Donald Wuerl

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His Eminence
Donald William Wuerl
Cardinal, Archbishop of Washington
File:Donald Wuerl 2015.jpg
Cardinal Wuerl
See Washington
Appointed May 16, 2006
Installed June 22, 2006
Predecessor Theodore Edgar McCarrick
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli
Chancellor of the Catholic University of America
Ordination December 17, 1966
by Francis Frederick Reh
Consecration January 6, 1986
by John Paul II
Created Cardinal November 20, 2010
by Benedict XVI
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Donald William Wuerl
Born (1940-11-12) November 12, 1940 (age 80)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Denomination Roman Catholic
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Coat of arms Donald William Wuerl's coat of arms
Styles of
Donald William Wuerl
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

Donald William Wuerl (born November 12, 1940) is an American cardinal of the Catholic Church. He is the sixth Archbishop of Washington, serving since 2006. He previously served as Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle (1986–87) and Bishop of Pittsburgh (1988–2006). He was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Early life and education

Donald Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the second of four children of Francis and Mary Anna (née Schiffauer) Wuerl.[1] He has two brothers, Wayne and Dennis, and a sister, Carol.[2] His father worked nights weighing freight cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and served in the Navy during World War II.[2] His mother died in 1944, and his father married Kathryn Cavanaugh in 1946.[2]

Wuerl received his early education at the parochial school of St. Mary of the Mount Church in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1958.[3] He then attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he was a Basselin Scholar at Theological College.[4] He there earned a bachelor's degree (1962) and master's degree (1963) in philosophy.[5]

He continued his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.[1] He earned a master's degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1967. After ordination, Wuerl was sent to Rome for further theological study. He is an alumnus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum where he obtained a doctorate in theology in 1974.

Early career

He was ordained a priest on December 17, 1966.[6] His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Rosalia parish in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood and as secretary to then-Pittsburgh bishop John Wright, who was elevated to cardinal in 1969; Wuerl was his full-time secretary in Vatican City from 1969 until Wright's death in 1979.

Because Cardinal Wright had to use a wheelchair due to his severe arthritis in 1978, Wuerl, as Wright's secretary, was one of three non-cardinals permitted inside the conclave which selected Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.[7][8]

Wuerl was rector at St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh from 1981 to 1985. In 1982, he was made executive secretary to Bishop John Marshall for a papally mandated study of U.S. seminaries.

Episcopal career

Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle

Wuerl was appointed titular bishop of Rosemarkie and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle on December 3, 1985,[6] which was controversial, in that he was to take over much of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen's authority by being given "complete and final decision-making power" in several key areas.[9] He was given complete authority over liturgy, the archdiocesan tribunal, seminarians and priestly formation, laicized priests, and issues of health care and ministry to homosexuals.

Wuerl was consecrated bishop on January 6, 1986,[6] at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy by Pope John Paul II.

Bishop of Pittsburgh

Wuerl was appointed as the eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on February 12, 1988[6] and installed on March 25, 1988.[6]

In 1989, Wuerl merged Sacred Heart and St. Paul Cathedral high schools to establish Oakland Catholic High School (all female-only schools) in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, using the buildings at St. Paul Cathedral High School.[10]

Wuerl launched and hosted a television program, The Teaching of Christ, in 1990 and wrote an adult catechism with the same name. He taught at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh as a distinguished service professor. Wuerl has served as a chaplain since 1999 for the Order of Malta, Federal Association, U.S.A., a division of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, commonly referred to as the Knights of Malta.[11] Wuerl has also written regular columns in Columbia, the major publication of the Knights of Columbus in the United States.[12]

Wuerl closed 73 church buildings, which included 37 churches, and reduced 331 parishes by 117 through merging while bishop of Pittsburgh; he was managing the remaining 214 parishes when he left in June 2006.[13] Wuerl's plan, The Parish Reorganization and Revitalization Project,[14] is now used as a model for other dioceses seeking parish suppression. The mansion that housed Wuerl for over two decades, as well as his four predecessors, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh was sold since the new bishop, David Zubik, decided to live at St. Paul's Seminary. The Jacobethan Revival house along Fifth Avenue, at 9,842 square feet (914.4 m2) with 39 rooms, which include 11 bedrooms, six full baths, and a half-bath, had an appraised value of $1.5 million and is one of the largest homes in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.[15] As of March 2009, the property was listed for sale at $2.5 million; it formerly enclosed an extensive collection of antiques, Oriental rugs, and art during Wuerl's residency.[16] The property was sold to an anonymous private trust for over $2 million.[17]

Archbishop of Washington

President George W. Bush and Laura Bush welcome outgoing Archbishop of Washington Theodore Edgar McCarrick, left, the incoming Archbishop of Washington, Donald W. Wuerl, far right, and papal nuncio Pietro Sambi to the United States at the White House

Wuerl was installed as Archbishop of Washington on June 22, 2006,[6] at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29, 2006.

In April 2008, Wuerl, as Archbishop of Washington, hosted the apostolic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the District of Columbia, which included a visit to the White House, the celebration of Vespers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mass at the new Nationals Park, and an address at The Catholic University of America.

Wuerl has been chairman of the board of directors at the National Catholic Educational Association since December 12, 2005.[18][19] He is also chancellor at The Catholic University of America. In September 2010, Wuerl was appointed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delegate in the United States to facilitate the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009 to provide for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church in a corporate manner. He also heads the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee created for such implementation. Other members of the ad hoc committee are Bishop Kevin William Vann of Fort Worth, Texas, and Bishop Robert Joseph McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts. The committee will be assisted by Father Scott Hurd.[20]

Commitment to priestly formation

From 1994 until 2003, as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl served as a member of the board of governors of the Pontifical North American College in Rome (Chairman, 1998–1999), representing the Pennsylvania-New Jersey Region (Region III) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2008, as Archbishop of Washington he was again elected to the college's board of governors, this time representing the Washington DC-Delaware-Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia region of the conference (Region IV).

Elevation to College of Cardinals

On November 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI elevated Wuerl to the College of Cardinals in a public consistory held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome. He was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli. In December 2010, Wuerl was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.[citation needed]

On October 24, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named Wuerl to be the Relator-General of the 2012 World Synod of Bishops meeting on the New Evangelization.[21]

On December 10, 2011, he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture for a five-year renewable term.[22]

On April 21, 2012, Cardinal Wuerl was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On December 16, 2013 he was appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.[23]

He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that selected Pope Francis.

Public positions

Child abuse zero tolerance

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wuerl has "a national reputation for zero tolerance of priests who molest minors."[24]

Wuerl has been a strong advocate within the Catholic hierarchy for confronting sexual abuse more directly. In September 1988 when he was serving as Bishop of Pittsburgh, he accepted a dinner invitation from a family suing the diocese for sexual abuse by a priest. Although the diocese's lawyers had discouraged Wuerl from attending the dinner, Wuerl became convinced that sexual abuse was a problem in his diocese. Wuerl settled the lawsuit with the family, and the priest involved was laicized and eventually ended up in prison. Wuerl told his staff that in cases of alleged sexual abuse, the first concern should be for the victim, the second concern should be for the victim's family, and only third should clergy consider the reputation of the Church.[24]

In the years that followed, Wuerl investigated every priest in his diocese accused of sexual misconduct, and removed several. On one occasion, Wuerl successfully fought to laicize a priest who the Vatican initially had protected.[24]

In 2010, Wuerl argued that the Church has made progress in confronting abusers. He told Fox News Sunday that "we have succeeded in guaranteeing that if a priest is accused, and there is a credible allegation, he is simply removed from the ministry. That is reported to the authorities, and we begin to try to heal whatever was damaged in that abuse."[25]

Religion and politics

In cases where Church doctrine clashes with government policies over abortion, Wuerl stated that the decision to provide communion should be decided on a case by case basis, saying, "Our primary job is to teach and try to convince people. The tradition in our country has not been in the direction of refusing Communion, and I think it's served us well."[26] Reverend Thomas Reese explained this position by saying "[Wuerl is] quite orthodox theologically, but he doesn't like to play cop; he's not an authoritarian person."[26]

In 2009, the D.C. City Council proposed and ultimately passed a same-sex marriage bill. In November 2009, Wuerl signed an ecumenical statement, known as the Manhattan Declaration, calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences.[27] The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the extension of the civil definition of marriage to same-sex couples undermines the common good of society as a whole.[28] In the debate on the D.C. same-sex marriage bill, the Archdiocese of Washington advocated for religious liberty provisions that would protect the Church's ability to provide social services (i.e. adoption) in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage.[29] After the Washington Post characterized the archdiocese as giving an "ultimatum" to the city,[30] Wuerl clarified the Church's position in a letter to the Post, stating there was "no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now."[31] In December 2009, on the day of the bill's passage, same-sex marriage advocates still claimed that Wuerl had "refused to alter his official position" to reduce social services in the archdiocese.[32] On the same day the archdiocese, though expressing its view that the bill did not adequately protect religious liberty, nonetheless affirmed its commitment to serving the needs of the poor and its hope for "working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church."[33] However, reflecting the requirements of the newly enacted law upon adoption services in the District of Columbia, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington ended its foster care and public adoption program because it would not license same-sex couples for the program.[34]

Response to Dominus iesus

In 2000, the Vatican issued a document entitled Dominus iesus (Latin for "Lord Jesus") which stated that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Wuerl explained its meaning the following way: "When the document says that salvation comes through the Church it includes the Orthodox and Catholic churches...This says that we are all in some way, either through baptism or profession of the revelation of the word of God, related to each other. Those are elements of the true church that we share."[35]

Response to Summorum pontificum

When on July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum pontificum authorizing all Latin Church priests to celebrate Mass using either the Roman Missal as revised in 1969 or the 1962 edition, Wuerl said the Pope "is trying to reach out pastorally to those who feel an attraction to this form of the liturgy, and he is asking the pastors to be aware of and support their interest". He added that in his archdiocese the Tridentine Mass was already celebrated weekly in three places, with a total participation by about 500 people.[36] He had a circular sent to his priests about a special committee that he would establish "to assist pastors in evaluating and responding to requests for the regular and public celebration" of the 1962 form of Mass.

As of 2015, the Tridentine Mass is celebrated weekly in three places, the same ones that existed in 2007, and the special committee never became operative.[37]


Pastoral letters as Archbishop of Washington


  1. 1.0 1.1 Miranda, Salvador. "WUERL, Donald William (1940– )". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rodgers-Melnick, Ann (May 14, 1994). "Francis J. Wuerl, Whose 4 Children Included A Bishop". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Washington, D.C., Archbishop-Designate Donald Wuerl". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 17, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "News & Events". The Catholic University of America.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Duin, Julia (June 12, 2006). "Wuerl a 'teaching bishop' – McCarrick's successor prepares to lead Diocese of Washington". The Washington Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh – History of Bishops Webpage – Retrieved on October 18, 2008
  7. Almade, Frank D. (September 29, 2008). "1978: With John Paul II, a new era began for the church". Pittsburgh Catholic Newspaper. Pittsburgh Catholic Publishing Associates. Retrieved November 10, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Gibson, David (December 24, 2015). "Cardinal Donald Wuerl: The pope's man in Washington". Crux. Retrieved December 24, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Conflict in the Catholic Hierarchy: a study of coping strategies in the Hunthausen affair, with preferential attention to discursive strategies – Schilling, Timothy Peter – From 2003 – Retrieved on October 22, 2008
  10. "History" section – Oakland Catholic High School website
  11. Order Of Malta Federal Association, USA official website – The Chaplains of the Order of Malta, Federal Association webpage – Retrieved on November 10, 2008
  12. Knights of Columbus.
  13. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Newspaper Article – Bishop Zubik will face many obstacles – From July 22, 2007 – Retrieved on October 23, 2008
  14. Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh official website news release – Bishop Wuerl Appointed Archbishop Of Washington – May 16, 2006 – Retrieved on October 23, 2008
  15. Smith, Craig (November 8, 2008), "Diocese to sell roomy Shadyside mansion", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Tribune-Review Publishing Company, retrieved November 10, 2008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Pitz, Marylynne (March 14, 2009), "Bishops' mansion was home for precious antiques, paintings", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PG Publishing Co., Inc., retrieved March 18, 2009<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. LaRussa, Tony (September 3, 2009), "Shadyside mansion sold by Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese", Tribune-Review, Trib Total Media, retrieved November 18, 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. National Catholic Educational Association – Press Release Webpage – From January 4, 2006 – Retrieved on May 18, 2009
  19. National Catholic Educational Association – Board of Directors Webpage Retrieved on October 17, 2008
  20. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Press Release
  23. [1]
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Wuerl's tough record on sex abuse spurs speculation of move to Boston, Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 15, 2003
  25. Archbishop of Washington Talks Sexual Abuse, Don't Ask Don't Tell
  26. 26.0 26.1 Pope Names Pittsburgh Bishop to Washington, D.C., Post, New York Times, May 17, 2006
  27. Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience
  28. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Website – Defense of Marriage
  29. Archdiocese of Washington website – Same Sex Marriage
  30. Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum
  31. D.C.'s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the right balance
  32. Solmonese, J. : Unbelievable (mass email), Washington, December 15, 2009.
  33. Archdiocese of Washington Website – News Release
  34. Catholic Standard – Online Edition
  35. Rodgers-Melnick, Ann (September 7, 2000). "Wuerl: Others can be saved | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 15, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Nancy Frazier O'Brien, "U.S. bishops say pope affirming importance of Mass in both its forms", Catholic News Service, 10 July 2007
  37. "Foreign Language Parishes", Archdiocese of Washington website, 25 February 2015


  • Glenn, Francis A. (1993), Shepherds of the Faith 1843–1993: A Brief History of the Bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh: Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, ISBN none<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Marcel André J. Gervais
Bishop of Rossmarkaeum
Succeeded by
William G. Curlin
Preceded by
Anthony Bevilacqua
Bishop of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
David Zubik
Preceded by
Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Preceded by
Pio Laghi
Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli