s efforts to curtail his ministry. Wuerl denied ever receiving specific “documents or information” about any such restrictions, despite conceding that he had intervened to cancel an event at which McCarrick was due to address aspiring seminarians.

 

In the weeks and months following Vigano’s intervention, as some of Vigano’s assertions were confirmed, Cardinal Wuerl’s denials became markedly more narrow and carefully worded.

 

CNA also discovered that, even after Wuerl had first been informed of the New York allegation against McCarrick in 2017, he declined to warn the religious order providing McCarrick with seminarians to serve as his personal staff - much to their frequent discomfort.

 

Despite that, Wuerl’s supporters have been willing to believe, until now, that his apparent inaction in Washington must be the result of some misunderstanding.

 

Just a few months ago, Wuerl still enjoyed support from Church watchers who felt he was being unfairly singled out, and his quiet support for a new phase of reforms held weight in Rome.

 

In the light of last week’s revelation, most now agree that Wuerl’s failure to act on or acknowledge what he now says he learned in 2004 marks the final landslide in the erosion of his reputation as a credible reformer on the issue of sexual abuse.

 

--

 

As the bishops of the United States gathered at Mundelein Seminary for a retreat earlier this month, they received a letter from Pope Francis underscoring the “crisis of credibility” facing the US hierarchy.

 

During the 2018 U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Baltimore last November, Wuerl spoke from the floor, recalling that in 2002 St. John Paul II invited the U.S. bishops to begin “a time of profound purification, not just personal but institutional.”

 

“That frame of reference has to be with us today,” he told the bishops.

 

“Transparency on the level of a diocese but [also] transparency on the level of all of us working together: I think that is going to be a very significant factor,” he said.

 

“We’ve come a long way since 2002, but we still have some way to go.”

 

“Part of purification is [that] sometimes we simply have to take personal responsibility,” Wuerl told the bishops.

 

The conclusion now being drawn is that, by his own measure, Wuerl cannot now continue even as administrator of the archdiocese he once led.

 

--

 

For decades, Wuerl was known for advancing policies and systems to deal quickly and efficiently with accusations of abuse against priests. But, when asked about McCarrick in June 2018, his first instinct - conscious or otherwise - was to dissemble. In that, it has been observed, he appears now to embody the cause of, not the solution to, the “crisis of credibility” the pope identified.

 

Wuerl’s eventual departure from Washington is a coming certainty. But the mere appointment of a successor is in itself unlikely to quiet those outraged by last week’s revelation.

 

Wuerl’s “precision of language” in recent months, many fear, has effectively salted the earth behind him.

 

A consensus has formed that Wuerl’s response to questions about McCarrick betrays a culture of evasion, even among those bishops with the strongest reforming credentials.

 

Wuerl’s example, it seems, demonstrates that no bishop armed only with policies can bring systemic change to an episcopal culture which turns inwards in the face of hard truths. Individuals, many are saying, not policies create and sustain that culture, and it is they that need systemic change - beginning with Wuerl. As Pope Francis has argued to the U.S. bishops, integrity must precede policy if policy is to have any effect.

 

Facing a diocese and a city hardened against him even before he arrives, Wuerl’s eventual successor is likely to need near heroic reserves of sincerity and humility in the face of the Church’s failings.

 

Washington Catholics are saying they want a bishop with the courage to make decisions rooted in truth and justice, not policy and procedure, and one with the mind and heart to explain those decisions patiently, and without reservation, to a world which may not understand or accept them.

 

They are praying they receive such a shepherd, and soon.

Judges block Little Sisters' religious exemption from contraception mandate

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 14, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Judges in California and Pennsylvania have issued injunctions against a Trump administration rule that would allow the Little Sisters of the Poor and similar groups to claim a religious exemption against the Department of Health and Human Services so-called Contraception Mandate.

Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for Northern California issued a preliminary injunction Jan. 13 that affects 13 states plus the District of Columbia in the case State of California v. HHS. Gillam declined to issue the nationwide injunction requested by the plaintiffs, the attorneys general of several states led by California.

Responding to the ruling, Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Sunday’s decision “will allow politicians to threaten the rights of religious women like the Little Sisters of the Poor,” whom the Becket Fund represents.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a nationwide injunction blocking the same rule in her decision for the case Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump.

“We never wanted this fight, and we regret that after a long legal battle it is still not over,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“We pray that we can once again devote our lives to our ministry of serving the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years without being forced to violate our faith.”

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a new rule that would expand the eligibility of groups to claim religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate. The new rule was set to go into effect on Monday.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra filed suit against the Trump administration over the new rule shortly after it was announced, and was joined by 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and many other religious-based organizations, were not eligible under previous religious exemptions to the mandate since they do not exclusively employ or serve people of their religion.

The Sisters argue that forcing them to offer an insurance plan that provides birth control pills and devices to their employees would violate their religious beliefs.

Rienzi said in a statement Monday that the Little Sisters will return to court to fight the injunctions.

“Now the nuns are forced to keep fighting this unnecessary lawsuit to protect their ability to focus on caring for the poor,” said Rienzi.

“We are confident these decisions will be overturned.”

Indulgence available for participants in National Prayer Vigil for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See has granted that a plenary indulgence may be obtained by those who participate in the National Prayer Vigil for Life or other sacred celebrations surrounding the March for Life, being held Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C.

“The Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See has granted a plenary indulgence that may be obtained, under the usual conditions, by those who participate in the sacred celebrations carried out on January 17 and 18,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington said in a statement on the March for Life. “The elderly, sick and homebound may also gain a plenary indulgence if they spiritually unite themselves to these events and make their prayer and penance an offering to God.”

Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that “the Vatican has granted that a plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions by participating in the National Prayer Vigil for Life, as well as the other sacred celebrations surrounding the March for Life.”

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence which must be met are: that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, have complete detachment from sin, and pray for the Pope's intentions. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

The National Prayer Vigil for Life will be held Jan. 17-18 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil begins with a Mass said by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the US bishops' pro-life committee. It continues through the night with confessions, rosary, Compline in the Byzantine rite, Holy Hours, Lauds, and Benediction. The vigil concludes with a Mass said by Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond.

The March for Life, an annual peaceful protest against abortion, will take place at the National Mall Jan. 18. The 2019 march's theme is “Unique From Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science”.

The march is held to oppose publicly the US Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across the country. It remains one of the largest political protests in the United States today.

In addition to the March for Life, Bishop Burbidge noted the Diocese of Arlington's Life Is VERY Good Evening of Prayer, Rally, and Mass, being held Jan. 17-18 in Fairfax.

Along with the March for Life, the US bishops' conference is promoting 9 Days for Life, a Jan. 14-22 novena.

“Even if you cannot attend the Prayer Vigil or the March, you can always remain united in the cause of life through prayer,” Talalas said.

Bishop Burbidge wrote that January “provides us with opportunities to express our belief in the dignity and value of all human life and to provide public witness that we will not be silent when injustices like abortion continue to have a place in our society. Each year, people from around the country gather in our nation’s capital for the March for Life. I take this opportunity to thank all who travel from great distances to take part in public action on behalf of those who cannot speak out for themselves.”

“I pray that one day we, united in prayer, and persistent in our advocacy for the unborn and the vulnerable, will root out any instance of injustice or violence again human life,” Bishop Burbidge wrote.

Caritas Rome will continue receiving Trevi Fountain coins, mayor clarifies

Rome, Italy, Jan 14, 2019 / 01:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After several weeks of confusion, the mayor of Rome has clarified that coins scooped from the famous Trevi Fountain will not be used to pay for city council maintenance projects, but instead will continue to go to Caritas, a Catholic charity that helps Rome’s poor and homeless.

“Caritas and all the thousands of people it helps can rest assured,” Mayor Virginia Raggi told L'Osservatore Romano Jan. 14.

“I personally guarantee that this administration will never take away its contribution. On the issue of the coins, I confirm that they will continue to go to the charity. No one ever considered taking them away.”

Caritas Rome has been the beneficiary of the coins since 2001. Visitors to Rome toss about €1.5 million ($1.7 million) worth of coins into the Trevi Fountain each year, which represents about 15 percent of Caritas’ charitable budget. The funds are mainly used for housing for the homeless, soup kitchens, and parish-based services for struggling families.  

Rome’s City Council approved a proposal at the end of Dec. 2018 to use the funds gathered from the fountain for “maintenance of cultural sites and social welfare projects” starting April 1, the Telegraph reports.

An article denouncing the city council’s decision appeared in Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, on Jan. 12. Raggi now says the purpose of the December plan was merely to get an accurate count of the money in the fountains.

Raggi said the city’s utility company, ACEA, will be responsible for cleaning, sorting, and counting the coins under the new plan, a job previously done by Caritas volunteers.

In addition, Raggi announced that coins collected from other fountains in the city would also be given to the charity, to the tune of an extra €200,000.

Under the previous arrangement, ACEA periodically emptied the fountain and presented the coins to Caritas officials in the presence of the police. Caritas volunteers then dried, cleaned, separated by currency, counted and deposited the coins in the bank. Caritas provided a quarterly report to the city of how the funds were used, according to Avvenire.

The city council first proposed using the Trevi Fountain funds for its own purposes in Dec. 2017, but the plan was delayed for a year.

In 2016 the city of Rome had an estimated €14 billion in public debt, and the city council is facing mounting pressure to fix dangerous roads and pavements in the city.

 

Church in DRC urges pressure on electoral commission over disputed vote

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jan 14, 2019 / 10:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a disputed presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the nation's bishops have asked the UN Security Council to push the election commission to publish data from the vote.

Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, president of the Congolese bishops' conference, told the UN Jan. 11 that the commission's announcement that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi had won the Dec. 30 election did not correspond with the result of Catholic vote monitors.

The AP reported that Archbishop Utembi said publishing the data will enable the candidates to compare their numbers with the commission's results.

“This might dispel doubts among the population as to the outcome and may therefore set minds at rest,” he added.

The Congolese bishops' conference hopes that the UN Security Council will ask stakeholders to “prioritize the path of truth and peace while awaiting the outcome,” in case of a challenge.

The National Election Commission has announced that Tshisekedi had won the presidential election with 38.6 percent of the vote, just surpassing another opposition leader, former oil executive Martin Fayulu, who had 34.8 percent.

The two major opposition candidates both finished well ahead of former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who had been officially backed by outgoing President Joseph Kabila but had never gained traction during the campaign.

The Congolese bishops’ conference did not say which candidate their data showed winning the vote. However, Fayulu has claimed that he is the rightful winner and has suggested that Tshisekedi had made a power-sharing deal with Kabila to rig the election.

Fayulu appealed to the Constitutional Court Jan. 12 asking for a recount of the votes.

The South African Development Community has called for the formation of a unity government, and backed Fayulu's call for a recount.

The electoral commission has also announced that a pro-Kabila coalition won a majority in the lower house of the legislature.

Kabila has spent the last 17 years in power. While the nation’s term limits required the president to leave office in 2016, he refused to step down.

The bishops of the country, who have played a key role in promoting democracy, had helped mediate the 2016 New Year’s Eve Agreement between the country’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders. Under the agreement Kabila was allowed to remain in office past his mandate, but agreed to step down after an election in 2018.

The bishops’ conference had also commissioned 40,000 election observers, who were sent to polling stations across the country to report on the election process.

In a Dec. 31 statement, the bishops’ conference had voiced concern about voting irregularities, including registered voters who were turned away from polling stations because their names were not on voting lists and election observers being expelled from polling stations by police officers.

Other election observers also reported irregularities including voting machine malfunctions, polling stations opening late, locations being changed on short notice, and an inability to cast votes privately, according to the BBC.

The bishops’ conference had delayed the release of its preliminary observation after internet connections and text message services were shut down across the country on Dec. 30.

Reuters has reported that observers from France and Belgium have also voiced doubts that Tshisekedi won the election, and three diplomats who had reviewed the Church’s observer mission data said Fayulu had won.

In his first remarks after his victory was announced, Tshisekedi promised to work closely with Kabila, AFP reported.

Tshisekedi, 55, leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the country’s oldest and largest opposition party.

The 2018 election was a major test for the volatile nation, which has been plagued by political corruption, instability, and violence, and has never seen a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.

At least four people have been killed so far in scattered protests of the election results.