By Michelle Boorstein
There have been rumors out of Rome for years that Pope Benedict wants to make Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl a cardinal, but now things are getting specific. As in, this week specific.
Vaticanistas both European and American are reporting – without named sources, mind you – that Wuerl, who turns 70 next month, could be named on Wednesday, when every week the pope holds a public appearance, or general audience in St. Peter’s square.
Wuerl, a somber, careful leader, has seen his star rise since coming from his hometown of Pittsburgh to Washington in 2006, and then hosting a papal visit in 2008 that the Vatican considered a big publicity boon for a pope who hadn’t gotten much love from the U.S. press. The hitch: Traditionally there’s only one cardinal per diocese, and Washington already has the beloved Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. However, cardinals lose their right to vote for pope – the big-ticket item – when they turn 80 and McCarrick recently turned 80. I haven’t been able to get anyone from the Washington Archdiocese or the Vatican to immediately confirm this but I understand that 19 of the 120 voting cardinal seats are open.
If the rumors are true that Wuerl (along with former St. Louis archbishop Raymond Burke) will be named cardinal this week and installed next month, it will be a whirlwind event to watch.
Cardinals are installed at three-day affairs called a consistory. It includes a private meeting for the new cardinals with the pope, a big public ceremony where the men receive the actual red skullcap and a reception that brings guests into parts of the Vatican Palace that the public normally never sees – some very grand rooms.
It would be among the highest honors possible for Wuerl, who has mostly avoided the spotlight during his time in Washington. He’s known for generally seeking middle ground on hot-button issues, including whether Catholic politicians who have supported the legal right to an abortion can receive communion (he says yes, that it’s not up to him to read these pols’ souls). However he received massive attention last year for his decision to sever health care benefits for unmarried couples who work for Catholic Charities rather than allow same-sex couples who married under Washington’s new gay marriage law to be covered. It will bring him and his tenure new attention.
UPDATE: Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese said: “We’ll all find out when and if the pope makes an announcement.”