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Online petition started to rename Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School

Theresa Clift
| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, 3:00 p.m.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in Cranberry
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in Cranberry
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, formerly served as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
AP
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, formerly served as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Students tour Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School during the school's open house, Sunday, October 2, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Students tour Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School during the school's open house, Sunday, October 2, 2016.

Almost 1,200 people have signed an online petition asking the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to remove Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s name from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in light of a massive grand jury report detailing alleged sex abuse by Pennsylvania priests.

North Catholic alumni who signed the petition said Wuerl does not deserve to have his name on the school.

“When you put someone’s name on a school or any kind of institution, that should be a thing of honor,” Aidan Littlefield, 26, of Bloomfield told the Trib on Wednesday. “Cardinal Wuerl, especially with the recent (report), is not someone who should be honored in that kind of way.”

Diocese officials have not yet considered whether to remove Wuerl’s name from the school, Nicholas S. Vaskov, a diocese spokesman, said.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik will be one to decide whether to remove the name, but with the consideration of the school, Vaskov said.

The school’s principal, Luke Crawford, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

The scathing grand jury report detailing 70 years of abuse by church officials in Pennsylvania was critical of Wuerl’s handling of allegations while he was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese. Wuerl is now archbishop of Washington.

Zubik said neither he nor Wuerl, his predecessor, tried to cover up decades of child abuse by clergymen. Wuerl defended himself ahead of the report, saying he acted diligently to protect children while he was bishop of Pittsburgh.

Wuerl’s name is mentioned 169 times in the report. The report detailed occasions when Wuerl intervened to stop priests accused of abuse but also times where Wuerl transferred those priests to other parishes. He is not among the 301 “predator priests” named in the report.

Littlefield said he signed the petition because he wants the name of the school to be returned to North Catholic High School, as it was when he attended. Many North Catholic alumni opposed the school adding Wuerl’s name when it moved from Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood to Cranberry, Littlefield said.

“It changed the identity of an alma mater that we all knew and loved,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the same kind of traditional feel to it.”

Several petition signers left comments in agreement.

North Catholic alumnus Kevin Ferra, 38, of Pittsburgh also wants the school to remove Wuerl’s name.

“If it isn’t removed, the school acknowledges and condones his actions (or lack thereof),” Ferra wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “As a 1998 graduate, I have always been proud of North Catholic. This is a pivotal moment in the school’s history and their action (or lack thereof) will define them forever.”

The petition’s introduction reads: “This does not deserve to have a prestigious school named after him. This will directly impact students currently enrolled in the school, but will also impact the legacy of the school. Not to mention, those that were hurt while he looked away.”

The petition, posted to Change.org on Tuesday by North Catholic alumni, had 1,156 signatures by 9 p.m.

Wuerl was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese for 18 years, ending in 2006 when he was promoted to his position in Washington.

Several who signed the petition left messages saying they consider Wuerl’s alleged sexual abuse cover ups to be just as bad as if he had abused children himself.

On the heels of the grand jury report, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori dropped plans to name a new Catholic school after the late Cardinal William H. Keeler, former Harrisburg bishop named in the document. The report accuses Keeler of covering up sexual abuse allegations while serving as bishop of Harrisburg. Keeler also allegedly allowed an accused priest to minister in the Baltimore archdiocese.

Harrisburg bishop Ronald W. Gainer this month ordered the removal of the names of former bishops from all diocese buildings, schools and halls.

”The investigation caused the Diocese to take a frank look at its past as well as its present. Part of that assessment was an evaluation of whether any lingering symbols of the sad history revealed in the investigation should remain,” the Harrisburg diocese wrote in a statement issued Aug. 1. 

Vaskov said he is not aware of any other diocese-owned buildings or schools that bear names of clergymen named in the report. There could be church halls bearing the names, though, he said.

The Pittsburgh diocese opened Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in 2014. The $70 million high school was built for 1,000 students. The school had only 286 when it opened. The campus in Troy Hill had about 200 students when it closed.

Many of the first students at the school came from the Troy Hill campus, but the diocese banked on Cranberry’s rapid growth and students from all over the area to fill the school. The Troy Hill school opened in 1939.

Work started on Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in 2012. The 180,000 square-foot building has a two-story wing of classrooms, a 1,000-seat auditorium and a gym big enough to hold 1,250 people.

The school had 496 students enrolled in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the school’s website.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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