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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cardinal Ambition: From Wolsey to Wuerl

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Cardinal Wuerl and Pope Francis Cardinal Wuerl and Pope Francis

Cardinal Wuerl sits amongst the Pope's inner circle, responsible for the appointment of bishops worldwide and he has been named to direct the committee that will inform dioceses nationwide how to prepare for the Synod next October. What will this  mean to the Faithful?

In mid-October, The Washington Post's Lifestyle Section ran a front page story entitled, Drama. Ego. Protocol: Washington Dinners Have it All and that's just the seating chart, by Roxanne Roberts. The focus of the article was where to seat the invited guests, given their importance, at the table of an imaginary Washington dinner party, in this case one given in honor of the birthday of Virginia's Senator, Tim Kaine. The selected hosts for the evening were Wayne and Catherine Reynolds, known in the Washington Establishment's lexicon as "high rollers," that is, people with lots of money, and disproportionate influence.


To make the final cut of invitees to a soiree of this type, even if a purely fictionalized one, is a clear sign that the recipient has, in effect, made it amongst those others with similarly high profiles, and has qualities deemed important or considered fashionable in our nation's capital. In the world of Washington today, this type of dinner invitation, real or imagined, to members of the "smart set" is proof positive that one has reached the pinnacle of importance and acceptance.

All Washington parties provide for a broad range of people with different personalities to stimulate conversation during dinner: some from the political world or government, some from entertainment, some from the get the idea. And, indeed, such a surmise would be accurate, for the blend and mix of The Post's proposed seating arrangements included representatives from each of the areas listed, plus those who seem to appear on every list for every reception, quaintly referred to as "Washington Insiders." Well, who were the selected guests chosen by The Post's expert on these matters, Beth Ann Newton, Editor of The Social List of Washington, to be invited to this most illustrious, but phantom, affair?

The Vice-President, the highest ranking invitee, was seated to the immediate left of the host, but not his wife, who "was teaching that night." The British Ambassador came with his, and from the Congress, Senators Rockefeller (D. WVa.) and Gillibrand (D. NY) and spouses were part of this group, as was the Democratic fundraiser and actress, Eva Longoria. To make sure that diversity was visible, Michael Kaiser, the former President of the Kennedy Center, and his husband - I am not making this up - John Roberts, not the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, were seated opposite one another. Speaking of the Court, Justice Ginsburg was there, as was Vernon Jordan, the proverbial "Washington Insider," and his wife. But in the middle of this gaggle of the rich and famous sat a man whose presence could be considered irregular: Donald Cardinal Wuerl. Why would the only prelate invited to this high-profile non-religious affair be the Catholic Cardinal/Archbishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C.?

In her exhaustive study of the homosexual influence within the Church, The Rite of Sodomy, author Randy Engel briefly described the rise of Rev. Wuerl to the rank of bishop. (The book, published in 2006, could not chart his trajectory as a current "Vatican Insider.") A native of Pittsburgh, Donald Wuerl attended the North American College in Rome and was ordained in December, 1966. Assigned to a small parish church in his native city, within a short time he became the private secretary of Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh, and followed him to Rome after Bishop Wright was "kicked upstairs" and made Prefect of the Roman Curia. Shortly thereafter, Pope Paul VI rewarded him a red hat. 

Although considered a "hard liner" within the Church, Bishop Wright's actions contradicted that assumption. For example, he undercut the then Cardinal/Archbishop of Washington, Patrick O'Boyle, when the brouhaha broke out at Catholic University over Humanae Vitae in 1968.

In 1979, Cardinal Wright died, but Fr. Wuerl, who had remained his private secretary, immediately wrote a paean to his mentor in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, stressing Wright's virtues: tolerance, brotherly love, quest for fair housing, peace, and racial justice. Noticeably absent were any references to the late Cardinal's qualities as a Prince of the Church, including the importance of doctrine, but perhaps that never entered Fr. Wuerl's computations even then.

With his Roman connections established, Fr. Wuerl returned to Pittsburgh, but those Vatican ties soon paid off: in 1986, Pope John Paul II named Fr. Wuerl Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle, and two years later, the same pope sent Bishop Wuerl to Pittsburgh as Bishop of the Diocese. A pattern was emerging in the meteoric rise of Bishop Donald Wuerl: it's not necessarily what he knew, but who, that mattered; he had chosen to be a "Vatican insider" from the very beginning.

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With the closing of the steel mills Pittsburgh had fallen on economic hard times, and so had the Diocese. Bishop Wuerl immediately went into a cost-cutting mode and closed parish schools and sold off church properties, some of historic importance, but he did something unusual for a Catholic bishop in financial difficulty: despite apparent penury, he was able to contribute an amount (never disclosed) to an organization for which he has a complete forest of 5000 trees in Israel named after him. That decision was carried out, no doubt, in the spirit of the ecumenism highlighted by the post Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate; besides, Jewish support, especially in the media, could serve as a major asset to his upward mobility.

When he arrived in Pittsburgh, the new ordinary was quoted as saying: "Give me a chance to do some things and let the people decide." He immediately proceeded to take steps that were highly unpopular among the faithful of that city. Aside from the church closings, one of his first steps was "to open the lines of communication" with the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, which was in constant opposition to the Vatican on matters such as the ordination of women, homosexuality, and married clergy.

And that vaunted virtue of post-conciliar ecumenism was acted on again: in January of 1989, Pittsburgh Press, in an article entitled, "Breaking Bread - Wuerl Wants Denominations to Share Communion," Bishop Wuerl and the leaders of six Protestant denominations sought the sharing of communion together. He stressed that local church leaders had years of experience working together on social projects through an association known as Christian Associates, and the Bishop now called on them " move beyond working together to worshipping together at the altar." But he was not finished.

In April 1995, in The Christian Associates Newsletter, the following announcement was made: "Ministry in the Eastern Christian the title of a new focus Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will inaugurate in its Doctor of Ministry program this May. Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy are encouraged to apply. Seminary administrators anticipate the first group of participants in this new ecumenical venture will come from various regions of the United States and Canada." In Pittsburgh under Bishop Wuerl, future Catholic priests would be taught "ministry" by Protestant clergy. The following year, Bishop Wuerl, along with Lutheran and Episcopal bishops of Pittsburgh, signed an agreement of cooperation that led to joint and shared facilities.  One illustration of "sharing facilities" was use of St. Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral for the consecration of Rev. Canon Robert William Duncan as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese.  Bishop Wuerl was still not finished.

In an "activity book" for the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Pittsburgh diocese, the authors incorporated under "ecumenism," Christianity, Shinto, Taoism and Judaism with the explanation: "Catholics in Pittsburgh respect and learn the religious traditions of peoples of many faiths. We pray, 'That all may be one during the week for Church unity...'" This booklet, clearly designed for young children, adds this: "People believe in God yet express their faith in unique and varied ways. Each symbol above represents a particular religious tradition." The express purpose of the "activity book" was to show that one religion was as good as another, a logical consequence of ecumenism.

None of these steps was taken without a goal in mind, and after a wait of eight years, Bishop Wuerl received the call he'd been waiting for since he left Cardinal Wright: all the "opening of communications" and programs fostering ecumenism were remembered in Rome, and in 2006, Bishop Wuerl was named Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; four years later, Pope Benedict XVI, who had named him to the Washington position, promoted him to the rank of Cardinal/Archbishop.

Archbishop's Wuerl's arrival in Washington D.C. was hyped as the coming of a new type of Church leader; the retiring Archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, had lived in the shadows, but new blood, it was thought, would rejuvenate the archdiocese, one with sagging Mass attendance, and sinking revenues. But Washington is fiercely defensive of the political correctness that permeates the city's existence, and early on the Archbishop would have to deal with that issue...which he did in a predictable way.

When asked if he would deny communion to the inveterate abortion cheerleader, the "Catholic" Nancy Pelosi, Wuerl replied that "confrontation makes me uncomfortable," which was a clear sign that Mrs. Pelosi was free to continue her ways. And so could Vice-President Biden, for the last thing the Archbishop wanted was to ruffle feathers.

In a column that appeared in The American Spectator online, an unhappy George Neumyar, who comments on Catholic matters, wrote: "The choice that the Wuerls face is clear: either they take seriously the duty enshrined in canon law to protect the sacraments from sacrilege and scandal, or these Communion controversies will multiply without end." Which it did when Cardinal Wuerl approved the removal of a priest from a parish for denying communion to a self-described agitprop Buddhist lesbian. Cardinal Wuerl does not ruffle feathers, even at the expense of established Church doctrine.

Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII
henry and wolseyThe Cardinal has reached the pinnacle of his powers; not only does he appeal to those who organize the Social List of Washington dinners, but also sits amongst the Pope's inner circle, responsible for the appointment of bishops worldwide, which guarantees that a bishop whose theological views are similar to Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, or Cardinal Burke, will not be named soon. And amongst the Catholic bishops in the U.S., he has been named to direct the committee that will inform dioceses nationwide how to prepare for the Synod next October. What that will mean to the Faithful, I will leave to others to decipher.

In the meteoric ascent of Donald Cardinal Wuerl, I cannot help but think of the similar rise of another cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, who ingratiated himself with the rich and powerful, and became Chancellor of England, stepping over not a few in the process. When he could not deliver on Henry VIII's demand to obtain a divorce decree from Rome, Wolsey was stripped of his accumulated wealth and power, and would have stood trial for treason had he not died first. Although their situations are different, their mindset is similar. Shakespeare in his last play, appropriately entitled, Henry VIII, described not only Wolsey's past failings, but those current with Wuerl: "I charge thee, fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels." 

Last modified on Thursday, November 13, 2014
Vincent Chiarello | Remnant Columnist

Born on the Day of St. Patrick in 1937 in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was a high school history teacher until 1970, when he entered the U.S. Foreign Service. His overseas assignments included U.S. embassies in Colombia, Guatemala, Spain, Norway and Italy; his last assignment was to the U.S. Embassy to The Holy See. He is married to Cynthia (nee Goldsmith) and has three children. They attend a Traditional Latin Mass in Northern Virginia.