Pope accepts resignation of cardinal accused of covering up clergy sexual abuse

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, on Friday following weeks of uncertainty and anger over the cardinal's role in clergy sex abuse scandals.

Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, submitted his resignation three years ago at the age of 75, as in accordance with Catholicism's Code of Canon Law. However, Pope Francis did not accept the resignation until after Wuerl met with him last month and "requested that his resignation be accepted," according to the Vatican.

In a letter from the pope to the cardinal, the pope writes that he understands Wuerl's resignation request "rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry." One of those pillars, the pontiff writes, is "to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care."

Pope Francis also recognizes the scandal that has surrounded the cardinal following accusations in a recent grand jury report that Wuerl covered up sexual abuse by members of the clergy. However, the pope takes a softer stance concerning Wuerl's role in the scandal, and continues to pledge his support of the embattled cardinal.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington
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Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington
Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl attends a signing ceremony for an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump issued an executive order on Thursday making it easier for churches and religious groups to take part in politics without risk of losing their tax-exempt status, a senior White House official said. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: U.S. President Donald Trump greets Rabbi Levi Shemtov, (C), and Cardinal Donald Wuerl (R), during a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump signed a proclamation declaring May 3 as National Day of Prayer. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) greets the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl (L), upon returning to the Vatican Embassy in Washington on day three of his first visit to the United States September 24, 2015. The Pope addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress today. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
American Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, attends a news conference at the North American College in Rome March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (ITALY - Tags: RELIGION)
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts walks with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, after attending the 64th Annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Cardinal Donald Wuerl (C), the Archbishop of Washington, speaks with people as they depart following the annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington, October 6, 2013. The Red Mass, named for the color of the vestments worn by the clergy, is an annual Roman Catholic mass held by the John Carroll Society and the Archdiocese of Washington to ask for blessings and wisdom on the judiciary and government officials before the start of the U.S. Supreme Court's new term. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: LAW POLITICS RELIGION)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, arrives during a news conference about the first session of the synod at the Vatican October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
Pope Francis (R) laughs with Cardinal Donald Wuerl after arriving to visit St. Patrick's church in Washington DC, September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Erik S Lesser/Pool
Cardinal Donald Wuerl (C), archbishop of Washington, speaks during his tour of the site of next Wednesday?s papal Mass to view the construction underway at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington September 17, 2015. Flanking Wuerl are Catholic University President John Garvey (L) and rector of the shrine Monsignor Walter Rossi. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
-UNDATED PHOTO- Donald W. Wuerl, bishop of Pittsburgh, is seen in this undated handout photo released May 16, 2006. [Pope Benedict] on Tuesday named Wuerl to be the new archbishop of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the American Catholic Church, the Vatican said. Wuerl succeeds [Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, 75, who is retiring after five years in the job.] ??? USE ONLY
Archbishop Donald Wuerl waves after his Mass of Installation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington June 22, 2006. [Wuerl is replacing Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who has resigned.]
Archbishop Donald Wuerl waves after his Mass of Installation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington June 22, 2006. Wuerl is replacing Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who has resigned. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 01: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, waits outside St. Patrick's Catholic Church prior to the 24th annual 'Blue Mass' May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. The annual mass is held at the beginning of National Police Week for those in law enforcement and fire safety, remembering those who have fallen, and supporting those who serve. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archbishop of Washington speaks during the dedication ceremony for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, November 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 27: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, throws out the first pitch before a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park on August 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Donald Cardinal Wuerl Archbishop of Washington, greets well-wishers at the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States where Pope Francis is staying, on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)

"You have sufficient elements to 'justify' your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes," the letter states. "However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you."

Wuerl said in a statement that he is "profoundly grateful" to Pope Francis and "deeply touched by his gracious words of understanding." The cardinal acknowledges the scandal and the public's anger and apologizes for "any past errors in judgment."

"The Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future. It permits this local Church to move forward," Wuerl said. "Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington."

Despite his resignation, Pope Francis has asked the cardinal to remain as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until his role is filled.

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