Cardinal Donald Wuerl, leader of the Catholic Church in Washington, has tapped Jones Day for legal advice on matters relating to a Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting thousands of child sexual assault victims at Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
The highly anticipated grand jury report puts blame on Wuerl, former bishop of his native Pittsburgh for 18 years, for failing to remove abusive priests from their public ministry and concealing information when allegations against some priests were made to law enforcement officials. The report stated more than 300 priests were responsible for the alleged abuse.
In response to Tuesday’s report, Wuerl issued a statement saying that he, “continue[s] to offer my apologies, my prayers, and my resolve that I will use whatever power I may have to ensure that no children will suffer because of those whom they are trusted for care and guidance.”
“While I served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, and as our understanding of child sexual abuse increased, the Diocese worked to strengthen our response and repeatedly amended the Diocese’s safeguards and policies,” Wuerl wrote. “The Diocese worked to meet or exceed the requirements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the reporting requirements of Pennsylvania law.”
In confirming Jones Day’s representation of Wuerl on issues involving the grand jury, Wuerl spokesman Ed McFadden added that Jones Day had previously represented the cardinal on other matters. The firm worked with the Archdiocese of Washington general counsel Kim Viti Fiorentino on a settlement relating to Zubik v. Burwell, which involved the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s mandate for employers to provide contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act that the Catholic Church found morally objectionable.
The lawyers now representing Wuerl were not immediately made known, but in prior matters involving the Archbishop of Washington the Catholic Church has turned to Jones Day partners Eric Dreiband and David Raimer, and then-partner Noel Francisco, now serving as U.S. solicitor general. Francisco was part of the Jones Day team representing the Catholic Church’s challenge to the ACA.
In Pennsylvania, Jones Day partner John Goetz has been an active board member of Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and has worked on a pro bono project seeking to advance Wuerl’s plans for a free health care clinic in downtown Pittsburgh.
Fiorentino, Wuerl’s in-house lawyer, has attacked the Pennsylvania grand jury report and its depiction of Wuerl. In an interview with her archdiocese’s weekly newspaper published Tuesday, Fiorentino said the investigatory process and resulting report, “narrowly targeted the Catholic Church in six dioceses in Pennsylvania and was generated in a process that suffered from significant legal flaws.”
“In short, it’s clear that then-Bishop Wuerl acted decisively to protect young people,” Fiorentino said in the interview. “The reader of the report gets a different, far more negative view.”
The Archdiocese of Washington also set up a website, TheWuerlRecord.com, to rebut the grand jury report. As of Wednesday afternoon, TheWuerlRecord.com now redirects to a page on the archdiocese’s website featuring Wuerl’s statement and a post by his spokesman criticizing Pennsylvania’s attorney general. The website previously hosted an image of a smiling Wuerl alongside a statement from him and a timeline detailing Wuerl’s “child protection efforts.”
As Wuerl and his legal team look to navigate the challenges posed by his record in Pittsburgh, the cardinal has also faced scrutiny for his response to scandals much closer to home in Washington.
After Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor in Washington, resigned last month from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations against him spanning several decades, Wuerl said, “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.” He later walked back those remarks in interviews with Catholic media and has reiterated his shock at learning of the allegations that his predecessor was a sexual predator.
Jones Day did not provide comment for this article.