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Church abuse survivor on friend Wuerl’s resignation: ‘sad’ but ‘necessary’

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation with a controversial letter defending him. Wuerl was under pressure to step down after a Pennsylvania grand jury report implicated him in covering up sexual abuse. John Yang speaks to John Carr of Georgetown University. Carr is an abuse survivor. He also previously worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we return to the turmoil in the Catholic Church and its response to a history of abuse.

    John Yang explores the latest, with Pope Francis accepting the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, there had been pressure on Wuerl to step down since August, when a Pennsylvania grand jury report implicated him in covering up sexual abuse by priests during his 18-year tenure as head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

    In a statement today, Wuerl said, "Once again, for any past errors in judgment, I apologize and ask for pardon."

    The pope's action wasn't enough for some survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

    David Clohessy, a former national director of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Presets, said, "Wuerl is guilty of serious wrongdoing. The simple fact is, he endangered children."

    For more on all this, we're joined by John Carr. He heads the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Previously, he had worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on human rights and social justice issues.

    Mr. Carr, thanks so much for joining us.

  •  John Carr:

    Glad to be here, John.

  • John Yang:

    We should also say that you worked with Cardinal — in the past work with Cardinal Wuerl very closely.

    But you also said that he had to go in this episode.

  •  John Carr:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    Why?

  •  John Carr:

    Well, this was an important day, a necessary day and, for me, a sad day.

    Here, you have one of the leading churchmen in America, my pastor, my archbishop, my friend, and Pope Francis accepted his resignation because he had become a symbol of the church's failures.

    Cardinal Wuerl in many ways was a leader of this church in so many areas, and he was better than most on sexual abuse. But it wasn't good enough.

    And, today, the church acknowledged that, in that case, he had that step down to provide new leadership for this local church and some healing for victims.

  • John Yang:

    You said he'd become a symbol. But in his — in accepting the resignation, Pope Francis said Wuerl had — quote — "sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not deal with problems and to commit some mistakes."

    How does that characterization stand up against what the Pennsylvania grand jury found?

  • John Carr:

    For many years, victims and people concerned about the church's failures have said, we need not more words, but more action.

    Today, we got action. And I think actions speak louder than those words. This is a distinguished leader of the church. He's done a lot of things. In this case, he had done some things that failed and endangered children.

    And it was time for him, he decided — and I agree — he had to go. And Pope Francis decided. It's one step in a long road.

  • John Yang:

    Critics point out that Wuerl will remain on the body that will help choose bishops in the future.

    What do you say to critics who say this is — falls short of accountability?

  •  John Carr:

    Take a look, what just happened.

    One of the senior churchmen in America, one of the pope's closest advisers, the archbishop of Washington, stepped down because of what had happened in Pennsylvania and in Washington.

    This is the Roman Catholic Church. It's my home, my spiritual home, my professional home. It has been broken by this. And the pope, Pope Francis, by his actions on Cardinal Wuerl, by the investigation of Cardinal McCarrick, by calling all the Bishops Conference to Rome, is understanding that actions are required.

    He was too slow to act, but he has been listening to victims and survivors. And he is acting. Today is a crucial step forward.

  • John Yang:

    Mr. Carr, you have recently spoken out for the first time about your experience as a survivor of clerical abuse.

    Why did you decide now is the time to acknowledge this?

  • John Carr:

    Well, for me, sexual abuse is personal, it's professional, it's institutional. It's haunted my service in the church for 50 years.

    I found myself talking to people, talking to journalists, and saying a big part of the problem with this evil is secrecy. And then I had to acknowledge that I have my own secrecy.

    And I broke my silence. I talked to my wife. I talked to my family. For the first time, I said what had happened to me as a high school student. And my experience working for the church is, there are not enough parents, there are not enough survivors, there are not enough victims in the room when decisions are made.

    And my hope is that the church has finally understood this and that the anger and anguish of survivors and their families will be heard and will lead to reform, renewal and ultimately healing. And today is a day that takes a step in that direction.

  • John Yang:

    John Carr, we appreciate what it takes to speak up, as you just have.

    John Carr of Georgetown University, thank you very much.

  • John Carr:

    Thank you, John.

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