WASHINGTON — A day after the release of a grand jury report that blamed him and other bishops for their roles in covering up decades of clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania, Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Wednesday implored Catholics to pray for abuse victims and said the church needs to "constantly be there" for them.
"I think we're all aware of the stories coming out in Pennsylvania … dealing with child sexual abuse over the years," Wuerl, a former Pittsburgh bishop who now leads the Archdiocese of Washington, said at a lunch-hour Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. "But here and now, let us turn our prayers to Mary and ask for her intercession."
A few hundred people filled the sanctuary on the Catholic feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day of devotion to the mother of Jesus.
The report released Tuesday threatens to tarnish the reputation of Wuerl, a close ally of Pope Francis and one of the most influential Roman Catholics in the United States, for his handling of several abuse cases. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh Diocese from 1988 to 2006, has long had a reputation as a church leader who championed a zero-tolerance policy long before other bishops did.
The criticism of Wuerl also comes one month after his predecessor in Washington, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, resigned after revelations that McCarrick sexually abused boys and exploited adult seminarians. They also come at a time when the church worldwide is grappling over how to respond to fresh allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups.
After the report's release, Wuerl denied the claims he failed to protect children or withheld key information from parishioners, and his spokesman called the investigation a "flawed process" steered "unwaveringly toward a predetermined result."
The archbishop didn't repeat the denials or delve into the details of the report during his appearance on the altar Wednesday. But as the Mass began, he said he wanted first of all to pray for victims of sexual abuse "no matter how long ago abuse may have taken place."
He also asked for "Our Lady's intercession for those who may have caused this," and added that "we fervently pray that we will be able to work toward restoring confidence and faith."
Later the archbishop said that "we need constantly to be there for the survivors," and that the church also needs to be there for "those whose faith may have been shaken by the activity or inaction of clergy."