ROME — Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington on Monday held a private Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for seminarians from his archdiocese, telling them to place their faith in Christ and in his Church, which is a source of strength amid challenges and confusion.
Referring to the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Peter, the Catholic Church’s first pope, declares he believes Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Wuerl said, “the very first thing an insightful pastor can do is respond in the way that Peter did.”
“Each one of us has had to make that confession…you are the Christ…not to say you are the Christ, but I believe you are the Christ,” he said, adding that this confession ought to be the foundation of their decision-making process.
Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, celebrated the Mass for the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, which is celebrated on Feb. 22, but which can be used on other occasions when celebrating in the basilica. The Mass was for the roughly 10-12 seminarians from his diocese studying at the Pontifical North American College.
Wuerl is likely in town for the college’s annual ceremony for the ordination of deacons, which is set to take place Sept. 27 inside St. Peter’s Basilica. He pointed to how in the Gospel reading Jesus says, “you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church,” using the Greek work petrus, meaning rock.
Wuerl said the reason for celebrating Mass inside the basilica, which houses what are believed to be Peter’s bones, was to allow those present “to associate ourselves as closely as we can with the rock, the rock on which this Church stands.”
He said the name of a pope changes, from Peter, to Linus, Cletus, John Paul, Benedict and Francis, however, “that bedrock experience on which the Church exists remains. It’s that faith that allows us to hold fast in any moment of calm or confusion, in any moment of challenge.”
“The whole reason for the rock is so that generation after generation after generation we will be able to say, you are the Christ, you are the Son of the Living God.”
Wuerl closed his homily urging each seminarian to ask themselves what it means for them to say, “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After Mass, he added a brief statement congratulating the men who will be ordained deacons during Thursday’s Mass, saying they have a twofold mission of giving themselves both to Christ and to their flocks.
In recent months, Wuerl has drawn fire for mishandling abuse complaints following the Aug. 14 publication of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. He has also faced mounting questions about his knowledge of the alleged sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick with seminarians.
In both cases, Wuerl has vigorously defended his actions.
Since June, McCarrick has faced increasing allegations of sexually abusing two adolescent boys and sexually harassing seminarians and young priests for decades. In 2005 and 2007, two New Jersey dioceses reached settlements with McCarrick’s alleged victims.
Wuerl, who succeeded McCarrick as archbishop of Washington in 2006, has insisted that he had no knowledge of the settlements, nor any complaints that McCarrick had exhibited sexually abusive behavior before accusations went public over the summer.
Some Washington-area Catholics, including a few local priests, have advocated for Wuerl’s resignation. In a September 6 letter to the priests of his archdiocese, Wuerl acknowledged the situation.
“Among the many observations was that the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity,” he said in the letter.
Wuerl is already beyond 75, the age at which bishops submit their resignations, and will turn 78 in November.