As the embattled archbishop of Washington asked parishioners attending a Sunday morning service to keep Pope Francis in their prayers, a man stood and yelled "Shame on you" before storming out.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl was celebrating Mass at the Church of the Annunciation to install Monsignor Michael Mellone as the parish’s new pastor. Wuerl is facing a storm of criticism and calls for his resignation after a Pennsylvania grand jury report said he allowed priests accused of sexually abusing children to be reassigned or reinstated when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh.
During his post-Communion remarks, Wuerl asked the parishioners to forgive his own "errors in judgment" and to pray for Pope Francis.
"We need to hold close in our prayers and our loyalty our Holy Father Pope Francis," Wuerl said. "Increasingly it’s clear that he is the object of considerable animosity."
That's when Brian Garfield shouted, “Shame on you!” and then walked out of the church.
Wuerl continued, “At each mass, we pray for him by name as we do so with our voices, so may we do so also with our hearts. Yes, my brothers and sisters, shame. I wish I could redo everything over these 30 years as a bishop and each time get it always right. That’s not the case.”
Garfield, who is Catholic but not a parishioner of Annunciation, said he was upset at being lectured to by Wuerl and was surprised that more people didn't express the same outrage. He said his faith in God remains strong, but he can’t say the same thing about his faith in the church.
However, one parishioner turned her back on the cardinal during the remarks.
“There’s a tradition in the church, especially here in Washington,” Mary Challinor said. “There were protests in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of people who, during the sermon in that case, would turn their backs to say, ‘I am here, I am a member of the church, I am celebrating mass, but I don’t agree with what is being said, and I don’t agree with the policy, but I am here as a Catholic.”
She said she doesn’t think the church hierarchy understands what the scathing grand jury report released last month about rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses really means to Catholics. The report accused Wuerl, 77, of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
“I feel like these people who, in the evidence of the Pennsylvania report, allowed priests who were abusing children to continue in their ministry should no longer be in the church hierarchy,” she said. “They should be priests. We need every priest we can get, and I don’t think they did this out of malice at all, but I think that they abused their position and I feel like they abused the responsibility that was given to them, I guess in Pennsylvania, as a bishop.”
A statement posted on the archdiocese's website acknowledges the dissenters, but says "the Cardinal was also met with applause and expressions of support from the parishioners as he concluded his remarks. This sentiment was echoed as he greeted the faithful who approached him and expressed their prayers and support after Mass."
The Archdiocese of Washington is home to more than 630,000 Catholics and is considered an important power center for the church in the U.S. Wuerl has been ranked by commentators as one of the most influential of the 10 active American cardinals.
Some Catholics are calling for the resignation or removal of Wuerl, 77.
Wuerl has not been charged with any wrongdoing but is named numerous times in the grand jury report, which details instances in which he allowed priests accused of misconduct to be reassigned or reinstated.
Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic University in Washington and received a doctorate in theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome. He joined the priesthood in 1966, was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1986, and served briefly as auxiliary bishop in Seattle before going to Pittsburgh.