Washington's archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who has faced mounting calls for his resignation over his handling of sexual abuse cases, wrote on Tuesday that he will soon discuss with Pope Francis the possibility that he steps down from leading Washington's Catholic Church.
Wuerl did not say in his letter to priests whether he will ask Francis to accept his resignation, which he submitted three years ago at the customary retirement age of 75. But he acknowledged that many among the faithful have questions about their bishops' ability to lead them to healing due to the huge sexual-abuse crisis in the church, and said he would be discussing his resignation with the pope.
"At issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful entrusted to our care who have also been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and have questions about their bishop's ability to provide the necessary leadership," Wuerl wrote to the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Wuerl has already visited the Vatican since the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania, which revealed allegations of abuse by more than 300 priests across the state, called into question Wuerl's own conduct as a supervisor of priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, before coming to lead Washington's prominent archdiocese in 2006. When Wuerl spoke with Francis at the end of August, the pope told him to consult his priests about what he should do — and Wuerl did so at an annual Labor Day picnic for clergy, which he referred to in his letter on Tuesday.
"It was clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward," he wrote. "As fruit of our discernment I intend, in the very near future, to go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father about the resignation I presented nearly three years ago, November 12, 2015."
Wuerl can ask to step down, but only the pope can accept the resignation of an archbishop. It is entirely up to Francis whether Wuerl continues in his job or retires.
Wuerl's letter, however, seemed to indicate he believes his retirement is somewhat likely; he closed by anticipating "a new beginning" for the church he serves.