Washington’s Catholic archbishop has asked priests to forgive his “errors in judgment” as he faces public pressure to resign amid growing outrage over clergy sex abuse.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in a letter published Thursday by his archdiocese, also asked priests to let parishioners know during Mass this Sunday that he shares their pain over widespread allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by bishops.
“I ask you … for prayers for me, for forgiveness for my errors in judgment, for my inadequacies, and also for your acceptance of my contrition for any suffering I have caused, as well as the grace to find, with you, ways of healing, ways of offering fruitful guidance in this darkness,” Wuerl wrote.
Abuse survivors and others have been calling on Wuerl to resign in the wake of an August 14 report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, which said internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania showed that more than 300 “predator priests” were credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims since 1947.
Wuerl had been bishop of Pittsburgh, and the grand jury report alleges that he failed to deal adequately with pedophile priests during his tenure there. The Archdiocese of Washington has vigorously defended Wuerl, arguing in part that he took appropriate action against accused priests in light of what was known at the time.
In Thursday’s letter, Wuerl asked priests to inform parishioners that he wishes he could wipe away their pain, “even though that is simply not possible.”
“I would give anything, as would all of us, to turn the clock around and have the Church do everything right,” Wuerl wrote. “But I do join them in sorrow for all that has happened.
“I plead for their prayerful support as I with you and them try to do whatever I can to help move this Church closer to the pathway that leads us from this darkness.”
Wuerl is scheduled to celebrate Mass on Sunday at Washington’s Annunciation Church. There, he wrote, he hopes “to offer some thoughts on how we as a Church – all of us laity, religious and clergy – might begin with faith strengthened in prayer to discern that level of reform rooted in accountability and transparency that would permit the Church to enter a new era.”
At Mass last week he “prayed first for the survivors – those who bear the scars of abuse,” he wrote.
“On too many occasions over these past three decades as a bishop, I have sat with survivors and their families to listen, to try to be present, to pray and often simply to cry together,” Wuerl wrote.
Wuerl also has been accused of covering up for his disgraced predecessor in Washington, Theodore McCarrick, who had been accused of sexually abusing seminarians in New Jersey before McCarrick came to DC. Archdiocesan officials have denied that Wuerl knew of the accusations.
Pope Francis forced McCarrick to resign from the College of Cardinals in July after those accusations, as well as church charges that he sexually abused a minor, came to light. McCarrick, 89, has not commented on the accusations that he abused seminarians and said he is innocent of the allegations that he abused a minor.
Survivor group asks for federal investigation
Only two priests have been charged as a result of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s two-year investigation, because statutes of limitations in many cases expired, or the accused or accusers died.
But the Pennsylvania report has prompted officials in several other states, including Illinois and Missouri, to open inquiries into allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy.
And the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has sent a letter to the US Justice Department demanding an “investigation and prosecution of high-level officials in the Catholic Church” for sexual crimes and cover-ups.
CNN’s Daniel Burke, Janet DiGiacomo and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.