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Pope accepts Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation after it’s alleged that he failed to act on sexual abuse

Pope Francis has received the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington after weeks of mounting pressure for the senior US prelate to resign. The resignation comes after serious allegations that he did not act on sexual abuse committed by priests under his watch.

The Holy See announced at midday on Friday 12 October that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Washington DC, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The resignation comes after much criticism and controversy over that past few weeks following the revelations of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania. Wuerl served in that jurisdiction as the bishop of Pittsburgh.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report alleges that Cardinal Wuerl had known of abuser priests in his care and he had still allowed them to continue to minister. In light of the devastating allegations in the report, which suggest that he had failed to act on the sexual abuse of minors by priests for whom he was responsible, many have urged his removal from power in his current archdiocese.

Wuerl offered his resignation to the pope two years ago as is the custom when reaching the age of 75. Pope Francis, at that time, asked him to continue in service. However, after the allegations of his failure to act came to light, he announced that he would meet specifically with the pope to discuss his future.

His decision to speak with the pope at the Synod of Bishops on Young People currently under way in Rome, came in a letter that he wrote to the priests of his archdiocese on 11 September 2018. In it he reveals that the pope had contacted him after the release of the investigative report and asked him “to discern the best course of action for me [Wuerl] to pursue as we face new revelations of the extent of the horror of the clergy abuse of children and the failures in episcopal oversight.” In the letter he also states that he would soon “go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father about the resignation I presented nearly three years ago, November 12, 2015.”

He met with Pope Francis, this past Wednesday to discuss his resignation and it has now been announced that the pope has accepted the resignation but has asked him to continue to administer the archdiocese until his successor is named.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Ricardo da Silva SJ
Ricardo is a member of the South African region of the Jesuits and an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2020, he received a master's degree in journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York, where he was an African Pulitzer Fellow and reported on religion, mental health, housing and other social injustices. Before moving to the U.S.A., Ricardo served as acting editor of spotlight.africa and was on the team at Jesuit Institute South Africa. His preparation for ministry as a Jesuit has taken him to study theology in Brazil, philosophy in the U.K and brief working stints in Zimbabwe and Spain. As a Jesuit, he has ministered to refugees, migrants, people experiencing street homelessness, young adults, seminarians, the elderly, and high school and university students, staff and faculty. Before entering religious life in 2007, Ricardo worked in marketing, communications, and brand management before joining the Jesuits in 2007. Ricardo holds dual citizenship, having emigrated from Portugal to South Africa at the age of six with his mother.

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