Cardinal Donald Wuerl says he will ask Pope Francis directly to accept his resignation after a sweeping jury report accused him of allowing priests accused of sexually abusing children to be reassigned or reinstated.
In a letter to priests released Tuesday, Wuerl said he intends to go to Rome in the near future to speak with Pope Francis about the resignation he presented nearly three years ago, when he reached the church-stipulated retirement age for bishops of 75.
While bishops are requested to submit a resignation at that age, they continue in their positions unless the pope accepts their resignation.
"The Pope is not required to accept it," said Catholic University Professor Chad C. Pecknold. "He'll accept it at the point at which he's ready and willing to replace him with his apostolic successor."
A spokesperson from the Archdiocese confirmed that Wuerl will actually ask Pope Francis to accept his departure. It's unclear how Pope Francis will respond.
Speculation over whether Wuerl would move forward with a resignation swirled after he announced his plan to meet with Pope Francis.
"It is clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward," Wuerl wrote in Tuesday's letter.
Wuerl is facing a storm of criticism and calls for his resignation after a Pennsylvania grand jury report said he allowed priests accused of sexually abusing children to be reassigned or reinstated when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh.
The report found that some 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s, and Wuerl is one of a string of bishops in six dioceses the report says covered up for them.
Wuerl has asked for prayers and forgiveness for what he calls his lapse of judgment in dealing with reports of abuse by priests.
The archbishop recently called for a "Season of Healing," inviting parishes and parishioners to observe six weeks of Friday prayers in recognition of the pain of the victims and the need for healing.
Earlier this month, a man stood in a Mass Wuerl was celebrating in D.C. and yelled "Shame on you" after Wuerl asked parishioners to keep Pope Francis in their prayers.
The grand jury heard allegations against more than 300 clergy members, according to the report. Most of the victims were boys. Some were teens, while others were prepubescent. Several alleged victims were lured with alcohol or pornography. Afterward, they turned to substance abuse and even suicide to escape the lingering trauma.
All told, more than 1,000 victims were identified from the church's own records and there could be thousands more, the grand jurors concluded.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis summoned the presidents of every bishops conference around the world for a February summit to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children — evidence that he realizes the scandal is global and that inaction threatens to undermine his legacy.
Francis' key cardinal advisers announced the decision Wednesday, a day before Francis meets with U.S. church leaders who have been discredited anew by the latest accusations in the Catholic Church's decades-long sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
The Feb. 21-24 meeting of the presidents of the more than 100 bishops conferences is believed to be the first of its kind, and signals a realization at the highest levels of the church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem and not restricted to the Anglo-Saxon world, as many church leaders have long tried to insist.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.