Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has been named archbishop of Washington D.C., the Vatican announced this morning.
"The decision of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to transfer me to the Archdiocese of Washington is one I embrace in the context of faith in God's providential care," Bishop Wuerl said in a statement this morning.
Bishop Wuerl, 65, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his ordination later this year. Over 18 years as bishop in Pittsburgh, Wuerl said he served the community where he was first called to the priesthood.
"Although I am greatly aware of my own limitations, I find strength in the pope's trust in me and also in the prayerful support I have always found from the Catholic faithful I have attempted to serve here in the Diocese of Pittsburgh." Bishop Wuerl said.Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Bishop Donald Wuerl speaks to the St. Thomas More Society in 2004 at the City-County Building concerning the Catholic Church's stance on abortion and politics.
Click photo for larger image.
Bishop Donald Wuerl
Read Bishop Wuerl's biography from the Diocese of Pittsburgh Web site.
No new bishop has yet been named for Pittsburgh. The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said he does not expect one to be appointed for some time.
"We have no expectation because the process calls for questionnaires to be sent out in order for people to identify our current needs," Father Lengwin said.
Bishop Wuerl replaces Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington D.C.
Cardinal McCarrick, a leading voice in the U.S. church, submitted his resignation as required of all bishops when he turned 75 last July. In a brief statement today, the Vatican said Benedict had accepted Cardinal McCarrick's resignation and named Wuerl to replace him.
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.
Bishop Wuerl said he was informed of the appointment a week ago and had to wait for the Vatican to make the proclamation.
He takes over a diocese that's in much better shape than the one he inherited in Pittsburgh in 1988. Washington will ordain more priests this year than any year since 1979. Those 12 new priests rank it second to Newark, N.J.
Cardinal McCarrick also has been a successful fund-raiser. A capital campaign in 2003-05 raised $185 million to renovate the seminary, build a lay leadership center and expand a shelter for women and children.
Washington has more than 560,000 Catholics in 140 parishes, including those in several Maryland counties. Pittsburgh has 800,000 in 214 parishes.
Although Pittsburgh is larger, heading this archdiocese is considered a promotion and Bishop Wuerl could be elevated to cardinal. Because of its location in the nation's capital, Washington is a higher profile post, and its archbishop is often called on to comment on political issues.
U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., noted that fact in comments today.
Mr. Santorum said he expected Bishop Wuerl's personal style to be similar to Cardinal McCarrick's in that they are both gregarious and affable. But he said Bishop Wuerl clearly avoids making his position clear on some of the more contentious issues of the day.
"Bishop Wuerl was trained in Rome and he speaks Roman in many respects, but that's the Church," Mr. Santorum said. "He understands the role of the church in a pluralistic, democratic society . . . . I don't necessarily think that Bishop Wuerl will relish the opportunity to be the spokesperson for the Church here.
"I don't think you're going to find the bishop weighing in to the political scene in a lot of ways. He never did in Pittsburgh and I don't think he'll do so here even though politics is the center of this town," Mr. Santorum said. "So it's a very interesting choice in that regard."
The senator said he thought Bishop Wuerl was a strong choice in regard to the priest scandals the church has faced, and he said he admired the active role that Bishop Wuerl took when he made proposals in the Bishops Conference about how the church should deal with the issue.
Cardinal McCarrick has been in the spotlight in recent years as he tried to moderate the fierce debate over whether Catholic politicians must adhere to church teaching in their professional lives.
Wuerl, a native of Pittsburgh, returned to the city in 1988 after working in Seattle. He was an American delegate at the Vatican's meeting of the world's bishops in October.
Cardinal McCarrick, who was born July 7, 1930, was made Washington archbishop by Pope John Paul II in 2000, after serving as archbishop of Newark, N.J.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.