What to Know
- Wuerl wrote to priests ahead of the release of the report that victim advocates call the largest such review by any state.
- He said he imposed a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy who committed abuse and a process to address allegations.
- The report faults Wuerl over his handling of abusive priests. He was the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
More than 1,000 children — and possible many more — were molested by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania, while senior church officials took steps to cover it up, according to a landmark grand jury report released Tuesday.
The report faults Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, over his handling of abusive priests. He was the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
The report says Wuerl approved transfers for priests instead of removing them from ministry, oversaw inadequate church investigations and concealed information when priests were reported to law enforcement. The report also says he advised parishes not to publicly announce or acknowledge complaints, and offered financial support to priests who were accused and later resigned.
Wuerl, who is one of the highest-profile cardinals in the United States, disputes some of the allegations in the report.
He says in a statement Tuesday that he "acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."
Wuerl wrote to priests in the Washington Archdiocese late Monday, defending himself ahead of the release of the report that victim advocates call the largest and most exhaustive such review by any U.S. state.
Wuerl contended that he acted diligently to protect children after learning about incidents of abuse in Pittsburgh's diocese when he became bishop in 1988, holding the post for 18 years through 2006.
"It moved me not simply to address these acts, but to be fully engaged, to meet with survivors and their families, and to do what I could to bring them comfort and try to begin a process for healing," Wuerl wrote.
He said he imposed a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy who committed abuse and a process to address allegations.
Wuerl said he hopes "a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report."
The Archdiocese of Washington published a website called The Wuerl Record that responded to the charges against Wuerl. That site had been taken down as of Wednesday afternoon.
"We created it as a resource to be helpful to the media with information," a spokeswoman said. "However, we heard the criticism from people about it and we took it down, and we are being transparent about why it was taken down."
The grand jury said Tuesday it believes the "real number" of abused children might be "in the thousands" since some records were lost and victims were afraid to come forward. The report said more than 300 clergy committed the abuse over a period of decades.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the two-year probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.
"The cover-up was sophisticated. And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up. These documents, from the dioceses' own `Secret Archives,' formed the backbone of this investigation," he said at a news conference in Harrisburg.
The grand jury scrutinized abuse allegations in dioceses that minister to more than half the state's 3.2 million Catholics. Its report echoed the findings of many earlier church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials' concealment of it.
The panel concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability by covering up abuse, failing to report accused clergy to police and discouraging victims from going to law enforcement.
Yet the grand jury's work might not result in justice for Catholics who say they were molested as children. While the probe yielded charges against two clergymen — including a priest who has since pleaded guilty, and another who allegedly forced his accuser to say confession after each sex assault — the vast majority of priests already identified as perpetrators are either dead or are likely to avoid arrest because their alleged crimes are too old to prosecute under state law.