What do the Communist Chinese have to do with this event? I’ll get to that later. But first the news is not that Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington. The news is:
• Pope Francis dithered over accepting it since Wuerl had submitted his resignation as a matter of course three years ago when he turned 75 and again, according to the Pope’s letter of October 12, 21 days earlier on September 21,
• Pope Francis’ letter praised Wuerl’s “heart of the shepherd” and his “nobility,” in that he had the grounds to defend himself but chose not to put himself ahead of the Church;
• Pope Francis named Wuerl, rather than someone else, “apostolic administrator” of the Archdiocese until the appointment of his successor; and
• Pope Francis did not require Wuerl to resign as Cardinal. (Did he offer to resign?)
So, let’s see. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public on Tuesday, August 14. With a public petition in his former diocese of Pittsburgh to have his name removed from a high school, Wuerl submitted a letter on August 16, asking that his name be removed. He did this, he wrote, so there would be no distraction from students getting a good Catholic education. No grass grew under the feet of the local educators and parents.
On the two ensuing consecutive business days, Friday, August 17, and Monday, August 20, two different boards met and resolved to have his name removed. Michelle Borstein, “Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s Name Will Be Removed from Pa. High School Amid Allegations of Sex Abuse Cover-up,” Washington Post, August 22, 2018, A man unfit to have his name on a high school remains fit enough to serve as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese and to vote in the next papal conclave.
A word here about the role of an “apostolic administrator.” In 2011, an apostolic administrator was appointed for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the local canon law tribunal published a document to describe, for the public, the role:
These limits often require the administrator to seek the consent of the College of Consultors before taking certain actions, including issuing letters authorizing the ordination of deacons or priests for the archdiocese.
The administrator is also prohibited by canon law from naming pastors of parishes. However, he is given authority to appoint pastors if no archbishop is named within a year of [the retirement/resignation].
Canon law also prohibits the administrator from closing parishes or relegating churches to secular uses.
“In general…the diocesan administrator…maintains the necessary day-to-day functioning of a diocese, but does not make any structural changes that would truly be innovations in the particular diocese.”
* * *
“It’s an assurance that there is a leader still…Even though there’s not an archbishop on the scene, it’s not that we’re without a shepherd. We do have a shepherd…He doesn’t have the title ‘archbishop,’ but he is apostolic administrator.”
Sean Gallagher, The Criterion (Archdiocese of Indianapolis), Sept. 30, 2011,
This means that Cardinal Wuerl’s caretaker duties for the Archdiocese, include:
• ordaining men to the priesthood (whether from this Archdiocese or elsewhere)
• participating in and voting in meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its committees; the next meeting is November 2018,
• administering the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception;
• continuing in his roles with the Roman Curial congregations, including Congregation of the Bishops (recommending candidates for bishop) and Congregation for the Defense of the Faith,
• continuing his roles as a director/trustee to various institutions, seminaries, foundations, including Chancellor/Chair of the Catholic University of America, Vice Chancellor the Pontifical John Paul II Institute; and
• celebrating Mass in the cathedral and sitting in its chair (the cathedra the Latin word from which we derive cathedral).
Wuerl made two trips to Rome. He met with the Pope on Thursday, August 30, and was asked by the Pope to consult with his priests. Wuerl did so on or Sunday, September 2, Without enough support to remain in office by his priests (not to mention the laity), he made public plans to travel to Rome a second time.
A bishop without the support of his priests remains fit enough to serve as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese and to vote in the next papal conclave.
Wuerl arrived in Rome by September 17, and remained for over a week. What could Wuerl have been doing for all that time? He did not submit a written resignation until September 21. Was he engaged in prayer and fasting, perusing documents (perhaps with malevolent intent), lobbying to remain in office, lobbying to obtain money for his retirement, lobbying for lodging in Rome, lobbying to obtain a Vatican appointment, lobbying for his candidate for a successor? Was there a quid pro quo connected with his resignation?
Now we can turn to the Communist Chinese. You may recall that Pope Francis has recently entered into a written agreement with the People’s Republic that will allow Communist Chinese officials a towering influence on the appointment of Catholic bishops in that country. The Communist Chinese would nominate and the Pope retains the ability to veto. The precise terms are unknown because the entire agreement is not public and there are no plans for it to be made public.
The Communist Chinese are certainly lay, and they are atheists, anti-Christian, persecutor of Christians (and others), and incorrigible (the persecutions have been ongoing for almost 70 years). Yet, they have been given this role by the Pope. Hmmm. I suggest that devout lay Catholics be given a prominent and formal role in the appointment of bishops throughout the Church. For example, a body, like the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, should have a large number of devout lay Catholics appointed by the Pope, and be charged with vetting candidates for bishop for protection of minors, of seminarians, and all the faithful.
Ismael Law is a writer who resides in the Washington DC metropolitan area. This article appeared first at American Spectator.