No American cardinal has benefited more from the current pontificate than Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Wuerl is basking in the liberal glow of Francis, enjoying in the twilight of his ecclesiastical career a series of plum assignments.
He is selecting heterodox archbishops for the Church in America, such as Chicago’s Blasé Cupich and San Diego’s Robert McElroy, from his powerful seat on the Congregation for Bishops, an appointment Francis tossed to him in 2013. That appointment, which knocked the conservative cardinal Raymond Burke off the Congregation for Bishops, cleared the path for American prelates in the mold of Cupich. Wuerl’s influence is also seen at the calamitous synod on the family still underway in Rome. Wuerl is one of the ten cardinals chosen by Francis to write the synod’s final document.
Wuerl’s man in Chicago, Archbishop Cupich, has already announced to the press that he favors a revision to canon law that would allow people in adulterous and homosexual relationships to receive the Eucharist. Cupich informed reporters that he has distributed to all Chicago priests the proposal of the German cardinal Walter Kasper, which argues that the Church should extend the sacraments to people in a state of adultery.
These are heady days for Wuerl, who just last year had a Pittsburgh high school named in his honor, “Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School.” How does naming Church institutions after yourself square with the “humble” Church of Pope Francis? That’s one question the fawning reporters around Wuerl won’t ask him.
What will students at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School be learning? “Social justice,” according to the former archbishop of Pittsburgh. “A good Catholic school introduces us to all the obligations of social justice,” Wuerl said at its opening.
In 1979, People magazine did a short profile of a young “Father Donald Wuerl” on the make, then the protégé and private secretary of the dubious Cardinal John J. Wright. The People reporter noticed in Wuerl’s office that he “displays prominently a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.” Wuerl explained the odd display as a way to impress non-Catholics that “I’ve read the other side of the story.”
Will students at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School be reading Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book to round out their exposure to “social justice”? The school, according to its promotional literature, sends “graduates out to the world with a global vision,” but no mention of an orthodox Catholic one. That is apparently too passé.
In the days of the Borgias, cufflinked cardinals named institutions after themselves too, but they didn’t bother to fiddle with Church teaching. This generation of Catholics isn’t so lucky. Week after week, they wake to read headlines about this or that Francis-appointed bishop, or the pope himself, flirting with heterodoxy.
The misnamed Synod on the Family is crashing to its conclusion with assurances from Wuerl that such flirtations pose no threat to the Catholic family. In a recent interview with the liberal Jesuit magazine America, which is famous for its dissent from Church teaching on contraception and homosexuality (among many other issues affecting the family), Wuerl, apparently feeling his oats as one of the pope’s prized prelates, took a few shots at his conservative colleagues.
“Now there are some bishops whose position is that we shouldn’t be discussing any of this anyway. They were the ones at the last synod that were giving interviews, and denouncing and claiming there were intrigues and manipulation. That, I think, falls on them,” Wuerl said. “I don’t see it with a foundation in reality. I just think that these are people who have their own position and they just want to articulate that, and they have taken to saying that somehow the Holy Father and the synod structure are trying to manipulate all of the bishops.”
Notice how Wuerl dismisses orthodoxy as “their own position.” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who is hardly a staunch traditionalist, was not amused by Wuerl’s remarks. Chaput told the Catholic News Agency that a certain cardinal had “mischaracterized” the views of synod fathers who object to the Kasper proposal and that “America’s editors” should not have disseminated Wuerl’s criticism.
The Church is reaping the Wuerlwind of heterodox chaos, a culmination of decades of decadence and modernism coursing through her seminaries, chanceries, and institutions. Some future Edward Gibbon will enjoy, if only grimly, sifting through the ruins of what Anne Roche Muggeridge once called the “Desolate City.” No doubt one of those ruins will be Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, a monument to the fraud of an ecclesiastical club that plays at poverty activism and humility while poisoning the deposit of faith.
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