By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, withdrew on Saturday from next week’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin, the second senior cleric to pull out of the Roman Catholic event amid clerical sexual abuse scandals in the United States.
The meeting, a major congress held every three years, will be closed by Pope Francis during the first papal visit in almost 40 years to Ireland where a series of abuse scandals has also rocked the church’s standing in the once staunchly Catholic country.
The withdrawal from the Dublin event followed a bombshell grand jury report this week that detailed widespread abuse by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops over a 70-year period. [nL1N1V514F]
Wuerl, who was Bishop for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania from 1988 to 2006, has not himself been accused of any wrongdoing against children.
The report found that Wuerl notified the Vatican in 1989 of several priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children but that over subsequent years he granted requests by some to be reassigned to other parishes or to retire early, and in one case approved a loan to assist one such priest with personal debts.
In a statement on Tuesday, Wuerl said that while he understood the report may be critical of some of his actions, he believed it “confirmed that he acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.”
A spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families said she could confirm that Cardinal Wuerl would no longer be attending the Dublin event. No reason was provided.
In the most wide-ranging U.S. investigation into sexual abuse by priests since the scandal burst into the public eye in Boston in 2002, the two-year Pennsylvania investigation found evidence that at least 1,000 people, mostly children, had been sexually abused by some 300 clergymen.
The report said the numbers of actual victims and abusers could be much higher.
The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was due to host a panel discussion on safeguarding children at the congress, withdrew earlier this week to oversee an investigation into separate allegations of inappropriate behaviour at a Boston seminary.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)