A Washington deacon has joined the cadre of Catholics who say Cardinal Donald Wuerl should step down amid criticism of his handling of abusive priests.
Writing that “genuine healing” cannot arrive unless Wuerl resigns and that “justice demands nothing less,” Deacon James Garcia wrote that he would no longer be able to attend to the cardinal, who is archbishop of Washington.
“In view of recent developments, I cannot, in good conscience, continue to attend to you personally, whether as an assisting deacon or a master of ceremony,” Garcia wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.
He closed by writing, “I implore you, for the good of the Church we both love so dearly: Act with courage and humility. Relinquish your position as Archbishop without delay.”
Garcia was slated to assist Wuerl in his next public Mass on Friday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
News of his letter surfaced as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group, prepared for a Sunday morning protest at the Vatican Embassy in Washington to demand Wuerl’s resignation and more transparency into abuse allegations and the church’s handling of the accusations.
Scandal ‘generations in the making’
A blog, The Worthy Adversary, published Garcia’s three-page letter Saturday. It included the transcript of an August 20 “reflection” that Garcia delivered after a Pennsylvania grand jury report painted a damning picture of six dioceses in the state.
Garcia, a trial attorney by trade, wrote that he was sharing the reflection to “convey the profound sadness, betrayal and anger I and so many others feel as we confront again the crimes of sexual abuse and cover up in the church.”
Garcia confirmed late Saturday the letter was authentic. He had not received a response, he told CNN. He said he was deeply troubled by the scandal — which is “generations in the making” — and while it has challenged his faith, his anger and sadness are minor when compared to those betrayed by the priests, he said.
“The profound sadness and sense of betrayal and anger that I feel in which this issue has been addressed by the leaders of the church pales in comparison to the pain and suffering that abuse victims have gone through,” Garcia said.
The deacon, who joined St. Matthew the Apostle in 1999 and who Wuerl ordained as a deacon in 2013, said he would attend Sunday Mass and assist other priests.
Spokesman: Cardinal has been transparent
The 77-year-old Wuerl has come under fire both for his time in Washington and in Pittsburgh. Critics question what he knew about abuse allegations against his predecessor in Washington, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and how he handled abusive priests while he headed the Diocese of Pittsburgh for 18 years. Wuerl moved to Washington in 2006.
Wuerl has denied receiving information about accusations against McCarrick, and while conceding “errors in judgment,” he’s defended his record of handling clerical abuse in Pittsburgh.
CNN could not reach archdiocese spokesman Edward McFadden for comment, but McFadden has defended Wuerl in the past and archdiocesan officials have said Wuerl does not plan to resign.
“Cardinal Wuerl has spoken extensively over the past two months, conveyed his profound sadness, apologies and contrition, and addressed every issue as it has arisen in a straightforward and transparent manner,” McFadden said last month.
Wuerl has a mixed record when it comes to predatory priests. While he’s been applauded for insisting to the Vatican that he had a duty to inform Catholics about credibly accused priests, the Pennsylvania grand jury found that he handled settlements with survivors and oversaw the bureaucratic reshuffling of abusers in the church.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has also slammed Wuerl for failing to provide a list of credibly accused priests in Pittsburgh — which his successor released this summer — or in Washington. McFadden has said the Washington archdiocese is considering releasing its own list.
Words v. action
Days after meeting Pope Francis in secret, Wuerl acknowledged demands for new leadership and called for a “season of healing” in a letter penned to his priests last month.
“Among the many observations was that the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity,” Wuerl wrote. “As we move forward I hope to lead by action, not just by words.”
Garcia cited the letter in his demand that Wuerl step down.
“If you genuinely ‘hope to lead by action, not just by words,’ and ‘do whatever it takes to move this Church closer to the pathway that leads us from this darkness,’ courage and humility are essential,” he wrote.
Following the August report that found, since 1947, more than 1,000 children have been abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Pittsburgh, Garcia prayed for healing but also called for accountability.
He prayed for victims who had taken their lives, and for Catholics whose faith was shaken “by the reprehensible crimes of perpetrator priests and those who enabled them.” He further called out “grievous lapses in judgment that allowed abuse to continue and put innocent children at risk.”
Church leaders had failed in “safeguarding the faithful,” he said, calling for apologies, reparations, transparency, new policies and “fervent prayer.”
“The time for cowardice and self-preservation is long past. Victims cry out for justice and the faithful deserve shepherds who are not compromised,” he wrote. “But no amount of apology will suffice unless and until bishops and other complicit clergy are removed or resign.”
‘I don’t think he is a monster’
After a Mass last month, Wuerl asked about 200 congregants for forgiveness for his inadequacies and asked them to remain loyal to Francis, prompting one parishioner to yell, “Shame on you!” and walk out of the church.
“Yes, my brothers and sisters, shame,” Wuerl said. “I wish I could re-do everything over these 30 years as a bishop and each time get it always right. That’s not the case. I do think together, asking for God’s mercy, pleading for God’s grace, recognizing that we can move into light, I simply ask you to keep me, keep all of those that have been abused, all of those who have suffered, all of the church in your prayers.”
Later, Brian Garfield, the man who yelled at the archbishop, told CNN he wished Wuerl spoke more like a pastor than a politician.
“I don’t think he is a monster but I wish he would talk less about defending himself and more about his failings,” he said. “It’s a little galling to be lectured on transparency by people who are lying to us.”
Like all Catholic bishops, Wuerl technically resigned when he turned 75, but the pontiff hasn’t accepted his resignation. Cardinals are often allowed to serve until they are 80 if they are in good health.