Catholics Grapple With Sex Abuse Scandals, Cover-Ups

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Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and the Rev. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, in December of 2015. Photo by Robert Devaney.

At Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on 36th Street in Georgetown, before the final blessing and departing hymn, upcoming parish events are announced. Last Sunday, Sept. 2, after the call for fellowship and doughnuts in McKenna Hall, pastor Kevin Gillespie, S.J., stood up to read part of a letter sent by the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, to all priests within the archdiocese.

Wuerl was the bishop of Pittsburgh between 1988 and 2006, during the alleged sexual abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania. He has been accused of covering up some of those crimes.

At the altar, Gillespie read from part of Wuerl’s letter:

“I ask you, as I did at the cathedral, for prayers for me, for forgiveness for my errors in judgment, for my inadequacies, and also for your acceptance of my contrition for any suffering I have caused, as well as the grace to find, with you, ways of healing, ways of offering fruitful guidance in this darkness.

“This Sunday in our churches all across this great archdiocese, I ask you please to let your people – the men, women and children – we love and minister to and hold in our pastoral care know that I do recognize and share their pain. Let them know I wish I could wipe it away even though that is simply not possible. I would give anything, as would all of us, to turn the clock around and have the Church do everything right. But I do join them in sorrow for all that has happened. I plead for their prayerful support as I with you and them try to do whatever I can to help move this Church closer to the pathway that leads us from this darkness.  …

“Finally, we need to hold close in our prayers and loyalty our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Increasingly, it is clear that he is the object of concentrated attack. At each Mass we pray for him by name. As we do so with our voices may we do so as well with our hearts.

“Dear brother in the Lord, I hope you will sense something of my anguish for those who have suffered and my sorrow for any of my failures to be there for both the abused and all who now feel a sense of alienation. In my heart, I now ask myself what is the way I can best serve this Church that I, too, much love.”

North of Georgetown at Annunciation Church, the cardinal was celebrating Mass for the installation of its new pastor, Monsignor Michael J. Mellone. At that Mass, one worshiper stood out and cried, “Shame on you.” A few others walked out. Outside on Massachusetts Avenue, there were several D.C. police cruisers parked, according to news reports.

The following day, on Sept. 3, Wuerl met privately with the priests of the Washington Archdiocese.

Holy Trinity Church has scheduled “listening sessions” in McKenna Hall for parishioners to “express their personal experiences of the crisis” on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 9, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. That effort is led by the Voice of the Faithful, a group that supports survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

At Georgetown University, students have called for the school to take back the honorary degrees it awarded to Wuerl and to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was forced to resign this summer due to revelations of sexual abuse.

Others, including D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Trinity Washington University’s Patricia McGuire, have called for Wuerl’s resignation. Still others, in response to the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., that Popes Benedict and Francis knew of the McCarrick crimes, have called for the resignation of Pope Francis.

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