Why did Cardinal Wuerl resign as archbishop of Washington?

Cardinal was heavily criticised over his handling of abuse allegations against three priests while bishop of Pittsburgh

Cardinal Donald Wuerl was heavily criticised in a US grand jury report over his handling of child sexual abuse allegations while a bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1988 to 2006.

Following the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last August, he withdrew from a scheduled appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Cardinal Wuerl was due to give the keynote address on “The Welfare of the Family is Decisive for the Future of the World,” on Wednesday, August 22nd.

The report of the grand jury, published on August 14th, found “wholesale institutional failure that endangered the welfare of children” in Pittsburgh. It faulted Cardinal Wuer for what it said was his role in the concealment of sex abuse.


The report chose three examples from cases involving 99 abusive priests there as “a window into the conduct” of bishops “and the crimes they permitted to occur on their watch”.

The cases concerned Fr Ernest Paone, Fr George Zirwas, and Fr Richard Zula. All three involved Cardinal Wuerl.

Up to 1988, when Cardinal Wuerl became bishop of Pittsburgh, Paone continued in ministry with approval from the diocese “in spite of its knowledge he was a child molester,” the grand jury found.

This continued when then-Bishop Wuerl took over. In 1991 Bishop Wuerl granted Paone’s request to serve in the diocese of Reno-Las Vegas.

Following another abuse complaint against the priest in 1994, he was sent for treatment.

In February 2003, Bishop Wuerl accepted the priest’s resignation from ministry. As the grand jury report put it: “Approximately 41 years after the diocese learned that Paone was sexually assaulting children, he was finally retired from active ministry.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times