Gulag Dispatch #2: Donald Wuerl, Please Recuse Yourself

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.

Caravaggio The Musicians
The Musicians by Caravaggio

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.

wuerl miter

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.

Robert Ciolek New York Times
Robert Ciolek (New York Times photo)

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 [2018] 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 [2018] 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.

19 thoughts on “Gulag Dispatch #2: Donald Wuerl, Please Recuse Yourself

  1. The term “Ecclesiastical Communion” seems to be popping up a lot lately. I’m not sure what it means really or how it is defined. One could say that it should be obvious what it means. But as used recently it gives me a chilly feeling that it refers to conspiratorial cover-up. Is breaking with the EC the “schism” the K-meister refers to? If so it it doesn’t have moral or spiritual implications. Maybe it’s a”church-speak” term referring to hierarchical control. I don’t know.

  2. I think the pontifical yearbook may have a more complete listing, but I’m not sure.

  3. “I ask you, dear reader: How does an American bishop–who ostensibly pretends to care about his faithful people back home–how does he not get off the airplane at Fiumicino and immediately do this:
    Kneel at the Apostles’ tombs. Walk into the pope’s parlor. Kiss the Ring of the Fisherman. Then ask, “Where is the g.d. McCarrick Report, Your Holiness?! WTF? You are fricking killing us. What in the actual f?” (Or something to that effect.) But these feminized cowards in miters will do no such thing. Instead they will tweet things like, “Oh, mother, bring me my aqua vitae! I just got to meet the Successor of Peter! And he has such twinkly eyes! And amazing jowls. So cute! I just love him!”

    I ask you in all sincerity – Does this sound like something a man of God writes or does it sound like something from a foul-mouthed, immature teenager who grew up in a Godless environment? No parishioner should be exposed to this type of mindless diatribe built on evil levels of insincerity and hatred from a Priest. We all have our moments. I have surely had mine over the years, but I am not ordained or employed by the Church. My job is not to transmit the faith. That would be your job, and you have failed miserably with these types of anti-Christian rants. I also admit my sinfulness when I have behaved inappropriately and have violated the laws of our God. Loving thy neighbor is not a suggestion and representing the truth is imperative to the faith. Did you forget Church teachings or are you just so wrapped up in your own ego at this point that you have become blind? How about the Eighth Commandment? Remember that one?

    I read these comments of adulation from your supporters and parishoners, then read the paragraph you wrote above and realize just how dangerous this situation is for everyone involved. No child or young person should be exposed to this type of infantile and un-Christian diatribe. It does not come from the Spirit of our God.

    It has been a difficult time in the Church, but that is truly no excuse for sinking to new levels of sin and trying to use the situation at hand to encourage more sinful behavior to divide based on lies and infantile caricatures. We know that does not come from our God.

    I will pray for you to come to your senses and realize who is influencing your behavior at this point.

    1. I appreciate your sentiments. I apologized, in a post published a couple days later, for losing my temper in the instance you quoted. (

      My temper has long since cooled. The underlying issue, unfortunately, remains. A decades-long cover-up that involved popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, lawyers, and plenty of Catholic laypeople, all of whom should have known better.

  4. Yes, Fr. White, yet you continue to disobey authority and write with the same snarky tone that is the root of all of these problems. You knew better than to reinitiate this blog, yet you did it anyway. You know your tone and your refusals to comply with leadership are not acceptable in this Church. Your behavior would not be acceptable in any professional environment. If I, or anyone for that matter, wrote in public what you have about your superiors, I would have been fired immediately and rightly so.

    Bishop Knestout has shown great charity and patience in dealing with this situation, but it has gone on long enough. This type of behavior sets a poor example, in particularly for young people, on how to handle matters like a mature, Christian adult. You have a right to voice your opinion. We all have a right to voice our opinion in a clear manner with charity. The Church also has rights to protect innocent people from corruption and being misled by those who are not capable of representing Christ honestly in their vocation.

    The sex scandal does not give you a free pass at snarky, disobedient behavior. I have learned this from my own behavior throughout the years, including public displays of hostility that create fractures in the Body of Christ and seek to harm others out of pure anger and selfishness. We all falter at times in our lives. To get back on the right path, we have to accept what is sinful in ourselves first and foremost.

    Hopefully, one day, you can accept the truth of these matters and move forward in the light of Christ.

    My prayers are with you.

    1. Ms. Fore, I appreciate your correcting me. No one dislikes the situation as it now stands more than I do. Anything and everything that I can do in good conscience, I want to do, to try to bring about peace.

      I asked Bishop Knestout on November 21, 2019, to go through with me the blog posts that I had published that he disliked. He refused to do that. A parishioner who accompanied me to a meeting with the bishop on February 5 asked him once again to go through the offensive blog posts, so that I could correct them. Again the bishop refused to do that.

      A blog is an on-going conversation. Everyone makes mistakes in conversations, says things they come to regret, or puts things in ways they later wish they had put differently. If you would like to identify some “snarky” posts for me to correct or apologize for, please do.

      No one has the right to tell another human being simply to shut up. When the virus came, a way out of the problem presented itself. The bishop had given me an unjust order, without justification (remove my blog from the web completely). But now we needed on-line communication more than ever. So it seemed to me that we could hit the re-set button. I hoped the bishop would take that opportunity. We both could have moved on in peace.

      Throughout the whole ordeal, I have expressed over and over again my willingness to be corrected on particular posts, even to have a censor review my posts before publication. Bishop Knestout ignored all these offers.

      When the bishop chose instead to try to remove me as pastor without following the process outlined in canon law, I appealed the decision, as is my right. I did not escalate the conflict. The appeal process exists precisely to DE-escalate such conflicts. That’s how I saw it, and still see it. The bishop unilaterally decided to suspend me from ministry, infuriating a lot of people. I can’t answer for things that other people have written; since I’m suspended, I have no role in the life of the parishes right now.

      I continue to try to use my blog to express my point-of-view, in the hopes of making progress towards understanding. I remain open to correction.

  5. Cynthia – if you are baptized it most definitely IS your responsibility to transmit the faith! No more no less than an ordained person. I refer you to the catechism. As for Fr Mark’s righteous anger expressed quite harshly at times, that is not necessarily sin. Violations against children and cover up by hierarchy are major sins. Jesus flipped some tables in the temple in righteous anger and in another gospel passage expressed how he felt about those who hurt “little ones” – we would do well to keep His priorities in mind.

  6. A John Jay College study between the years of 1950 and 1992 estimate 4% of the 110,000 Catholic priests abused and many were repetitive predators. I am sure others will find conflicting numbers from other studies. We all agree that even even one priest predator is one too many. A vicious and unforgivable crime in any organization in society. Now the Richmond Catholic Diocese are on the lookout for the predictors and policies are in place (ever changing) to get these abusers out and to assist victims. Fathers initial unchained vicious statements followed by some parishioners, which closely resemble a lynch mob, created this hellish atmosphere all parishioners are currently experiencing. Parishioner statements documented on the Saint Joseph Facebook page is filled with vicious and hateful comments threatening the Bishop, calling the parishioners of Saint Joseph and Saint Francis of Assisi “mushrooms” fertilized with manure, and some parishioners threatened fiscal disaster for the parish if the Bishop did not stop action against father. These vicious comments/comments have done little to assist in solving the problem and makes the parishioners of Saint Joseph’s look more like Satan than Christ. I blame Father for not working within the church because his ego was injured (and other unknown reasons), the parishioners who egged father on where now he will only be able to banter on his blog, and those who do not respect the Catholic leadership in it’s attempt to solve this problem (pro Reformation folks). The Pope gets it, the Bishop gets it…now Father and these parishioners need to get it. Work together fellow Christians…and this includes the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus. Sad commentary.

  7. Cynthia L. Fore…you hit the nail on the head. Many of us silent “mushrooms” sitting in the pews being fertilized with manure applaud what you have the guts to say!

  8. As everyone else, I too, have my opinions of what is going on here. I find no fault in Father Mark’s writings; I applaud him for taking a stand against the covering up of pedophilia that has been going on for decades in the Catholic Church. What I don’t understand is why people are attacking Mark for his beliefs? He wasn’t talking about the blog during Mass. In fact, most of his parishioners, including myself, were not even aware of the blogs. I found out about them when my local news radio channel spoke of Mark’s suspension in early May.

    Are you all in favor of the continuation of hiding the sins of pedophile priests against innocent children? Are you content to have these sins continue on, ruining countless lives? The Vatican is aware of the accusations, yet they continue to ignore most of them. I’m the first to admit my sins and faults, but I in no way, shape or form will ever condone pedophilia! I question the motives of anyone who wants to look the other way and be content with the status quo.

  9. Insinuating people support pedophilia because they oppose Fr. Mark’s infantile rants and continued disobedience is a ridiculous, sinful fallacy argument based on lies.

  10. I’m not going to argue with you Cynthia. Obviously, we disagree on many levels. There’s no need for insults. Father Mark has requested Knestout discuss with him the particulars of the blog he didn’t like. Knestout has not responded. As for calling Mark’s rants infantile, well, that’s your opinion. I’d like to know how you’d feel in his shoes.

  11. Personally, I don’t follow blogs of those I disagree with, and I cannot understand why people do unless they are there to argue and insult others.

  12. Bev…the Church bulletin has printed an advertisement for fathers blog weekly until his name calling and foul mouthed opinions surfaced. Won’t see his blog advertised this issue.

  13. Terry, thanks for letting me know. I am not a member of the Rocky Mt or Martinsville Churches. I admit I have not looked at St. Andrews bulletins during the quarantines. However, I do know the blogs were not mentioned during Masses when Mark was at St. Andrews. Most people do not know about it.

  14. Father mark.. i have been an avid supporter of your blog throughout… i still believe that you should be able to write what you think… but.. i think that on your last post where the answer was a whatcha talking bout willis i have to disagree. I dont really beleve that it was your intent… but what you said you didnt do has seemingly happened…. my concern isnt so muc( that you caused it but at least publicly you havent spoken out about those who said they dont know about being catholic anymore… wont return to st joes…. wont give money to the diocese…. forgetting local parishes get some of that back.. etc.. you have been one of the most influential priests in my life… you taught me to understand things about the sacrements that i never knew … you certainly taught me many things i should have learned about the goodness of the church… these are the things others need to hear too… i am extremely grateful that there are priests who will speak out for what is right…
    I sincerely hope st joes and st Francis get their priest back… that hasnt changed… my prayers for you and prayers for the bishop have not changed as long as it’s available i will always read your blog… but i think theres a lot of divsion and hurt in the parishes that truly need to healed too …

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more.

      When the bishop suspended me from ministry, without any apparent legal justification, my canon lawyer and I immediately petitioned him to reverse that decision.

      The clear path to peace (from my point-of-view) would be the reversal of the suspension order. Then we could continue with peaceful parish life while we await the Vatican decision about the Decree removing me as pastor (which doesn’t go into effect until the final Vatican decision.)

      But the bishop rejected our appeal of the suspension order and sent that to Rome also.

      So, right now, I cannot “speak out” in the context of parish life. That would violate the suspension order, which I am bound by Church law to obey.

      All I can think to do, therefore, is to publish posts here that illuminate the situation. I have found that understanding brings peace and patience along with it.

      If you have any additional ideas for me, please let me know.

  15. I wish i had other ideas… well i do but they arent great ones…. I appreciate that i think you took what i said in the concern and charity i truly meant it….for both you and the parishes themselves. Sooner or later… im hoping that ill be able to pop down Virginia way would be wonderful if you were celebrating mass when that happens… i do worry that the other events ofthe world will slown both of those things down to a great extent… we will see…hopefully not… but im afraid as weve seen…. the church was never known for moving rapidly and now… a sloth might beat it at a race… stay safe… stay well…. and try and stay sane…

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