Wuerl, who will be 78 in November, technically handed in his resignation at age 75, the normal retirement age for bishops and cardinals.
In his letter, Pope Francis said Cardinal Wuerl's choice to step down reflected the "heart of the shepherd" who seeks church unity over "sterile division sown by the father of lies", the devil, who "wants nothing more than that the sheep be dispersed".
In early September, Cardinal Wuerl told priests of the archdiocese that he would meet with Pope Francis and ask him to accept his resignation "so that this archdiocesan church we all love can move forward" and can experience "a new beginning".
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a loyal ally of Pope Francis, was criticized in a USA grand jury report in August for failing to halt abuse in his previous role as archbishop of Pittsburgh.
"You have sufficient elements to "justify" your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes", the Pope writes.
"However", the letter continued, "your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you", Francis wrote in the letter. "Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit which continues to act in his Church".
"It doesn't sound like the pope has gone far enough at all", said Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful, a national group that advocates for abuse victims and church accountability. "I also beg forgiveness on behalf of church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted".
In 1993, when John Paul II was pope, Wuerl traveled to Rome, where he successfully persuaded the Vatican to overturn the reinstatement of an abusive priest.
As apostolic administrator, Cardinal Wuerl will continue to lead the day-to-day activities of the archdiocese, but will not be permitted to make any major changes. They included a letter from the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino, who lamented that Wuerl's "pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report's flaws and its interpretation by the media". Pope Francis has asked that Wuerl remain in his role as archbishop of Washington until a successor can be named. The Vatican's highest court ordered Wuerl to restore Cipolla to priestly ministry, but Wuerl resisted and, after two years of legal procedures, prevailed in preventing Cipolla's return. In his first months as bishop, after the priests were charged with more than 100 counts of abuse, he formed a review board at the diocese level.
On a personal note, I convey my gratitude to Cardinal Wuerl for the fraternal support he has extended to me from the moment I was appointed bishop and throughout the years.
Shortly after becoming Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988, he established the first independent review board to evaluate and recommend actions in cases of abuse, a model later adopted nationally. He has served on a number of Vatican congregations, councils and commissions, as well as numerous national and global organizations such as the Papal Foundation and various committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He held this position until he was appointed in May 2006 to head the Archdiocese of Washington.
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