Wuerl paves own path

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Almost a year into his job as the spiritual leader of the Washington area’s 560,000 Catholics, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl has set a personal agenda and style that are worlds apart from those of his more flamboyant predecessor.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, now retired, was known for his extroverted persona, hobnobbing with politicians and worldwide travels. His successor prefers to stay closer to home.

“I am not making the politics of the country my focus,” Archbishop Wuerl said in an interview with The Washington Times. “My focus is pastoral and spiritual as bishop.”

However, he hasn’t ruled out political involvement. In April, the archbishop met with an unspecified number of Catholic House Democrats at the D.C. home of Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut for what she called “an opportunity to get to know one another.”

“He has a wonderful style and focus on teaching. He has a willingness to listen and a pastoral approach. He appears to be a consensus builder,” Mrs. DeLauro said.

Asked about the nature of the discussion, she said: “We talked about everything but not about specific issues. People wanted the opportunity to talk about why they are serving [in Congress] and who they are.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said he has had several “conversations” with Archbishop Wuerl. The archbishop was a deacon at the wedding of his wife, Teresa, and her first husband, John Heinz, in February 1966.

“He’s a very thoughtful, very intelligent, strong representative of the church,” Mr. Kerry, also a Catholic, said this month. “He’s doing a terrific job. I’ve talked to him a couple of times [this year] and have had wonderful conversations with him.”

Archbishop Wuerl’s studious, precise and understated manner is a change of pace from Cardinal McCarrick’s frequent press conferences and de facto role as spokesman for American Catholic bishops. In January 2001, the cardinal had barely arrived at his Washington chancery from his previous post as archbishop of Newark, N.J., when he hosted two special dinner guests: the newly elected President Bush and his wife, Laura.

The cardinal left office a year ago, and Archbishop Wuerl was installed as the leader of Washington’s Catholics on June 22.

“I had no sooner gotten here than they invited me to the White House,” Archbishop Wuerl said.

“It was an extraordinary evening,” he said, adding that the meal in Mr. Bush’s private quarters was partly an occasion to bid farewell to Cardinal McCarrick and partly to greet him as the new archbishop and welcome Archbishop Pietro Sambi as the new papal nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Wuerl has since been back to the White House to talk about urban Catholic schools, but the rest of his first year here has been spent comparatively under wraps, traveling the 2,104 square miles that comprise the Archdiocese of Washington.

So far, he has visited half of the archdiocese’s 140 parishes. His duties have ranged from dedicating a new Catholic high school in Olney and celebrating the Vietnamese New Year at Our Lady of Vietnam in Silver Spring to ordaining five priests last month at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“We’ve been trying to get to know this local church, which means getting around to it,” Archbishop Wuerl said. “That’s been a joy. It’s also been a challenge. It’s a big archdiocese territorially.”

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