Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington DC who stepped down in 2018 amid scandal, received over $2 million from the archdiocese last year for unspecified “ministry activities,” an investigation has found.
A March 3 examination of the archdiocese’s financial records by The Pillar found that Wuerl was allocated $2,012,639 for “continuing ministry activities” during fiscal year 2020.
The amount appropriated to Wuerl is up from approximately $1.5 million in 2019. The archdiocesan financial statement does not detail what “continuing ministry activities” the funds facilitated.
In contrast, the amount the archdiocese allocated for “Formation of priests” declined slightly from $1.1 million in 2019 to just over $1 million in 2020.
Similarly, “Archdiocesan charitable giving” in 2020 was listed at just over $401,000, down from just over $651,000 in fiscal year 2019.
The Pillar confirmed that Wuerl gave at least one retreat to a group of U.S. bishops in January 2021. The archdiocese did not respond to The Pillar’s questions about what other ministry responsibilities, if any, the archdiocese had given Wuerl.
Revelations during summer 2018 about the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick raised questions about whether Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor, was aware of McCarrick’s misdeeds.
McCarrick was found to have sexually abused both minors and adult seminarians and priests, and Pope Francis laicized him in Feb. 2019.
For his part, Wuerl has insisted he knew nothing about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct until 2018.
But previous reporting by CNA, as well as the recent McCarrick Report, found that Wuerl was made aware in 2004 of inappropriate conduct, apparently not of a sexual nature, on the part of McCarrick involving an adult.
Though Wuerl forwarded a report of the alleged misconduct to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., no record has been found that the nuncio, who by that time had fallen seriously ill, ever forwarded it to the Vatican.
The McCarrick Report also details a 2010 incident whereby Wuerl advised against then-Pope Benedict sending a birthday greeting to McCarrick because there remained “the possibility that the New York Times is going to publish a nasty article, already prepared, about the Cardinal’s ‘moral life.’”
Wuerl, 80, was appointed to lead the Washington archdiocese in May 2006. Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal in 2010. He was previously Bishop of Pittsburgh since 1988.
Wuerl had submitted his resignation to the Vatican in 2015 upon turning 75, as is the requirement for bishops.
Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation in Oct. 2018 at Wuerl’s request, but asked him to remain as Apostolic Administrator until the appointment of his successor. In May 2019, Archbishop— now Cardinal— Wilton Gregory was installed in Washington.
The archdiocese of Washington released a statement March 4 following The Pillar’s report, saying the funds in the “continuing ministry activities” account are donations “made by persons who want to cover Cardinal Wuerl’s expenses and ministerial needs.”
These include “living expenses, prior travel for business in Rome, as well as for charitable requests asked of the archbishop emeritus,” the statement said, adding that the “donations have accumulated over time.”
However, The Pillar noted that the funds allocated for Wuerl are classified as “net assets without donor restrictions,” meaning they are not subject to “donor-imposed restrictions stipulating how, when and/or if the net assets are available for expenditure.”
The designation appears at odds with the archdiocese’s statement that the funds were donated with the specific intention of covering Wuerl’s expenses.
The Pillar contacted the archdiocese to ask specifically about the funds’ designation— which is regulated both by state law and the IRS— and did not receive a reply by press time.
“All the expenses of Cardinal Gregory and Cardinal Wuerl are reviewed by members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council throughout the year. All expenditures go through the Archdiocese’s normal budget and internal control procedures, which are also audited by an accounting firm annually,” the archdiocesan statement concluded.
The U.S. bishops’ conference has guidelines for providing for retired bishops, recommending that their diocese give them a stipend of at least $2,250 per month, as well as housing, health insurance, a car, travel expenses, secretarial assistance if needed, and a suitable funeral and burial.
McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor, is known to have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars through what was known as the Archbishop’s Fund, and reportedly made gifts to senior Vatican officials, even while the fund remained under the charitable auspices of the archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Washington has so far declined to disclose sources, sums, and uses of money, though it has acknowledged that the fund exists.
Catholic News Agency
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