Documents Show Cardinal Wuerl Knew about Sexual Abuse Allegations against Predecessor
By Natalie Delgadillo
January 11, 2019
|Cardinal Wuerl, who resigned as archbishop of Washington in October, has denied that he knew about the accusations made against Theodore McCarrick.|
The Archdiocese of Washington has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl was aware of allegations of abuse and improper conduct by his predecessor, former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, as early as 2004, despite Wuerl’s public denials that he knew about the accusations.
The Washington Post first reported on the discrepancy from Weurl’s past statements. Robert Ciolek, one of McCarrick’s alleged victims, told the Post that he has reviewed documents that showed Wuerl knew about his allegations of improper conduct and took them to the Vatican in 2004. But after the allegations came to light in 2018, Wuerl publicly said he “had not heard” about them during his years in Washington or “even before that.”
Wuerl was pressured over the summer to step down from his position as Archbishop of Washington after a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that he had sometimes worked to reassign alleged abusers in the clergy to different parishes during his time as Bishop of Pittsburgh. The Vatican accepted his resignation, but asked him to remain on the job until his successor is appointed.
The Vatican suspended McCarrick from his position as a cardinal last June after receiving a credible allegation that he had abused a 16-year-old altar boy in New York in 1971 and 1972. McCarrick was the archbishop of Washington—popular, well-respected, and well-liked in the region—from 2001 to 2006. Several new allegations arose against McCarrick in the weeks following, both from men who were minors and adult seminarians when the alleged abuse or harassment took place. One of those men was Ciolek, a former priest himself, who said McCarrick forced him and other young seminarians to sleep in the same bed with him and to exchange backrubs, according to the Post.
Ciolek looked at documents on file at the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, where he had lodged a complaint against another priest who had allegedly abused him. Those files also mentioned his experiences with McCarrick. One document shows that then-Bishop Donald Wuerl took those complaints about McCarrick to his superiors in 2004. McCarrick was removed from his position as archbishop of Washington in 2006, and replaced by Cardinal Wuerl.
Ciolek told the Post that he was grateful to Wuerl for taking his allegations about McCarrick seriously and reporting them appropriately, but “that good feeling of what he had done has been overshadowed completely by his lying about his knowledge” of any allegations of abuse.
In a statement, the Washington archdiocese said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick,” and that “his statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.” The archdiocese contends that Wuerl didn’t publicly mention the accusations he knew about because he was trying to protect Ciolek’s identity and privacy. Ciolek dismissed those claims to the Post, saying that Wuerl didn’t have to name him publicly to acknowledge that he had heard about accusations.
Becky Ianni, the Washington area-chapter leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says she thinks the discovery about Wuerl—whom she has previously publicly criticized over the Pennsylvania grand jury report—will make it even harder for Catholics to trust the church.
“I think any victim of McCarrick, any victim that it’s in the archdiocese of Washington that has ever dealt with Wuerl, this is going to offer them some healing and some validation because now it’s publicly being acknowledged that he has lied, and now we have to wonder ‘has he lied about other things?’”