Cardinal Donald Wuerl said Friday that the Church must confirm its commitment to support the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal involving Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor as Archbishop of Washington.
“The initial shock, confusion, anger, and frustration when the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick came to light were the focus of our immediate response. In our pain, we also turned to all survivors of abuse, whose burdens are greater than our own. We must confirm our commitment to them with actions even more than words, that we are resolved to respond effectively in every way to these offenses,” Wuerl wrote in a pastoral reflection released Aug. 3.
Wuerl’s letter was written in response to a sexual abuse scandal that began June 20, when the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had completed investigating an allegation that then-Cardinal McCarrick serially sexually abused a minor in the 1970s, and found the investigation to be “credible and substantiated.” After that announcement, McCarrick was accused of having had a second sexually abusive relationship with a minor, and reports emerged alleging that he had engaged, for decades, in sexually abusive and coercive behavior with seminarians and young priests.
Questions emerged about whether Church leaders, including Wuerl, properly addressed reports and rumors about McCarrick, particularly in the period of time after several dioceses in NJ reached settlements with alleged victims of McCarrick in 2005 and 2007. Wuerl has denied having had knowledge of these settlements.
Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28.
Wuerl’s reflection noted as “particularly disheartening...the sense that we had already gone through this traumatic scandal in 2002 with not only the pain of priests abusing young people but the realization that bishops were not properly attentive to the dimensions of the problem.”
In the wake of the most recent scandal, Wuerl said many Catholics are asking if anything has changed as a consequence of the policies the U.S. bishops’ conference developed at time of widespread sexual scandals in 2002.
“The answer, I believe, “is, ‘Yes,’” Wuerl wrote.
The cardinal wrote that Pope Francis, “in his strong and decisive response” to allegations against McCarrick, has called bishops to greater accountability and “demonstrated a keen awareness of the feelings of our betrayal, the disappointment, the not-unreasonable anger felt by so many of our faithful people as these accusations come to light.”
The cardinal then called U.S. bishops to conversion of heart, to live according to the highest standards of ministry, and to “that fortitude that has always been essential to fraternal correction.”
Wuerl said that bishops must address any allegation of abuse by a bishop, citing a 2002 document, the “Statement of Episcopal Commitment,” that calls for bishops accused of sexually abusing minors to inform the apostolic nuncio- the pope’s representative in the U.S.- of the allegation, and calls for all bishops to inform the nuncio if they become aware that a bishop is accused of sexually abusing minors, and, at the same time, to comply civil laws regarding reporting.
He added that the conference could consider revising that document to offer more clarity, and to address the “spiritual and moral obligations” of bishops along with “the need for fraternal correction that is as much a part of the life of the Church as her laws and procedures.”
“We must have always before our eyes the Lord Jesus, who became a child to sanctify children, and a youth to sanctify young people, and a man to sanctify adults, and to be an example to the elderly. He loved children, laid his hands on them in blessing, and promised woe to those who would harm them. The children loved the Lord as well,” Wuerl wrote.
“Let us pray that our children and all our people will see in us, their bishops, through our actions as well as our words, their brothers and companions.”