Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former archbishop of Washington, D.C., was aware of an allegation of sexual assault against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, his predecessor, as early as 2004, according to his Jan. 15 letter to the Society of Jesus.
Wuerl’s letter comes after previous public claims that no accusations were made against McCarrick during his time in D.C. until June 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York reported a credible allegation of abuse against McCarrick. Wuerl denied prior knowledge because his statements were in response to questions of McCarrick’s abuse of minors, whereas Robert Ciolek was an adult during the timeframe of abuse, according to Wuerl’s letter.
In 2004, Ciolek, who left the priesthood to get married in 1988, accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him while he was an adult seminarian in a complaint to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to the D.C. Diocese’s Jan. 10 news release. Wuerl, who was then the bishop of Pittsburgh, reported the accusations to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S., a clerical office of the Vatican based in D.C. with the rank of an embassy. Wuerl kept the accusation confidential following his report to the Papal Nunciature.
His disclosure comes amid student calls for the university to revoke the honorary degrees given to Wuerl and McCarrick. In response, Georgetown has assembled a working group to revisit the honorary degrees and has yet to announce a decision.
Georgetown will continue taking measures to address the issue of abuse in the Catholic Church, according to a university spokesperson.
“The allegations surrounding abuse in the Catholic Church are deeply troubling,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is with profound sadness and concern for the victims and those harmed by these actions that we continue our work to respond to this moment through dialogue, reflection, and action, building on the convenings this past semester and ongoing conversations with our community.”
The Archdiocese of D.C. defended Wuerl for respecting Ciolek’s privacy in his handling of the allegation in 2004.
“Bishop Wuerl adhered to Mr. Ciolek’s request for confidentiality, and the Archdiocese understands that Mr. Ciolek also expressed his gratitude with how the Diocese of Pittsburgh handled his allegations,” the D.C. Archdiocese wrote in a Jan. 10 news release.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for survivors of institutional sexual abuse, is calling for the Catholic Church to punish Wuerl for his compliance in covering up McCarrick’s abuse and later denial.
“If other American prelates are as disgusted with the abuse crisis as they claim, they should publicly demand that the Vatican excommunicate not only Wuerl but every other official who has ignored, minimized, or covered-up allegations of child sex abuse,” SNAP wrote in a Jan. 14 news release.
The recent development comes after Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation from the position of D.C. archbishop in October after a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed Wuerl’s mishandling of cases of sexual abuse during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh.
McCarrick was suspended from ministry last June and resigned from the College of Cardinals in July, the first cardinal to resign from the advisory group due to allegations of sexual abuse. He is currently being tried by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the judicial arm of the Vatican.
This article was updated on Jan. 19.