With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent Catholic head to roll since his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal this year over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
A sweeping USA grand jury report released in August revealed credible allegations against more than 300 predator priests and identified over 1,000 victims of child sex abuse covered up for decades by the Catholic Church in the state of Pennsylvania.
Before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released in mid-August, the book on Donald Wuerl would have been that he was among the most influential churchmen in American Catholicism over the last fifty years, and arguably the single most important of the last 20.
Wuerl has faced increasing pressure to resign ever since the publication of a grand jury report on abuses committed by priests in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. "If Wuerl did these things, the pope should make an example of him to show that if it can happen to a cardinal, it can happen to any priest". The pope also praised Cardinal Wuerl's "nobility" in choosing to step down rather than defend his record under fire. "Until Pope Francis reverses this emphasis on coddling the hierarchy at the expense of children, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this crisis".
"It was clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward", Cardinal Wuerl wrote in a September 11 letter to the priests of his archdiocese.
Patty Fortney-Julius, one of five sisters from central Pennsylvania who have accused their now-dead parish priest of sexually abusing them as children, also voiced frustrations.More news: Financial Times reports: UK PM Theresa May says Brexit deal is close
In a letter to the Washington faithful, which Wuerl asked to be read aloud at Mass this weekend, the cardinal addressed survivors of abuse.
Born in Pittsburgh on November 12, 1940, Wuerl was ordained a priest in 1966 and later served as secretary to Pittsburgh Bishop John Wright, even following him to Rome when the bishop was named head of the Vatican's clergy dicastery and made a cardinal. He recently stepped down from the College of Cardinals over accusations that he had molested an altar boy decades ago and coerced seminary students to share his bed. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1966 and went on to receive a doctorate in 1974.
Benedict XVI appointed him archbishop of Washington in 2006, upon the retirement of the now-disgraced McCarrick, who had led the archdiocese since 2001.
But Francis kept him on, as popes tend to do with able-bodied bishops who share their pastoral priorities. The Vatican's highest court ordered Wuerl to restore Cipolla to priestly ministry, but Wuerl resisted and, after two years of legal procedures, prevailed in preventing Cipolla's return.
A native of Pittsburgh, Penn., Cardinal Wuerl studied at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. By seemingly downplaying the gravity of these sins and Wuerl's moral culpability for them, he is thereby participating in these sins.
Despite a personal formality that sometimes struck observers as aloofness, McGuire said she found Cardinal Wuerl to be self-effacing, humble, approachable and genuinely interested in people.