Pope Francis accepts resignation of US archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl

The senior cleric had faced criticism over his handling of sexual abuse scandals

Pope Francis accepts resignation of US archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Picture by: Alex Brandon/AP/Press Association Images

The Pope has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington.

The 77-year-old US archbishop had faced criticism in the recent grand jury report into sexual abuse by priests in the US state of Pennsylvania, with the criticism relating to the senior cleric's handling of allegations during his time as bishop there.

Cardinal Wuerl announced last month he planned to meet the Pontiff to discuss plans to quit.

While senior bishops are obliged to resign when they reach their 75th birthday, in practice many are allowed stay on if they are able to.

It's now been confirmed that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl, which was initially offered in 2015.

The senior cleric will remain on as administrator of the Washington archdiocese until a replacement is found, and it's reported he will retain the title of cardinal.

In a letter to the Cardinal Wuerl, the pontiff said: "You have sufficient elements to 'justify' your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes.

"However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you."

Cardinal Wuerl said: "I am profoundly grateful for [Pope Francis'] devoted commitment to the wellbeing of the Archdiocese of Washington and also deeply touched by his gracious words of understanding.

"Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington.”

Cardinal Wuerl had been due to attend the World Meeting of Families in August, but announced his withdrawal only a few days before his planned keynote speech in Dublin.