A Wuerl of possibilities

wuerlThe Archdiocese of Washington has a new bishop. Pope Benedict XVI announced Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl (pictured) as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s replacement. What does this mean? Well, coverage didn’t quite get to the significance of the change, although many outlets did a fantastic job of introducing Wuerl. Religion writer Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette joined with Maeve Reston to provide some information:

At a press conference in Washington today, Cardinal McCarrick introduced Bishop Wuerl and said one of his strengths was his ability to “uphold the middle” to bring people of varying positions and backgrounds into the church. During his tenure, Cardinal McCarrick spoke out on controversial issues such as immigration and whether politicians who favor abortion should be barred from communion.

Cardinal McCarrick said Bishop Wuerl had worked closely with him as an adviser on the latter issue, when he advocated making decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than issuing a blanket ban.

Bishop Wuerl called the new post, which he will assume June 22, “daunting.” But when asked to say what his biggest challenges would be, he said, “I haven’t been here long enough to learn how to get back and forth to the cathedral . . . so give me a little time.”

He did say some of his priorities would be to stop the number of Catholics leaving the church and to reach out to Washington’s Hispanic population.

The New York Times‘ John O’Neil begins with the claim that Wuerl is conservative and reaches back to 1986, when he was brought in to administer the Seattle archdiocese during the great Hunthausen controversy:

Bishop Wuerl, 65, has served as Pittsburgh’s bishop since 1988, and is considered one of the more prominent of the nation’s conservative bishops. His first appointment after being ordained a bishop in 1986 was in an unusual power-sharing arrangment in Seattle, where he was sent as assistant bishop by Pope John Paul II while Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen was under investigation by the Vatican for unorthodox views.

Cardinal McCarrick, who was regarded as more moderate on many issues, praised Bishop Wuerl as “one of the great churchmen of the United States.” He spoke of his prayers that the Pope would pick a great bishop to take his place, saying, “He has done that, in spades.”

Hmm. The two pieces seem to be saying different things. Which one describes Wuerl better? The Washington Post‘s coverage focused more on McCarrick’s tenure than Wuerl’s arrival, but archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Gibbs shared a bit of information about the new leader:

Wuerl is known as the “education bishop,” Gibbs said. He shares McCarrick’s expansive view that politicians should be able to received communion regardless of whether they embrace abortion rights, but he is also considered a conservative theologian.

He has written his own catechism for adults, which has been widely translated, Gibbs said.

A quick survey of the blogosphere notes his strong ties to Washington’s Catholic University of America, his no-nonsense reputation for defrocking clergy involved in sexual abuse scandals, and his catechetical approach to managing controversies.

The Times had this interesting piece of advice from McCarrick:

In the [Washington Post] interview, the Cardinal listed ideal traits for a successor, including that he “not be afraid of the media.”

And we’ll be there to watch his performance with the media. Ann Rodgers promises more coverage of the man she’s written about for many years, so perhaps we’ll keep following this. Any angles you think reporters should cover with regard to this change?

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  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    The last quote from McCarrick strikes me because he seemed to me from the beginning of his tenure in DC to be someone who went out of his way to engage the media.

  • Obinna

    Well…it is DC. The Beltway seems to effect every institution.

  • tmatt

    Hey folks. Note in the NYTs the perfect use of the loaded term “moderate.” In other words, a cardinal that doesn’t upset the Times very much?

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    The story linked here from the Post-Gazette was a sausage-in-the-making version that ran Web only as a stop-gap while I scrambled to get the real story. To see what ran in the newspaper — and the analysis of the significance that Terry was looking for — check http://www.post-gazette.com for our May 17 story.


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