Washington archdiocese allocates $2m for Cardinal Wuerl’s ‘continuing ministry’

The Pillar [Washington DC]

March 3, 2021

According to financial records of the Archdiocese of Washington, $2,012,639 was designated for “continuing ministry activities for [the] Archbishop Emeritus” during the 2020 fiscal year.

The amount is a 35% increase from the $1,488,059 designated for Wuerl’s ministry in the 2019 fiscal year reports.

According to audited financial statements from the archdiocese, the funds for Wuerl’s continuing ministry were allocated from “net assets without donor restrictions.” That means the money was not given to the archdiocese explicitly for Wuerl’s use, and could have been deployed for other purposes at the discretion of the archdiocese. 

The archdiocesan 2020 financial statement includes an unfunded priest retirement liability of at least $35 million, which has grown from $23.5 million since 2015. 

The statement also includes a 30% drop in funds earmarked for “Archdiocesan charitable giving” in the 2020 fiscal year, which decreased to $401,136, from $651,136 in fiscal year 2019. 

The amount allocated to “formation of priests” also declined, from $1,102,500 in 2019 to $1,000,481 in 2020.

The Pillar asked the Archdiocese of Washington for comment on the amount allocated for Cardinal Wuerl’s ministry, and for details on the activities the funds are intended to support. The archdiocese has not responded to questions on the matter.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  Credit: Archdiocese of Boston/CC BY-ND 2.0
Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Credit: Archdiocese of Boston/CC BY-ND 2.0

2020 is the first year in which Wuerl was entirely retired from administration of the archdiocese. The cardinal was Archbishop of Washington from 2006 until October 2018. Wuerl continued to lead the archdiocese as apostolic administrator until the installation of then-Archbishop Wilton Gregory in May 2019. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference recommends that retired bishops be allocated a modest monthly stipend, as well as housing, use of a car, and secretarial assistance. 

The Pillar asked the Washington archdiocese if Cardinal Wuerl has been given any ongoing pastoral ministry responsibilities or assignments in the archdiocese. An archdiocesan spokesperson initially directed the question to Cardinal Wuerl’s office, and did not respond to subsequent questions.  

While it is not clear how Wuerl occupies his time since retirement, The Pillar confirmed that the cardinal gave at least one retreat to a group of U.S. bishops in January, and may be conducting other retreats as well.

The Pillar asked the archdiocese whether it had assisted with, organized, or supported that retreat or others. A spokesperson for the archdiocese directed the question to Cardinal Wuerl’s office, which has not responded.

In November 2020, Wuerl turned 80 years old, aging out of his positions on several Vatican congregations, and losing the right to attend and vote in future conclaves.

The funds allocated for Wuerl’s ministry in retirement are likely to draw comparisons to the financial arrangements made by the Archdiocese of Washington for Theodore McCarrick during the period in which he lived in the archdiocese as archbishop emeritus. 

When McCarrick became Archbishop of Washington in 2001, he set up a dedicated account, The Archbishop’s Fund, within the archdiocese, over which he retained control after his retirement. Through the fund, McCarrick controlled hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised personally, including from grant-making organizations where he was a board member.

McCarrick reportedly used the fund to make gifts to senior Vatican officials and to contribute to a sexual abuse settlement, even while the fund remained under the charitable auspices of the archdiocese.

McCarrick was only made to turn over control of the fund to the archdiocese in 2018, after allegations of sexual abuse were made public. 

Asked about McCarrick when he was named Washington’s archbishop, Gregory committed to transparency, telling reporters “I will always tell you the truth.”

But Gregory, like Wuerl before him, has not released to the public any information about the sources, amounts, or uses of money in the McCarrick fund, despite repeated media requests for the information.

During the final months of Wuerl’s tenure in Washington, the cardinal came under sustained scrutiny after he denied that he knew about, or had any reason to suspect, the crimes of which McCarrick was accused.

In fact, Wuerl was made aware in 2004 of an allegation of “inappropriate conduct” against McCarrick. Wuerl reportedly conveyed the allegation to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C.

In 2010, Wuerl advised the Vatican against sending an official birthday greeting to McCarrick, because of “the possibility that the New York Times is going to publish a nasty article, already prepared, about the Cardinal’s ‘moral life’.”

In November 2020, the Holy See published a 450-page report on the “institutional knowledge and decision making” which led to McCarrick’s promotions in the Church’s hierarchy, which came despite decades of allegations against him.