HARRISBURG, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The attorney general who oversaw a massive investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is disappointed in Cdl. Donald Wuerl's resignation.
On Oct. 12, Pope Francis announced that he had accepted Cdl. Wuerl's resignation and was leaving him as apostolic administrator of the Washington, D.C. archdiocese until the Pope appointed his replacement.
In the statement on Wuerl's retirement, the Pope lauded the cardinal, saying, "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. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you."
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who oversaw the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, is disappointed that Wuerl will simply enter retirement without facing justice. Shapiro told the press, "It is unacceptable that then-Bishop Wuerl ... oversaw and participated in the systematic cover-up that he did when leading the Pittsburgh diocese, and that he is now able to retire, seemingly with no consequences for his actions."
Shapiro opined, "We can't rely on the Church to fix itself."
The Pennsylvania grand jury report was released in August. The report detailed allegations of sexual abuse against 301 priests and religious across six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses.
Cardinal Wuerl, formerly bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese (1988–2006), is named more than 160 times in the grand jury report.
A particularly damning section of the report accuses Wuerl of covering for homosexual pederast priest Fr. George Zirwas. In 1995, Wuerl returned Zirwas to active ministry despite numerous allegations of him making unwanted sexual advances on underaged boys.
Furthermore, after Zirwas left active ministry and moved to Florida, he told the Pittsburgh diocese in 1996 that he had dirt on the sexual predation of other diocesan priests and demanded the diocese increase his stipend to keep him quiet. Wuerl and the diocese agreed to pay the hush money.
Zirwas moved to Havana, Cuba. In May 2001, Zirwas' gay lover found him dead, murdered by a Cuban gay prostitute. Zirwas' body was brought to the United States, and Wuerl celebrated his funeral Mass in June 2001. During the funeral Mass homily, Wuerl said, "The one thing we know is that George Zirwas responded to God's call" to the priesthood.
During his time as a priest in the Pittsburgh diocese, Zirwas was allegedly part of a homosexual pederast ring that passed around boys for sexual abuse, marking their victims by giving them little gold crosses worn around the neck.
One alleged victim told the Pennsylvania grand jury that when he was a child, Fr. Zirwas and other priests had him stand on a bed and strip naked. The priests told the boy to stand with his arms outstretched, mimicking Christ on the Cross. They giggled as they took photos of the naked boy, claiming they wanted to use the pictures to make sure they got the anatomy and musculature right for portraying Christ's body on crucifixes.
Ever since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, there have been calls for Cdl. Wuerl to step down. There was a Change.org petition calling for his ouster. In the media, even secular news featured op-eds calling for the D.C. cardinal to be removed from his position.
Wuerl submitted his resignation to Pope Francis in late 2015 after he turned 75 years old — standard procedure for bishops. But the Pope delayed accepting Cdl. Wuerl's resignation. Last month, Wuerl met with the Pope in Rome to ask Francis to finally accept his resignation amid the recent scandals.
Wuerl is the second prominent U.S. prelate brought down during the U.S. Catholic Church's "summer of shame," following the lead of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick, a retired former archbishop of Washington, D.C., resigned from the College of Cardinals in July following various public allegations of homosexual predation.