Pope Francis met with embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington last Thursday in Vatican City, where they discussed the cardinal's personal situation, according to a source familiar with Wuerl's presentation to local priests in Washington on Monday.
Wuerl, who is archbishop of Washington, told the priests about the papal meeting, including Francis' advice that the cardinal should consult with his priests as Wuerl discerns his future. That was part of a larger conversation between the Pope and Wuerl, the source said.
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Archdiocese of Washington Director of Communications Edward McFadden has said that Wuerl traveled to the Vatican last week, but declined to provide any specifics about the trip. The cardinal is a member of several powerful Vatican offices.
But the 77-year-old Wuerl is facing increasing scrutiny both over what he knew about abuse allegations against his predecessor, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, and how he handled abusive priests while he headed the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Wuerl has "categorically denied" that any information about accusations against McCarrick was ever brought to him. He has also defended his overall record handling of clerical abuse in Pittsburgh, even while acknowledging "errors in judgment."
Still, Wuerl has been under increasing pressure to step down, including calls from prominent Catholics who say that healing in the church requires new leadership. Archdiocesan officials say he does not have plans to resign.
"Cardinal Wuerl has spoken extensively over the past two months, conveyed his profound sadness, apologies and contrition, and addressed every issue as it has arisen in a straightforward and transparent manner," said McFadden, Wuerl's spokeman.
'Shame on you'
As Wuerl addressed the Catholic Church's clergy sexual abuse scandal at a Washington church on Sunday, one Catholic yelled "Shame on you!" while another turned her back on the cardinal in protest.
Wuerl addressed Washington's Annunciation Catholic Church, where the cardinal was installing a new pastor. In a short speech after the Mass, Wuerl asked the 200 or so people in the congregation to forgive his "errors in judgment" and "inadequacies."
Wuerl also urged the parish to pray for and remain loyal to Pope Francis, as "increasingly it is clear that he is the object of considerable animosity."
As Wuerl mentioned the Pope, Brian Garfield, who was sitting in the middle of the church, stood and yelled "Shame on you!" and quickly walked out.
Wuerl noted the interruption but continued speaking.
"Yes, my brothers and sisters, shame," Wuerl said. "I wish I could re-do everything over these 30 years as a bishop and each time get it always right. That's not the case. I do think together, asking for God's mercy, pleading for God's grace, recognizing that we can move into light, I simply ask you to keep me, keep all of those that have been abused, all of those who have suffered, all of the church in your prayers."
Afterward, Garfield, a lifelong Catholic, told CNN that he was upset about Wuerl's response to a damning grand jury report from Pennsylvania, which found that more than 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children since 1947 in six dioceses, including Pittsburgh.
The grand jury report, along with a separate scandal involving McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and sparked a high-stakes power play at the Vatican, with some pushing for the Pope's removal.
"I don't think he is a monster but I wish he would talk less about defending himself and more about his failings," Garfield said of Wuerl. "It's a little galling to be lectured on transparency by people who are lying to us," he continued. "I wish he would talk to us as a pastor and not a politician."
Most of the congregation clapped for Wuerl when he ended his brief address, and, as they shuffled out of the church on Sunday, many shook the cardinal's hand and offered brief sentiments of support.