Volume > Issue > Wuerl, the Flesh & the Devil

Wuerl, the Flesh & the Devil


By Pieter Vree | March 2019
Pieter Vree is Editor of the NOR.

Donald’s dissembling was his downfall.

Archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2006 to 2018, Donald Cardinal Wuerl succeeded the now-notorious serial molester Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, a onetime high roller in the Church, as titular head of the nation’s most prominent see. Before that, Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. By coincidence — or not! — both Washington and Pittsburgh have become flashpoints in the resurgent sex-abuse crisis.

To say that Wuerl is complicit in the cover-up of McCarrick’s crimes would be an understatement. To say he has a record of stretching the truth would be insufficient. It would be more accurate to say that Wuerl is “completely compromised” and he “lies shamelessly,” as the much-maligned Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò put it in his “testimony” (Aug. 22). Heck, Wuerl could have been whom Al Franken had in mind when he wrote Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

Why? This past July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the publication of the results of its two-year investigation of clerical sexual abuse in six dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Known as the “Pennsylvania grand jury report,” it mentions Wuerl more than 200 times, describing him as one of the bishops who helped cover up the abuse of possibly thousands of children in the state. The report even says Wuerl coined a phrase to describe the cover-up: “circle of secrecy.”

One particularly horrific case in Pittsburgh involved a ring of pedophile priests who produced child pornography on parish property and used “whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims.” One of the priests, Fr. George Zirwas, was the subject of numerous complaints involving underage boys between 1987 and 1995. In December 1988 he was sent to a mental hospital, but upon release was reassigned to parish work. In 1994 he was placed on a leave of absence but “was returned to ministry by Bishop Donald Wuerl.” Months later, in response to yet another complaint, Zirwas was again placed on leave, after which he moved to Miami. In 1996 he told the Pittsburgh diocese he knew of other priests’ sexual activity, and he “demanded that his sustenance payments be increased” in exchange for the information. Wuerl told him that to get an increase, he must either provide the names of the priests or “state that he had no knowledge of what he had previously claimed.” Zirwas chose the latter course, and he “was granted an additional financial stipend and his sustenance payments were continued,” the report states. In other words, Wuerl paid him to shut up and stay away. (Zirwas later fled to Havana, became involved in the local “gay” scene, and was murdered in 2001.)

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