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Wuerl Lied

DC Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Today show screengrab)

Ed Condon and J.D. Flynn have been doing fantastic reporting over at the independent Catholic News Agency. When I think about Archbishop Georg Gänswein last fall praising the independent Catholic media’s truth-telling on the scandal, one of the first news organizations I think about is CNA, which is owned by EWTN.

Tonight they report that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in his previous post as Bishop of Pittsburgh, was informed about Cardinal Ted McCarrick’s sexual predation in 2004. Excerpts:

An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, despite Wuerl’s insistence he knew nothing about McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct until 2018.

Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against McCarrick was presented to Wuerl while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek.

In a statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Jan. 10 that laicized priest Robert Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss an allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.

“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.”


The news that Wuerl received a formal complaint against McCarrick as early as 2004, and forwarded it to the apostolic nunciature in Washington raises serious questions about the intended meaning of Wuerl’s 2018 statements concerning McCarrick.

Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick.

In the same letter, Wuerl affirmed that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

Well, that’s technically true, isn’t it? “During his time here in Washington.” Of course Donald Wuerl was dissembling. He knew. They all knew about Uncle Ted. McCarrick and Wuerl were among Pope Francis’s top American advisers. Pope Benedict XVI had put McCarrick out to pasture, but Francis brought him back.

Who among these senior prelates can you believe? Any of them?

Michelle Boorstein also is reporting this story at the Washington Post. I don’t know which source had it first. I saw it first at CNA. Boorstein recalls in her piece a lie Wuerl told to the Catholic Standard last year:

In some cases his denials were broader, such as in a July 31 interview in the archdiocesan paper Catholic Standard, in which Wuerl said:

“There have also been numerous stories or blog posts that repeated long-standing rumors or innuendos that may be out there regarding Archbishop McCarrick… In the past month, I have seen some of those new public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them. With rumors – especially old rumors going back 30, 40, even 50 years – there is not much we can do unless people come forward to share what they know or what they experienced.”

So, now we know for sure what Donald Wuerl is.

In a piece he wrote for the Washington Post, Ed Condon, who is also a canon lawyer, points out that the Vatican is expediting the McCarrick case, and is said to want it wrapped up before the big Rome meeting in February on sex abuse. Condon says this could be a bad idea for the cause of reform. Here’s why:

But what about the seminarians whom McCarrick is alleged to have abused over the decades? Any decision against the former cardinal that leaves their cases unresolved will be incomplete. So too will be any conversation in February that doesn’t take account of adult victims of abuse, or any effort at reform that ignores their legitimate demands for justice.

In a typically thorough take on media coverage of the McCarrick case, Terry Mattingly writes:

So what will reporters, and thus ordinary Catholics, learn about the sins of McCarrick, as opposed to the sins of [Opus Dei priest C. John] McCloskey? In particular, what will Vatican insiders allow to surface on this critical question, linked to the McCarrick abuse of seminarians and priests: Who protected McCarrick from investigations of the rumors that surrounded him for decades and who profited from his favor during that era?

Keep watching the headlines and look for crucial gaps in the secrecy.

To put it in the simplest possible terms: if Rome puts Uncle Ted away for abusing minors, and doesn’t talk at all about what he is alleged to have done to seminarians, you should be very, very suspicious of the game being played here.

(A side note: I’m leaving on Friday morning for Spain, but I will probably be able to blog some in the airport waiting for the connecting flight. I’ve got to pack now, but I’ve just started reading Peter Steinfels’s 11,000 word piece in Commonweal laying out his case for why the Pennsylvania grand jury report was a deeply flawed document that misled people and even slandered the Church.  I am sure that I won’t have time to give a piece so big and so controversial the analysis that it deserves, given my travel schedule, but I’m going to do my best tomorrow. Steinfels, a Catholic, is a veteran religious journalist, and anything he writes has to be taken seriously. Whatever the piece says — and I haven’t read it yet, only the introductory paragraphs — you cannot accuse Peter Steinfels of shilling for the Church. I bring it up here because Donald Wuerl is a big part of that grand jury report, and if Steinfels has uncovered injustice to Wuerl — and anybody else — in that bombshell report, you need to know it, and we all need to consider what Steinfels says with utmost gravity. Again, I doubt very much I’ll be able to do the long essay justice in the short time I’ll have online tomorrow, but I want to make you aware of it now, and encourage you to read it.)

UPDATE: Folks, I’m not defending the Steinfels piece. I haven’t read it! I am simply saying that Peter Steinfels is a serious journalist, and whatever he writes should be taken seriously. He may be wrong, though!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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