Get to know leading U.S. cardinal in new biography

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., is one of the leading cardinals in the U.S. and in the universal Catholic Church today. During his time as archbishop of Washington, D.C., he has hosted two popes — Benedict XVI in 2008 and Francis in 2015 — and he participated in the conclave that elected Pope Francis three years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Wuerl to help direct the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and Pope Francis appointed him as a member of both the 2014 and the 2015 Synods on the Family.

It’s worth it for Catholics in the United States to know Cardinal Wuerl. One way to do that is by reading “Something More Pastoral: The Mission of Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal Donald Wuerl” (Lambing Press, $13.95).

The authors, Ann Rodgers and Mike Aquilina, know Cardinal Wuerl well.

Rodgers covered him in Pittsburgh for years as the religion writer for the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. For many years, Aquilina has worked with Cardinal Wuerl on various book projects and other efforts. What Aquilina and Rodgers have put together isn’t a definitive academic biography of Wuerl but it’s a good account of much of the cardinal’s history.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, he received graduate degrees from The Catholic University of America and the Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate in theology from the University of St. Thomas in Rome.

Pope John Paul II ordained him a bishop in January 1986, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

The pope then sent him to Seattle, Washington, as an auxiliary bishop to mediate a tense situation with the archbishop there. All of those details come out early in the book and show how in his one year there, Bishop Wuerl learned to practice the pontiff’s advice of creating unity and found that not everything is black and white.

Then, for 18 years until his appointment to Washington, he served as bishop of Pittsburgh.

Cardinal Wuerl, who is now 75 — the age when bishops are required to submit their resignation to the pope — has quietly had a hand in many of the big things going on in the Catholic Church in the United States.

Rogers and Aquilina detail how Cardinal John Wright, under whom Wuerl served as secretary for many years, taught then-Father Donald the importance of interacting with the media. Prior to entering seminary, Wright earned a master’s degree in journalism and paid his way working for a local newspaper. Throughout his ministry, Cardinal Wuerl has always valued the power of media to reach people — whether it is secular or church media. One of the maxims he recites often is, “You can never communicate too much.”

Education is also important to the cardinal and he has done much fortify Catholic schools in both Pittsburgh and Washington.

With his friend and spiritual advisor Capuchin Father Ronald Lawler (and Lawler’s brother Thomas), he wrote the best-selling “The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults.” This book — written while he was bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh — predated St. John Paul II’s promulgation of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The cardinal has since authored six other books, most recently “Ways to Pray,” which was reviewed in these pages in December 2015, and more are on the way.

Cardinal Wuerl was one of the first bishops to take a hard stance on clergy sexual abuse in the United States. The book details how in 1998, just months after becoming bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl met with victims of clergy sexual abuse — against the advice of lawyers. “Seeing the damage to their lives and their faith, he made zero tolerance the policy of the diocese.

He stood that ground even when the Vatican’s highest court ordered him to reinstate a priest who he believed to be guilty,” the authors write. He was the only bishop to take on a Vatican court in recent memory.

When Cardinal Wuerl decided to eradicate clergy sexual abuse, he didn’t back down. Many of the norms eventually adopted countrywide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are based on policies he implemented in Pittsburgh years before.

This is just a little taste of the fast-moving and compelling life of Cardinal Donald Wuerl documented in “Something More Pastoral.”

“Our book will hardly be the last work about Cardinal Donald Wuerl. We believe he will continue to make history, and history with continue to reflect on the contributions he has already made,” the authors write. “This is a beginning, not to be abandoned to the reading public, but soon, no doubt, to be superseded.”

To order “Something More Pastoral,” visit lambingpress.com or www.amazon.com.


  • catholic schools
  • books
  • communications
  • clerical abuse
  • cardinal wuerl

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