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Catholic Clergyman Calls For Cardinal Wuerl To Resign


A prominent Catholic clergyman who serves closely with Washington's Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl has called for him to resign. Deacon James A. Garcia serves as a master of ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. In a letter to Cardinal Wuerl that was posted on an advocate's blog, Deacon Garcia wrote of the anguish that victims of clerical sex abuse experience and said, quote, "the time for cowardice and inaction is long past." And he added that, quote, "no amount of apology will suffice unless and until bishops and other complicit clergy resign," unquote.

In that letter. Deacon Garcia informed Cardinal Wuerl that he can no longer, in good conscience, assist him during Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral. Deacon Garcia was kind enough to come into our studios in Washington, D.C., to tell us more about his letter. And he's with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

JAMES A. GARCIA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, we should explain that before Cardinal Wuerl came to Washington, D.C., he served as bishop of Pittsburgh for some 18 years. A recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania described hundreds of allegations of child abuse believed to have been committed by some 300 priests, some of whom were supervised by then-Bishop Wuerl. Was it the grand jury report that prompted this letter, or was it something else?

GARCIA: It was the Pennsylvania grand jury report that inspired me to write as I did and take the action that I did.

MARTIN: I take it it was a hard decision, and I can - if you don't mind my saying, I feel that, even now, it feels difficult for you.

GARCIA: It was a difficult decision, but I think it was one that's necessary under the circumstances. I think it's incumbent upon, especially those of us who minister to the faithful, to always keep foremost in our minds the tremendous pain and suffering that the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and other church personnel have gone through and to foster as best we can genuine healing, not only for the victims themselves first and foremost but also for all of the faithful for whom the events of the last few weeks, to be sure but also events going back now generations, the pain that we all feel that's associated with the crisis.

MARTIN: You said that the cardinal is compromised now, unlike his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who had to resign in disgrace after his own personal behavior was deemed to have been inappropriate in a number of circumstances. There are credible allegations that he had sexually harassed minors and priests and seminarians. That's not the case with Cardinal Wuerl. It's more that he had not taken appropriate action to remove these priests about whom there were allegations. Is that what compromise is - I guess the question would be - what is it that has compromised Cardinal Wuerl in your view?

GARCIA: As I wrote in my letter to the cardinal, those responsible for the culture of secrecy and corruption within the church that persist to today, particularly those men who are responsible for leadership of the church - that is, the bishops - the time has come for them to act with courage and humility. And I can't speak to Cardinal Wuerl's particular level of culpability. But I think what we face in the church today, and have for quite some time, is a crisis of leadership.

I think we've reached a point in time where immediate and dramatic action is necessary. And that's why I chose to implore the cardinal to, for the good of the church, relinquish his position as archbishop.

MARTIN: Have you heard from the cardinal? Have you heard from anybody in the diocese about your letter?

GARCIA: I have not had a response from the cardinal.

MARTIN: Have you ever had a chance to talk to him since the grand jury report came out about your concerns?

GARCIA: I have not.

MARTIN: You know, there's another big story in Washington, which I'm sure you've heard about. Someone said to be an aide to President Trump has published an open letter, suggesting that the president really is not fit for the office. But this aide staffer - we don't know who that person is at this moment - says that he or she feels called to stay in his or her post in order to keep the president from making worse decisions than he would otherwise make, even though he or she fundamentally supports the president's policies. And there are those who say that that person should resign. And I wonder - do you see any analogy there? Have you considered resigning in protest?

GARCIA: In answer to the first question, no. I don't think the situations are analogous. I did consider a more dramatic step, resigning from ministry. It will come as no surprise, I suspect, to learn that ministry is very dear to me. As I said, it is my hope that I will be able to continue to minister in all of the ways that I have, say, for - by my own choice, personally attending to the cardinal. But I don't know, as I sit here today, what the future holds. But I am not now prepared to step completely away from ministry.

MARTIN: If the cardinal does resign, what would that accomplish?

GARCIA: I think it would send a very strong signal to the faithful, particularly those who are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and other church personnel. Reparation is important. Apology is important. Accompaniment is important. But none of those things is sufficient, either singularly or together. Genuine healing, I believe, requires accountability. And it's in that spirit that I implored the cardinal to relinquish his position.

MARTIN: That is Deacon James A. Garcia. He serves as one of the masters of ceremony at St. Matthew's Cathedral here in Washington, D.C. He was kind of to join us in our studios in Washington to talk about the very powerful letter that he has written to Cardinal Wuerl. Deacon Garcia, thank you so much for talking with us.

GARCIA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.