It becomes a sad day when a person of stature is suddenly removed from society, the Church, or position of authority. We have all been watching two scathing examples of attempts to remove or condemn men who in this 21st century are good, industrious, and as we might say sent by God with gifts given to only a few.
First, the Catholic Church, an entity of sanctity and honor, has been put on trial of public opinion, a scandal that far outweighs many scandals of the past. Our hearts and condolences go out quickly to all those who were abused by clergy and even non-catholic personnel. “Your lives have been uprooted from what should have been a normal adolescence into adulthood, now forever changed.”
Careful attention must be garnered to not get on a band-wagon of “quickly find scapegoats, those whom we are certain are guilty of something, whatever that might be.” There is a mob-mentality that has always existed, from the pre-anti-racial years of lynching those of color because of any accusations from bigotries of that era, to hatred towards homosexuals and anyone who appears different in our modern society.
One person can stand up and accuse another of wrong-doing, and even if they aren’t guilty, the damage is done. We saw this with the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and to some clergy who just may have been uninformed of the sexual abuse of those under their direction. I believe we must always listen to the accusations, but with discretion. Then, we must always follow the dictates of the Constitution of “Innocent until proven guilty.”
Brett Kavanaugh is now a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court, and Cardinal Wuerl is now a retired cleric, forced to ask the Holy Father to accept his retirement, which is required at age 75 for bishops. However, this reflection is not to dialogue with anyone as to the right or wrong scenarios of either man. My intentions are to give, from my personal perspective, a positive assessment of Donald Wuerl; Cardinal, Archbishop, bishop, priest, and personal friend.
When I was ordained in 1974, Cardinal Wuerl was a priest and secretary to Cardinal John Wright, former Bishop of Pittsburgh. I didn’t personally know Donald Wuerl then, and when on a trip to Rome to give thanks to Pope Paul VI for renewing the Permanent Diaconate, promulgated by Vatican II, our itinerary changed twice and there was no Pontiff when I along with 100 deacons from around the country arrived in Rome. One other deacon from my class and I wanted to have an audience with Cardinal Wright, but were unable to do so. We were told that Fr. Wuerl was very protective of him as his secretary and didn’t want a casual meeting due to the Cardinal’s failing health. This was the first time I became aware of Fr. Donald Wuerl.
An interesting item is that when our flight left Rome on Sunday, after the Conclave Mass on Saturday, Pope John Paul II was elected Pope. We never got to see the Sistine Chapel but did see the future pope as he and over 113 other Cardinals passed by our chairs while processing into the Sanctuary of St. Peters Basilica.
My first encounter with Fr. Wuerl was at St. Paul’s Seminary in Crafton, PA where the seminarians for Pittsburgh were housed and early studies were held along with the college classes they attended. Our class of deacons was on retreat and one evening, as I was passing by Wuerl’s quarters, he invited me in to have a lengthly talk. Most of it regarded my position as an electrical contractor and the possibility of seeking an opening to perhaps bidding on some of the diocesan projects. What this showed me was the concern and warm demeanor this young priest had for what would become part of his flock. If nothing else, he impressed me as one who was not a stand-off type of leader but one that could be trusted as a priest and future leader of our Church.
The tenure of Wuerl’s growth in the Church intrigued me and I knew somehow he would climb in the hierarchy of the Church as a leader with immense wisdom and would guide our Church as God would have it.
Once he was back in Pittsburgh, after his assignment in the Archdiocese of Seattle, I was reassigned as deacon to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Since at that time our class consisted of the only deacons in Pittsburgh and I was assigned at the cathedral, it was I who was on as deacon with Bishop Wuerl at most diocesan functions. This is where I saw in him a leader who carried the heart of Christ on his sleeve.
During the years I spent assigned at the Cathedral, many Masses with the Bishop were not only enriching, but a learning experience that forever entrenched his knowledge and wisdom that only a very learned teacher could implant in one's brain. To say I was intrigued is to put it mildly. He showed me what it is to be an ordained minister in Christ’s Church; holy, dedicated, and willing to stand the throes of life that may not be comfortable. That last term is certainly now real and only holiness can come from becoming a true follower of Jesus Christ in the straits of condemnation and scrutiny. The Cross of Christ comes to many of us who follow Him even to death; death of stature among others.
Perhaps those who have joined the mob-mentality of accusing someone without a defense may successfully nail one more persons on a cross to satisfy their own decry of “Let’s lynch him and the problems of life will end.”
Not so! May the years ahead for Justice Kavanaugh and Cardinal Wuerl be a time of serving the people of God within civil justice and the Holy Church of God.
Ralph B. Hathaway October 2018