A Catholic archbishop accused by a grand jury of being complicit in protecting predator priests was heckled during a Sunday church service in Washington, D.C.
The disruption came while Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, took time during Mass to speak about clerical sexual abuse, a scandal that resurfaced last month after a damning grand jury report on abusive Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.
As Wuerl spoke, one man in the congregation yelled out, “Shame on you!” before storming out the center aisle of Annunciation Catholic Church. A female attendee stood and turned her back to Wuerl.
But many in the congregation appeared to support the embattled 77-year-old archbishop, applauding as he ended his speech.
The heckler, identified in news reports as Brian Garfield, said he was a lifelong Catholic, but not a member of Annunciation Catholic Church. Garfield told CNN he was upset at Wuerl’s response to the grand jury report. The report identified more than 1,000 sexual abuse victims in six Pennsylvania dioceses ― including the diocese of Pittsburgh, which Wuerl led from 1988 to 2006.
“It’s a little galling to be lectured on transparency by people who are lying to us,” Garfield said. “I wish he would talk to us as a pastor and not a politician.”
Wuerl responded to Garfield’s comment in his speech, saying, “Yes, my brothers and sisters, shame. I wish I could redo everything over these 30 years as a bishop and each time get it always right. That’s not the case.”
The Washington archdiocese acknowledged the disruption in a press statement on Sunday. However, the archdiocese said Wuerl received support from Catholics in the congregation.
“This sentiment was echoed as he greeted the faithful who approached him and expressed their prayers and support after Mass,” the archdiocese said.
Wuerl’s legacy has come under scrutiny in recent months amid allegations that he helped protect predator priests in the past. The Pennsylvania grand jury’s Aug. 14 report said Wuerl allowed priests accused of abuse in the Pittsburgh diocese to be reassigned or reinstated.
The archbishop has defended himself against these accusations, saying he acted quickly to investigate abuse and protect children during his time in Pittsburgh.
Wuerl has also come under criticism for how he’s responded to the scandal surrounding his predecessor, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was removed from ministry in June, after church investigators determined that a child sexual abuse claim against him was credible.
Wuerl has said he knew nothing about McCarrick’s years of sexual misconduct, a claim met with skepticism in some Catholic circles.
During his brief remarks on Sunday, Wuerl asked parishioners to forgive his “errors in judgment” and his “inadequacies.”
Mary Challinor, who turned her back to Wuerl during his speech, told NBC Washington that she thinks Wuerl should resign.
“I feel like these people who, in the evidence of the Pennsylvania report, allowed priests who were abusing children to continue in their ministry should no longer be in the church hierarchy,” Challinor said.
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