Parishioners in the Archdiocese of Washington, already rocked by the resignation of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick amid sexual misconduct accusations, on Sunday expressed outrage over the sexual abuse by priests detailed in a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report. But they offered a variety of reactions about Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s role in concealing those crimes from public scrutiny when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Robert Sandell, 64, who works in the District and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I went to Catholic school for seven years and feel like I got a great education.”
Mr. Sandell said he supports calls for Cardinal Wuerl to resign as archbishop of Washington and hopes that any clergy who covered up abuse is defrocked and put in jail.
Mariana Catano, 24, who lives near St. Vincent de Paul in Southeast, said the news about the grand jury report “makes me want to keep my distance” from the church.
“It’s very sad to hear that this problem has happened for so many years and nothing has been done,” Ms. Catano said Sunday. “There’s no real punishment.”
One Capitol Hill, Andy McKinley, 40, described how Father Gary Studniewski at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Southeast dedicated his entire homily to discussing the scandal.
“This was on the altar. So I was pleasantly shocked,” Mr. McKinley said. “Our priest mentioned his hope is that that lay members of the church will have a role in determining how the church goes forward. Obviously whether that comes to pass is above his pay grade, but to hear that was comforting.”
He said his “feelings are all over the wall” but he does want Cardinal Wuerl to resign.
“Not only would it be the correct symbolic move, but it would be the right moral and legal move,” Mr. McKinley said. “Seriously legal missteps were made.”
A Pennsylvania grand jury last week released a nearly 900-page report detailing incidences of sexual abuse committed by more than 300 priests in six dioceses over several decades. The grand jury, which took more than two years to compile its report, noted crimes against more than 1,000 children and blamed church leaders who covered up those misdeeds.
Cardinal Wuerl, who served as bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, defended his role Tuesday: “While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.”
The report did note that Cardinal Wuerl did discipline some priests and tried to create a more transparent process in dealing with such matters. But it also noted that bishops, including the cardinal, downplayed accusations of molestation and rape, transferred pedophile priests to other parishes, and paid off some victims to maintain their silence.
Nationally, Catholics once faithful with their financial support to their churches are searching for ways to respond to the constant sex-abuse cases that have tarnished the institution in which they believe, with back-to-back instances in the past two months.
The grand jury report came two months after Pope Francis ordered disgraced Bishop McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop sexually abused a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. Last month, Francis accepted Mr. McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance.”
“In an organization that spans the whole world like the Catholic Church, you don’t know where your money is going. And when you read about these priest-abuse scandals it just raises that question to the highest power. What is this money going for?” said parishioner Michael Drweiga, 63, in Wilmette, Illinois.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.