Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, a longtime advocate for victims of pedophile priests, took aim this week at a recent U.N. commission report on the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal, saying it failed to recognize the progress the church has made in the past decade.
“It stopped its study 10 years ago, so it made no mention of all the extraordinary steps the Catholic Church has taken in the past 10 years to see that these things don’t happen,” Cardinal Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child during an exclusive interview with The Washington Times.
“It made no reference at all to the fact that there’s no other institution, including our public schools, that goes through what the Catholic Church now does to ensure that children are not abused, or that if someone is abused, that is reported and that [abuser] removed,” he told The Times.
In the wide-ranging interview at his office, the avuncular Cardinal Wuerl discussed the sex abuse scandal and other challenges facing the church, the widespread popularity and influence of Pope Francis, and the upcoming canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II as well as his own spiritual journey that has posited him in the leadership of the archdiocese as it enters its 75th year.
The U.N. committee last week issued a scathing report advising the Vatican to remove all known and suspected child abusers and report them to law enforcement, set up rules for reporting cases of abuse, and to change canon law so that abuse is considered a crime and not merely an immoral act.
It also urged the church to consider changing canon law to recognize same-sex families, to not condemn abortion as a sin in certain circumstances, and to reconsider its teachings on premarital sex and contraception.
The report piqued many Catholics, Cardinal Wuerl among them, who said the U.N. panel overstepped its boundaries.
The commission seemed “very upset about the church’s teaching on abortion, as if the way to avoid child abuse is abort children,” he said. “Where is the logic to something like that? And besides that, that’s not the issue that that commission was supposed to be looking at.”
Nonetheless, the Catholic Church is looking forward, the 73-year-old cardinal said, noting a focus on marriage and family this year and an upcoming synod in Rome, where church leaders will discuss how to strengthen both.
“What we’re recognizing now is a diminished appreciation for the idea of marriage, which is so important to bring stability to children,” he said. “Children need to have a home. I don’t mean a physical four walls and a room. There needs to be an emotional and spiritual and loving place in life. That’s what a family is.”
‘For lack of sharing’
Cardinal Wuerl’s easygoing manner belies his prestige in having a hand in choosing the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and having written a small library’s worth of books.
Although the man formerly known as the “teaching bishop” is quick with a smile or dry humor, he is focused on what is shaping up to be an important year for the Catholic Church.
“For the church universal, 2014 marks the first anniversary of [Pope] Francis,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “I don’t think anybody could have foretold what his impact would be. And this is the year of the canonization of John XXIII … and John Paul II.”