Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former Archbishop of Washington, was once the most powerful man in the American Church – second, perhaps, only to his predecessor Theodore McCarrick, who has since been exposed as a serial predator. But in October, Cardinal Wuerl resigned, after after a grand jury report alleged that he had reassigned paedophile priests during his tenure as Bishop of Pittsburgh (a claim he denied). He has since come under pressure because he heard an allegation against McCarrick in 2004 – though he says he handled it appropriately.
The cardinal’s standing in Rome hasn’t changed much, however. Following his resignation, Pope Francis appointed Wuerl apostolic administrator, managing the diocese until his successor is chosen. Six months later and there he remains.
Yet public opinion here in America pays little attention to Vatican politics. In August – nearly two months before his resignation, but after the Pittsbugh report – Wuerl’s name was removed from a Pennsylvania high school. Two days before, vandals smeared red spray paint over his name on the sign (pictured).
Other bishops are facing the same ignominy. On March 19, the Catholic News Agency reported that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would be removing the names of two archbishops, William Cousins and Rembert Weakland from diocesan office buildings. In February, the Diocese of Green Bay struck the name of ex-bishop Aloysius Wycislo, who was accused of mishandling abuse cases, from its cathedral centre. That same month, the name of Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling was removed from a West Virginia gym. And the list goes on.
These reproaches may not be justice per se, but they have considerable symbolic value. As frustration with Rome’s response to the abuse crisis continues to grow, revoking these honours is one of the few ways the laity, diocesan priests, and local officials can register their discontent. Equally striking is the absence of dissent. Few of Wuerl’s many influential protégés have raised their voice to defend his reputation.