FILE – In this June 30, 2015, file photo, Cardinal Donald
FILE – In this June 30, 2015, file photo, Cardinal Donald

ROME - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is linked to the sexual abuse and cover-up scandals in the Catholic Church. The pope, however, has so far not named a replacement and asked the cardinal to stay on temporarily. 

The 77-year old cardinal had already offered to resign two years ago when he turned 75, the customary age for retirement in the Catholic Church hierarchy; but, Pope Francis had kept him on and does not appear to be in a hurry to let him go now although the pontiff has accepted his resignation. 

Last month, in the midst of the scandals, Wuerl had personally asked the pope to relieve him of his duties.

Wuerl's name had appeared in a grand jury report on sexual abuse cases published in August by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and that has led to many calls for the cardinal to step down.

The report named 300 accused members of the clergy. Wuerl was accused of helping to protect priests involved in child molestation and sexual abuse from 1988 to 2006 while he was bishop of Pittsburgh.

The cardinal has always spoken of his good record. Wuerl has also repeatedly said he did not know about the sexual misconduct of his predecessor in Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was forced to resign earlier this year due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

In a statement Friday, Cardinal Wuerl said, "The Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future." He added, "Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon."

Pope Francis' letter accepting Wuerl's resignation alarmed victims of abuse and their advocates. The pope praised the cardinal for putting the interests and unity of his flock ahead of his own personal ambitions. The pope also said the cardinal had not attempted to justify his actions in the way he handled sexual abuse cases although he could have done so.

The pope wrote, "Your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you."