A few weeks ago, I wrote about priestly obedience and appealing a superior’s decision. In the Church, we call such appeals hierarchical recourse.
Father John Coughlin wrote a ten-page article outlining the idea, which you can read by clicking HERE.
Perhaps you ask, dear reader: Whither goes my appeal of our bishop’s decree removing me as pastor of the parishes here? To a Vatican tribunal called the Congregation for the Clergy.
St. Charles Borromeo founded this particular Roman congregation in 1564, at the behest of Pope Pius IV. Originally, this “department” of the Vatican served to interpret the decrees of the Council of Trent.
A later prefect of the Congregation supported Michelangelo Caravaggio financially. Cardinal del Monte originally owned “The Musicians.” The painting now resides at the Met, in New York City. (Currently in storage, unfortunately.)
The late John Card. Wright, one-time bishop of Pittsburgh, Pa., also served as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Holding that post made Cardinal Wright the highest-ranking American in Rome, at the time of Pope St. John Paul II’s election to the papacy. Who served Wright as priest secretary? Father Donald Wuerl.
Who sits on the Congregation now? Hard to say.
We parish priests dutifully publish the names of the members of our pastoral and finance councils. But the Holy Father in Rome does not see fit to make available to the general public the full roster of the members of the tribunal that will consider my appeal.
Beniamino Card. Stella currently serves as prefect. The ‘star,’ so to speak 🙂 Stella means star in Italian.
Archbishop Joel Mercier serves as secretary. Father Andrea Ripa, under-secretary. Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong, of Mexico, also appears to be a member of the Congregation.
According to googled news articles, in 2014, Pope Francis appointed Rainer Card. Woelki of Berlin, Giuseppe Card. Betori of Florence, and Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania.
They joined the nineteen members already serving, which include: Marc Card. Ouellet, Sean Card. O’Malley. And Donald Card. Wuerl.
Googled news reports mention a total of 22 members. But it doesn’t seem possible to know for sure, without inside knowledge. No one ever said our Church was a “transparent” organization. (Or if they did say that, they lied.)
We have discussed Donald Card. Wuerl here before. In 2011, he helped me fulfill my dream of serving in a diocese more priest-strapped than my hometown. He and the late Francis Xavier DiLorenzo made it possible for me to transfer to Richmond. For that I am grateful.
From 1988 to 2006, Wuerl served as bishop of Pittsburg, Pa. In August of 2018, many Pennsylvania Catholics found themselves scandalized by revelations about him in the famous Grand-Jury Report.
Not a Pennsylvanian myself, I don’t know much about that. I do, however, know:
Donald Wuerl failed the clergy and the people of the Archdiocese of Washington that August. His inability go grasp the widespread sense of betrayal left the decent people of his city speechless.
He had to resign as Archbishop.
But things actually got worse from there. Wuerl remained as “Administrator” of the Archdiocese for eight months. During that time, the Vatican convicted and defrocked Theodore McCarrick, without disclosing any information about the case.
Wuerl had known about one of McCarrick’s victims, Mr. Robert Ciolek, since the fall of 2004. Ciolek wanted to understand why Wuerl covered-up for McCarrick all those years. Ciolek tried to have a conversation with Wuerl, to no avail. So Ciolek went to the Washington Post. Here’s a quote from the report:
Ciolek shared his story with The Post with regret, he said, because he had first asked repeatedly to meet with Wuerl and was ultimately rebuffed, after being given a list of proposed restrictions by the D.C. archdiocese’s chancellor and general counsel. Among them, he said: If he met with Wuerl, he could not take notes, record, or ask questions.
Ciolek went on to say:
It’s belittling to me as a victim of abuse to have him as a priest and leader of the church to overlook, ignore, or lie about what he knows I shared. It’s just beyond disrespectful in terms of what he signals to me… It’s as if I don’t exist. It belittles the significance of the events themselves.
The situation scandalized the conscientious people of the Archdiocese. The Washington Post editorialized about it on January 13 of last year:
When allegations came to light last year  of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct involving children and seminarians by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who succeeded Mr. McCarrick as leader of the Washington archdiocese, expressed shock and denied prior knowledge.
Now it turns out Wuerl was presented in 2004 with an account of Mr. McCarrick’s alleged misconduct, which he relayed to the Vatican. Then: nothing.
In the ongoing tsunami of revelations about the Catholic Church’s willful blindness, conspiracy of silence and moral bankruptcy on clergy sex abuse, this particular revelation encapsulates characteristics that continue to dog the church: callousness directed at victims; an insistence on denial and hairsplitting; and the hierarchy’s preference for treating allegations as internal matters, as if the world’s 1.2 billion lay Catholics were an irrelevance.
In response to the revelation that Wuerl was fully aware of, and handled, an allegation from a former priest about Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct more than 14 years ago, the Washington archdiocese issued a statement suggesting that his previous flat denials were merely “imprecise.”
In fact, the cardinal’s comments last summer  were unequivocal. In response to a broad question about “long-standing rumors or innuendos” posed by a reporter, he said, “I had not heard them” before or during his tenure in Washington. That was untrue.
As it happens, Wuerl, then-bishop of Pittsburgh, not only was presented with allegations of Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct by a former priest named Robert Ciolek. To his credit, he also swiftly brought that information to the Vatican’s attention in a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in Washington.
Yet Mr. McCarrick remained as archbishop of Washington for nearly two more years and suffered no discipline until last year.
Understandably, Ciolek is outraged that Wuerl, having known of his allegations for years, denied knowledge of them last year.
On my ordination anniversary last spring (May 24), I wrote about the disenchantment many of us felt about all this. The office of Archbishop of Washington seems mired in perpetual dishonesty. Here’s a quote:
Donald Wuerl knew fifteen years ago that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and young priests. This past Tuesday, Wilton Gregory, the newly arrived successor in Washington, praised Donald Wuerl as “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”
But let’s imagine a true Christian gentleman, reading the sworn testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims, in the fall of 2004. Wouldn’t a true Christian gentleman, in Donald Wuerl’s place, think to himself: I need to see justice done here. I have a duty to this poor soul. May God help me to do right by him.
Instead, Wuerl obsequiously sent the whole thing to Rome and washed his hands of it. In the Vatican, they masterminded the McCarrick cover-up. And Wuerl has hidden behind the supposed virtue of filial obedience to the pope ever since.
As I have mentioned before, over the course of five months, I repeatedly asked Bishop Barry Knestout to identify which posts here he disliked. He would not do so.
But then Bishop K wrote to the parishioners of the parishes. He identified some objectionable posts. Prior to the Decree of Removal itself, I never received a single document about my “case,” other than that letter to my parishioners.
In his letter to the parishioners, Bishop Knestout identifies the post I just quoted as one of the five I have written that have damaged ecclesiastical communion.
Seems to me, therefore, that the integrity of the judicial process would demand: Donald Wuerl should not sit in judgment of this case, whenever the Congregation considers it. He has a personal interest in the evidence at hand. He cannot remain impartial. An honest judge would recuse himself, under these circumstances.
If they need a substitute, I nominate Robert Ciolek.