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Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick, officials confirm

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, 9:06 p.m.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl in 2010. (Gerald Martineau/for The Washington Post)
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl in 2010. (Gerald Martineau/for The Washington Post)

D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican in 2004 despite his public denials, church officials confirmed Thursday evening.

Robert Ciolek, a former priest who reached a settlement with the church in 2005 after reporting abuse and misconduct by clerics including McCarrick, told The Post he recently learned that the Pittsburgh Diocese has a file that shows Wuerl’s initials next to a first-hand account of Wuerl bringing Ciolek’s complaint to the then-Vatican ambassador, Gabriel Montalvo. At the time, Wuerl was the bishop in Pittsburgh.

The document Ciolek told the Post he saw in December clashes sharply with Wuerl’s public statements about McCarrick since the older cleric was suspended in June due to a complaint he groped an altar boy decades ago.

As the American Catholic Church since summer has erupted into a full-blown clergy sex abuse scandal, Wuerl has largely rejected charges that he played a role in it, portraying himself as unaware about the allegations against McCarrick that set off the crisis.

McCarrick’s case, which includes allegations of youth abuse and harassment of seminarians, is reportedly now about to be decided in one of the highest-profile clergy clergy sex abuse trial processes to come before Rome.

Both the archdiocese of D.C. and the Pittsburgh diocese Thursday night acknowledged Wuerl knew and told the Vatican, and said they were simply trying to protect Ciolek’s confidentiality.

Ciolek dismissed that Thursday. “There was nothing that precluded them from talking to anyone” about his case. Wuerl at worst could have said: ‘I am aware but I can’t name that person.’”

Wuerl himself was forced to retire early in the fall due to his alleged mishandling of clergy sexual misconduct when he was bishop of Pitsburgh and his replacement is rumored to be named in coming weeks. A grand jury report by Pennsylvania prosecutors detailing extensive clergy abuse and cover-up and criticizing Wuerl for not doing more has heaped fuel on the belief that the Catholic Church hasn’t reformed itself at its highest levels.

Many Catholics have been angered and hurt by reports that the popular, prominent McCarrick regularly engaged in misconduct and that it was an open secret among the hierarchy.

Wuerl, a close ally of Pope Francis seen as a loyal, effective and cautious administrator, has portrayed the McCarrick matter as news to him when he’s been asked since June. He’s issued similar statements of surprise as the allegations included minor victims, seminarians and priests and also settlements.

In most cases his denials were specific, such as in June when he said: “I can report that no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.” He denied in that statement and in others knowing about the settlements, and said after the first youth allegation only that he was “shocked and saddened.”

In some cases his denials were broader, such as in a July 31 interview in the archdiocesan paper Catholic Standard, in which Wuerl said:

“There have also been numerous stories or blog posts that repeated long-standing rumors or innuendos that may be out there regarding Archbishop McCarrick. … In the past month, I have seen some of those now public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them. With rumors – especially old rumors going back 30, 40, even 50 years – there is not much we can do unless people come forward to share what they know or what they experienced.”

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