Most Catholics would probably agree that a priest caught lying to the public and who was an instrumental figure in the sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church probably shouldn’t be receiving millions of dollars a year in church donations. But that’s what is happening in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Investigative journalists at The Pillar revealed that the archdiocese set aside more than $2 million in donations from the Catholic faithful to retired and disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, for undisclosed “continuing ministry activities.”
Upon review of the archdiocese’s financial statements, The Pillar noted that the $2,012,639 allocated to support Wuerl in the 2020 fiscal year was “a 35% increase from the $1,488,059 allocated to Wuerl’s ministry in the 2019 fiscal year reports.” The figures were recorded in a section of the financial report for net assets “without donor restrictions.”
“That means the money was not given to the archdiocese explicitly for Wuerl’s use, and could have been deployed for other purposes at the discretion of the archdiocese,” The Pillar report stated. But what is Wuerl doing with the money?
The Archdiocese of Washington, now led by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, refused to disclose details about what exactly Wuerl is doing with these millions of dollars in donations. Wuerl’s office also didn’t respond to questions about how he’s using the money.
Records Conflict with Archdiocese Claims
Following this initial Pillar report, the archdiocese issued a statement saying, “The funds in our Continuing Ministry Activities account are donations made by persons who want to cover Cardinal Wuerl’s expenses and ministerial needs, including living expenses, prior travel for business in Rome, as well as for charitable requests asked of the archbishop emeritus.”
Yet this conflicts with how the amounts were recorded in the archdiocese’s financial statements. As a follow-up report by The Pillar pointed out, “Improper use or designation of restricted gifts can lead to significant consequences for non-profit organizations, as the designation of such funds is regulated both by state law and by the Internal Revenue Service.”
There was nothing in the archdiocese’s statement clarifying how Wuerl is using those millions of dollars. So what type of ministry Wuerl is engaged in that requires about $2 million a year remains a mystery.
And why would they disclose that information? Neither the archdiocese nor Wuerl have ever really been held accountable for wasting the faithful’s donations on a $43 million penthouse on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., that Wuerl occupied as archbishop of the diocese. Nor for the millions spent to shelter serial sex-abuser Theodore McCarrick, who preceded Wuerl as archbishop of Washington.
Living High on Parishioners’ Giving
Even prior to arriving in Washington, Wuerl spent millions of dollars of the faithful’s donations on a mansion in Pittsburgh that “reportedly included a wine cellar, six-car garage, fine art, Oriental rugs and antiques.” There may not be anything illegal about what Wuerl or the archdiocese have done with the faithful’s donations. But what’s in the public record reeks of donation mismanagement at best, and outright corruption at worst.
No bishop, nor any member of the clergy, needs multi-million-dollar private residences and lavish lifestyles to carry out his Christian ministry. Certainly, no Catholic expects his weekly offerings to support such extravagance.
Although he’s not alone, Wuerl has been getting away with it for decades, with seemingly little outrage from his flock. Even if a few ardent supporters stepped up to provide all that money, the faithful should still be concerned about the public perception of millions going toward luxury instead of to the poor or to spread the gospel.
Now, even after his fall from grace, Wuerl is still raking in millions with the help of Gregory and the Archdiocese of Washington. Again, no crimes are being alleged. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a big problem that needs to be addressed.
Wuerl Caught Lying to Cover Sexual Abuse
Wuerl was once considered one of the most powerful U.S. bishops. Then, a bombshell 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report shredded Wuerl for his handling and coverup of disgusting clerical sex abuse claims while bishop of Pittsburgh. CNN’s Jake Tapper hammered Wuerl for his actions in Pittsburgh and Wuerl’s lies about the grand jury report in a blistering August 2018 segment. Then Wuerl was caught lying about what he knew regarding the rampant and abhorrent sexual misconduct of McCarrick, which included abusing children as well as young adult men.
This is the man the Archdiocese of Washington has seen fit to set aside millions of dollars for over the past two years: A man known for wasting egregious sums of money who was involved in perpetuating sexual abuse.
At his installation as archbishop of Washington, Gregory called Wuerl a “cherished friend” and “a true Christian gentleman.” Like his predecessor, Gregory seems more focused on finding favorability with the media and powerful elite in Washington, D.C., than financial transparency or strongly defending Catholic morality.
Gregory’s Preaching Contradicts Church Doctrine
In addition to refusing to answer questions about the millions allocated to Wuerl for his “ministry activities,” Gregory has a history of troubling actions and statements that could be seen as undermining church teaching on the sanctity of life and the family.
In 2019, the archbishop offered the funeral Mass for pro-abortion reporter Cokie Roberts, praising Roberts as an “extraordinary, professional servant of the truth” who “believed in God’s word…accepted it and fashioned her life around that word.” The Mass featured a eulogy by another dissident Catholic, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Gregory has been in the spotlight recently for stating he would not deny giving the Holy Eucharist to dissident Catholic Joe Biden. Biden has worked against the moral teachings of the church throughout his political career to push a political agenda that degrades human dignity and denies the right to life of human persons.
Biden is an advocate for so-called same-sex marriage, even presiding over a same-sex union ceremony of two male staffers while vice president. As president, Biden has been a champion of the “Equality Act,” which the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) says “discriminates against people of faith” — in addition to promoting destructive gender ideology and mandating taxpayer funding of abortion.
Upon Biden’s inauguration, USCCB President Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles issued a statement pointing out that Biden “has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” “Of deep concern,” he continued, is that Biden’s political agenda would impact “the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”
Church Leaders Endangering the Flock’s Souls
Cardinal Gregory’s praise for dissident Catholics and insistence upon giving Holy Eucharist to Biden — a sign that Biden is in full communion with the church, although he’s not — only causes confusion among the faithful. Such confusion about what it means to be a devout Catholic will ultimately lead souls astray from embracing the fullness of the faith.
Indeed, as Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann pointed out, Biden’s — and the media’s — repeated declarations that Biden is a “devout Catholic” even while he’s “acting contrary to the Catholic faith” puts Biden in a position of “usurping the role of the bishops and confusing people.”
“The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic,” Naumann said, adding, “The bishops need to correct him.” While in D.C., Gregory is Biden’s bishop, and the cardinal continues to allow the public perception that Biden is a devout Catholic to persist.
Of course, this isn’t new. As The Federalist Senior Editor Christopher Bedford highlighted not long ago, “For more than half a century the bishops have skirted their role in public life, leaving the faithful to fend for themselves.”
Unfortunately, many of the faithful have just thrown up their hands, thinking they can’t do anything to really fix the problems that plague our church. There are no easy solutions. But one thing is certain: sitting back and hoping someone else steps in to “do something” hasn’t worked for the past few decades.