Pennsylvania Cardinal steps back following abuse scandal

Donald Wuerl. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Cardinal Donald Wuerl's name was removed from a city high school in Pittsburgh, at his request, amid criticism surrounding a child sexual abuse scandal involving priests, the Washington Post reports.

The big picture: This is just the beginning of the fallout coming for Wuerl, who is an archbishop of Washington, as well as other Catholic officials implicated in the child sex abuse scandal that took place throughout Pennsylvania Catholic churches over decades. Critics say Wuerl mishandled and covered up part of the Pittsburg "child porn ring run by priests" in the city.

The backdrop: A 1,400 page report released last week revealed how thousands of children were abused over decades in Pennsylvania at the hands of more than 300 priests. It also revealed how the church covered up the scandalous allegations.

Critics are calling for Wuerl's resignation from the College of Cardinals because of the lack of action taken while he led the Diocese of Pittsburgh when abuse occurred. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, resigned from the College of Cardinals last month after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in June.

  • 99 of the priests involved were part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
  • Wurel led the diocese in Pittsburgh for 18 years prior to coming to Washington in 2006.
  • A petition to remove Wuerl's name from the school began a week ago but has already amassed 7,604 signatures.

The big question: Many are calling for Wuerl's removal, but only Pope Francis is able to remove Wuerl from the college — the question is whether he would accept his resignation. There have been no signs to this point that his removal is imminent.

The Vatican said it expressed "shame and sorrow" over the ring of abuse, but didn't comment until two days after news broke with one bishop even denying a coverup.

  • Pope Francis wrote a letter condemning the acts saying priests "abandoned" the victims in the scandal but didn't mention Wuerl, or outline concrete actions for his, or any other officials, removal.

Between the lines: Though the fallout is unclear to this point, Wuerl has already begun removing himself from the church. He didn't attend mass on Sunday and cancelled an appearance in Dublin next week where Francis is scheduled to appear.

What to watch: As Hugh Hewitt writes in the Washington Post, "[Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles] Chaput has always argued that if statutes of limitations are extended for victims of church abuse, they should be extended for all victims, and he’s right. It’s not like Penn State University, Michigan State University and the University of Southern California — homes to terrible abuse scandals — are any less culpable than Catholic dioceses. But at least those three institutions didn’t keep their presidents around."

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