What did Donald Cardinal Weurl, Washington’s retired archbishop, know about his pervy predecessor, the ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, and when did he know it? That question has agitated American Catholics ever since McCarrick’s depredations came to light last summer.
Well, now we have an answer: Wuerl knew much more than he first let on. In fact, Wuerl was aware of allegations of McCarrick’s predatory behavior going back at least 15 years, and he misled the Catholic faithful in the capital and across the nation instead of speaking with the honesty required of a disciple of Jesus.
That’s according to the Catholic News Agency, which first reported Thursday’s bombshell statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Wuerl was bishop from 1998 to 2006, before he was appointed to Washington.
In 2004, Pittsburgh’s diocesan review board heard an allegation about McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians. The allegation made its way to then-Bishop Wuerl’s desk, who, in turn, “made a report of the allegation” to the Vatican’s embassy in Washington within days.
The Pittsburgh diocese didn’t offer details. But CNA’s reporters gather they concern “behavior by McCarrick at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians, and exchanged backrubs with them.”
Back in July, when McCarrick was first unmasked as a collared predator of boys and young men, Wuerl insisted he knew nothing. Pressed by an interviewer about the rumors that for years had swirled around McCarrick, Wuerl said: “In the past month, I have seen some of those now-public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them.”
One more time: “In my years in Washington and even before that, I had not heard” the McCarrick rumors. Said by a man who himself reported McCarrick misconduct allegations to the Holy See.
The Washington archdiocese, where Wuerl remains administrator while Pope Francis selects a successor, released a statement Thursday seeking to justify the unjustifiable: “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick. His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”
Catch that? The July denial related to McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with minors, but it didn’t apply to misconduct with adult seminarians. Whoops — sorry for imprecision. That’s the cardinal’s and the archdiocese’s lame, legalistic explanation for Wuerl’s initial, untrue denials.
It’s especially galling to recall a phone call to me by an archdiocesan spokesman, who berated me for earlier columns in these pages in which I insisted Wuerl’s denials don’t pass the smell test. How could he not know what “everyone knew”? Well, turns out the cardinal did know, and his knowledge was based on fact.
There is also some vindication here for Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to the US whose explosive testimony accused Wuerl, among others, of knowing and hiding the truth about McCarrick. “Cardinal Wuerl,” Viganò wrote, was “well aware of the continuous abuses committed by Cardinal McCarrick.”
The revelation of the lie also makes it harder to credit Wuerl’s claim that he knew nothing about private sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI on McCarrick. In 2013, Wuerl canceled a public appearance by McCarrick, apparently in accord with the pope’s sanctions, but he insists to this day he hadn’t been informed of their existence.
Donald Cardinal Wuerl is 78. Whatever his shortcomings, he has dedicated a lifetime to serving the Church. I don’t relish joining the chorus of media detractors jeering: “Aha! Aha!” But his troubles today should spur American bishops to come clean, once and for all, about the McCarrick episode.
And let’s pray Wuerl’s seat in Washington doesn’t end up going to the reported top contender, Newark’s Joseph Cardinal Tobin, another prince of the Church who admits he heard the McCarrick rumors — but did nothing.
Sohrab Ahmari is op-ed editor of The Post and author of the forthcoming memoir of Catholic conversion, “From Fire, by Water.”
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