Francis accepts resignation of Cardinal Wuerl as Washington Archbishop

Cardinal Donald Wuerl has resigned

Cardinal Donald Wuerl has resigned

FILE PHOTO: Cardinal Donald William Wuerl from US waves as he arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 7, 2013.

The report accused the 77-year-old of helping to protect several child-molesting priests during his time as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

However, Wuerl won't be gone immediately.

Born in Pittsburgh on November 12, 1940, Wuerl was ordained a priest in 1966 and later served as secretary to Pittsburgh Bishop John Wright, even following him to Rome when the bishop was named head of the Vatican's clergy dicastery and made a cardinal. A spokesman for Cardinal Wuerl confirmed to CNA Sept. 12 that the cardinal meant to formally ask Pope Francis to allow him to step down.

Wuerl offered his resignation to Pope Francis weeks ago after he became subject to scrutiny for his handling of child sexual abuse while leading the Pittsburgh Diocese.

A considerable portion of arguments for and against Cardinal Wuerl splits along ideological lines, with conservatives calling for his dismissal and progressives defending him. "Of this, I am proud and thank you", Francis wrote in the letter.

Wrote Francis in a letter to Wuerl: "I recognize in your request the heart of the shepherd who, by widening his vision to recognize a greater good that can benefit the whole body ... prioritizes actions that support, stimulate, and make the unity and mission of the Church grow above every kind of sterile division sown by the father of lies who, trying to hurt the shepherd, wants nothing more than that the sheep be dispersed... Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church".

"There are distortions and serious omissions in the grand jury report so that it incorrectly portrayed his record here".

In a September 11 letter to archdiocesan priests written after a private meeting with them, Cardinal Wuerl said that he would soon meet with the Pope to discuss his future, but did not immediately state that he would ask the Holy Father to allow him to resign. The website was quickly taken down. He'll be in charge in the DC archdiocese until the Vatican appoints a new archbishop to replace him.

A sweeping USA grand jury report released in August revealed credible allegations against more than 300 predator priests and identified over 1,000 victims of child sex abuse covered up for decades by the Catholic Church in the state of Pennsylvania. He was often the glue holding a divided bishops' conference in America together, and he was also the most important interpreter and ally of Pope Francis in a sometimes-skeptical Catholic culture in the US.

He was appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988.

In the October 12 letter accepting the cardinal's resignation, the Holy Father defended the cardinal from the widespread criticism he has faced in recent months.

Other Catholic Church leaders have stressed the importance of transparency and investigating accusations against sexual abuse in the church.

In a glowing letter of support, Francis made clear that he accepted Wuerl's resignation reluctantly, at Wuerl's insistence, and believed he was not guilty of trying to hide abuse.

Wuerl called the pope's letter a "very, very beautiful" recognition of his effort to put his flock before himself, but added that the pope, in choosing his replacement, would select a bishop who began serving after the American church adopted new guidelines in 2002 to prevent and punish abuse.