Most Rev. Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, was one of 24 clergymen to be given one of the Vatican’s highest honors last week, when he was elevated to cardinal status. Wuerl is the fifth archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the first since 2001 to receive the appointment.
On Oct. 20, Pope Benedict XVI announced the 24 additions to the College of Cardinals, a body charged with one of the most prominent tasks in the Catholic Church – electing the new pope from among its ranks.
Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., Georgetown’s executive director of campus ministry, said that the promotion seems in line with the papacy’s tradition of naming the D.C. archbishop a cardinal.
“The five-year wait has come because traditionally, a cardinal may continue voting in the College of Cardinals until he reaches the age of 80,” he said.
Taking over as D.C.’s archbishop from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2006, Wuerl came to the District with 18 years behind him as bishop of Pittsburgh. McCarrick turned 80 on July 7, but will continue his membership in the College of Cardinals.
Wuerl’s time as D.C.’s archbishop has not been without controversy. Wuerl opposes same-sex marriage, which D.C. legalized last spring. Wuerl joined with several Baptist ministers to call for a vote on the definition of marriage, according to The Washington Post. Following the law’s passage, Wuerl transferred the archdioceses’ 80-year-old foster-care program to the National Center for Children and Families, due to the fact that the program would be legally obligated to treat same-sex couples equally during the foster-care process or lose all city funding.
Wuerl has also taken issue with Georgetown’s liberal interpretation of its role as a Catholic university.
“Institutions that are recognized as Catholic and that exercise their ministry and activities as a part of the Church and in the name of the Church are not independent from the Church,” Wuerl wrote in the Catholic Standard in May 2009.
He also voiced his concern when Georgetown’s Law School allowed a group supporting reproductive rights to give an award to Vice President Joe Biden on campus in April 2009. Wuerl last visited the Hilltop on Sept. 23, 2010, for a lecture commemorating Cardinal John Henry Newman’s beatification in Riggs Library, as a guest of University President John J. DeGioia, according to O’Brien.
Wuerl, a graduate of The Catholic University of America, serves as chancellor of CUA as part of his duties as the archbishop of D.C. and as the William Cardinal Baum professor of theology at CUA. The only other American to be appointed a cardinal last week was Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, Mo., and current head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s equivalent of a Supreme Court.