WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Nearly a week after news broke that Cdl. Donald Wuerl deceived the public about his knowledge of sexual predator Abp. Theodore McCarrick, he published a letter blaming his "imprecise" statements on a "lapse of memory." The memory lapse, however, fails to explain why shortly after he learned of a sexual misconduct allegation against McCarrick in 2004, Wuerl continued to honor him publicly and allow him complete access to seminarians, even granting him permission to live at a seminary.
The Jan. 15 letter to priests follows a letter sent over the weekend, also to priests, in which Wuerl failed to apologize for statements he had made denying any knowledge of McCarrick's sexual misconduct. News surfaced last week that Wuerl became aware of an allegation made against McCarrick by Fr. Robert Ciolek, who said McCarrick sexually harassed him when Ciolek was a seminarian. Wuerl forwarded the allegation to the papal nuncio.
The news prompted renewed calls for Wuerl to be removed from public ministry. In a Jan. 12 letter addressing the outcry, Wuerl claimed any past denials he had made about McCarrick were spoken in the context of his abuse of minors, not of adults, and insisted he had been truthful.
"While one may interpret my statement in a different context," Wuerl wrote in the Jan. 12 letter, "the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick's behavior concern his abuse of minors."
But Church Militant, Washington Post and other news organizations noted that Wuerl had never limited himself strictly to minors when responding to questions about McCarrick's abuse. In at least one case, for instance, he was asked specifically about his knowledge of McCarrick's sexual misconduct toward adults.
In an August interview with CBS News reporter Nikki Battiste, he was asked whether he had heard of rumors of McCarrick's relations "with other priests." Wuerl responded flatly, "No, no."
And The Washington Post noted Wuerl had been "unequivocal" in his denials: "In response to a broad question about 'long-standing rumors or innuendos' posed by a reporter for the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Standard, he said, 'I had not heard them' before or during his tenure in Washington. That was untrue."
Wuerl's Jan. 15 letter addresses these statements, blaming them on having "forgotten" about the sexual misconduct claim alleged against McCarrick in 2004.
"Thus, 14 years later when I was asked if I had any previous knowledge of allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, I said I did not," Wuerl wrote. "Only afterwards was I reminded of the 14-year-old accusation of inappropriate conduct which, by that time, I had forgotten."
He follows his explanation with a series of apologies to the public, McCarrick's victim and any survivors of abuse.
His 14-year memory lapse, however, does not explain why Wuerl continued to publicly honor and laud McCarrick shortly after he learned of Ciolek's claims. As George Neumayr noted,
For at least 14 years, Wuerl knew of McCarrick’s predatory habits and didn't take any steps to protect his priests and seminarians from him. ... Just a year or so after hearing Ciolek's story of harassment at McCarrick's hands, Wuerl was feting McCarrick and praising his predecessor's tenure. Wuerl's diocesan newspaper would consistently give McCarrick glowing coverage and the two would often concelebrate masses together.
In 2006, only two years after Wuerl learned of the sexual harassment allegations against McCarrick, he was installed as McCarrick's successor, who spoke of him in glowing terms.
"I couldn't be happier," McCarrick said in an interview at the time. "He is one of the great teachers of the church in our time."
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio-turned-whistleblower, who accused Wuerl of lying "shamelessly," claimed that the topic of McCarrick had come up frequently between the two of them.
"I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions," Viganò wrote in his first testimony, "and I certainly didn't need to go into detail because it was immediately clear to me that he was fully aware of it."
Recalling an incident in which an archdiocesan magazine published an announcement asking young men interested in the priesthood to meet with McCarrick, Viganò contacted Wuerl.
"I immediately phoned Cardinal Wuerl, who expressed his surprise to me, telling me that he knew nothing about that announcement and that he would cancel it," Viganò wrote. "If, as he now continues to state, he knew nothing of the abuses committed by McCarrick and the measures taken by Pope Benedict, how can his answer be explained?"
As Viganò noted and others have confirmed, Wuerl allowed McCarrick to live on site at a seminary, in spite of his apparent knowledge of McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians.
"Cardinal Wuerl, well aware of the continuous abuses committed by Cardinal McCarrick and the sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict," wrote Viganò, "transgressing the Pope’s order, also allowed him to reside at a seminary in Washington, D.C. In doing so, he put other seminarians at risk."