221 days after Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation, he is officially replaced by Wilton Gregory.
Today marks Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s long-awaited arrival in Washington, D.C. But while all eyes and expectations are focused on the new man in the capital see, some thought should be spared for the one he replaces: Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Between the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in August—in which he was named more than 200 times—and the luciferian fall from grace of his own predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl has spent much of his last year in Washington under a cloud of scandal. Many Catholics and commentators have vocally anticipated Wuerl’s departure for months, even before Gregory’s name was announced. But despite those content to see Wuerl as forever linked with McCarrick, and to bracket them both with scandal and abuse, Wuerl deserves to be remembered for more than the scandals of his final year in office.
As bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl was years ahead of his peers in responding to what would become the sexual abuse crisis. From the moment he arrived as bishop in 1988, Wuerl was meeting personally with victims at a time when many bishops would not even consider doing so. Within a year, Wuerl had established a diocesan committee to evaluate policies for responding to abuse allegations, a committee that grew to become the current Diocesan Review Board, nearly a decade before the Dallas Charter called for every diocese to have such a body. Wuerl also imposed a personal policy of “zero-tolerance” which stands comparison to any other diocesan policy today.
Despite the grand jury report’s frequent mentions of Wuerl, that document cannot dent the core statistic: During Wuerl’s nineteen years as bishop of Pittsburgh, nineteen new allegations were brought forward against diocesan priests, and eighteen of these priests were immediately and permanently removed from ministry. And curial officials have not forgotten the time Wuerl flew to Rome to personally resist an order to reinstate an accused cleric, a contest of wills he eventually won.
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