On Friday, Pope Francis accepted Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation after he was accused of aiding in the cover-up of two sexual abuse scandals.
In a letter released by Wuerl's office, the Pope reluctantly accepted the cardinal’s resignation, noting that he was a longtime ally to the pope and suggesting that Wuerl became a scapegoat amid sexual abuse allegations.
Wuerl’s resignation makes him the most prominent figure in the church to resign amid the Catholic church sex abuse scandal after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick was forced to resign in 2018 from the College of Cardinals after being accused of sexually assaulting at least two minors and adult seminarians.
The Vatican released a statement Friday to announce Francis’ acceptance of Wuerl's resignation, but noted that the pope has not named a replacement for the cardinal and as such has asked Wuerl to stay on until a new archbishop can be found.
This decision came after months of Wuerl insisting that he had no knowledge of the sexual abuses by clergy. Nonetheless, many people in the Catholic community lost faith in Wuerl’s leadership and soon the cardinal reached the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.
"The Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future," Wuerl said in a statement. "Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon."
According to ABC News, Francis said of Wuerl in his statement, that by him choosing to retire, Wuerl was admirably putting the interest of “his flock” ahead of his own ambitions.
"You have sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes," Francis wrote. "However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this I am proud and thank you."
Wuerl had submitted his letter of resignation to Francis after he turned 75, nearly three years ago, but Francis chose to keep the cardinal on staff.
Then in August, a grand jury report was released which outlined widespread sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report accused Wuerl of helping to protect accused priests and coverup their abuses during his tenure as a bishop in Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
Wuerl’s integrity was also called into question when people began to question the extent of what he knew in regard to the alleged sexual misconduct of Theodore McCarrick.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Charles McQuillan