Wuerl shrugs off descriptions of role in papal election: I'm no power broker

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a Pittsburgh native and the city's bishop for 18 years, won't comment on international reports that labeled him a major player and power broker in the election of Pope Francis.

“You've got to remember I grew up in Mt. Washington and I came out of a wonderful family, a great community. But I don't think in any of my wildest dreams, I don't think those adjectives would have been applied to me, and I'll leave it at that,” Wuerl told the Tribune Review, laughing.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune Review, Wuerl conceded that “an element” of the church drifted away during the 1970s and '80s. But he attributes much of the contraction in the church here to demographic changes and said the church is experiencing a newfound strength among youth.

Wuerl predicted the church will grow as people come to know the new pope from Argentina, known for his simplicity and love of the poor.

“He just happens to be a beautiful image that is the face of the church, the face of compassion and caring,” Wuerl said.

He dismissed the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church in North America and Europe in recent decades as a thing of the past.

“I have a hard time really thinking today that there is this whole world full of people abandoning the church because there were serious failures. We're talking about 15 years ago. The only people bringing it up are the media.

“We've dealt with that. We've attempted to respond in the way I don't think any other institution has,” he said.

While Wuerl wears a cardinal's red these days, Pittsburghers still claim him as their own.

Debbie Kostosky of Crafton said it seems as though her family has always known the man who served the Diocese of Pittsburgh before being named the archbishop of Washington.

Her mother, Dorothy Kostosky, 83, still refers to Wuerl as “Father Donnie.”

“My father and he grew up in the same neighborhood. And my mom worked at a bakery near St. Paul's Seminary when Cardinal Wuerl was rector there. He may be slim, but he has a sweet tooth,” Debbie Kostosky said.

Kostosky said her mother was thrilled to greet Wuerl when he returned to Pittsburgh to give the commencement speech at Duquesne University on Friday.

“He was so kind to her and all the ladies at the bakery,” Kostosky said.

Wuerl, 72, will return again on May 11 to give the keynote speech at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

The cardinal, who once taught theology classes at Duquesne, holds a chair at Catholic University in Washington. He said he enjoys lecturing there from time to time. Wuerl acknowledged he has concerns for new college graduates strapped with debt and faced with a tight job market. But he said that problem extends across the spectrum of higher education in America.

“We providing a Catholic education are attempting to be there for as many students as possible, but I think there has to be on the national level, a really effective debate on how we provide our young people with the best education possible and do it in a financially reasonable way.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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