The cardinal has been the subject of criticism since late June, when revelations about alleged sexual misconduct on the part of his predecessor, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, raised questions about what Wuerl knew about the disgraced archbishop, and how he responded to that knowledge.
The pope asked Wuerl to remain an "Apostolic Administrator to the Archdiocese" in Washington until the appointment of his successor.
The Archdiocese of Washington released a letter from Francis, saying that Wuerl had sufficient evidence to "justify" his actions as a bishop and to "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 defense. "Of this, I am proud and thank you", Francis wrote in the letter.
Wuerl initially downplayed the scandal, insisting on his good record.
"Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon", he said.
On Saturday, Francis ordered an investigation into the Vatican archives over the allegations.
"In the meantime, names of potential leaders for the archdiocese will be submitted to the pope through the apostolic nuncio for Pope Francis to determine the next suitable archbishop".
"The grand jury report showed that Cardinal Wuerl oversaw and participated in the cover-up", the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said in an interview. He had been accused of sexually abusing several people, including children. They included a letter from the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino, who lamented that Wuerl's "pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report's flaws and its interpretation by the media".
Please find here a letter from Pope Francis to Cardinal Wuerl.
Wuerl's archdiocese issued a series of plaudits Friday, coinciding with the Vatican announcement. "And that was to introduce the zero tolerance and... any priest against whom there was a credible, proven accusation, that appropriate action was taken", Wuerl had said.
I also take this occasion to express my honest appreciation to Cardinal Wuerl for his longstanding and dedicated service to Our Lord Jesus and his Church.
The report is thought to be the most comprehensive to date into abuse in the U.S. church, and it covered six diocese in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. He was often the glue holding a divided bishops' conference in America together, and he was also the most important interpreter and ally of Pope Francis in a sometimes-skeptical Catholic culture in the US.
Survivor advocate David Clohessy of the group SNAP said Wuerl's "long-overdue" resignation might give solace to victims.
The diocese became aware of complaints of sexual abuse against Zirwas before Wuerl became bishop, but the grand jury says despite additional allegations, Wuerl kept Zirwas in ministry until 1994. "Whether people want to defend him or not for Pittsburgh, the Church has still been severely damaged".
In 1993, when John Paul II was pope, Wuerl traveled to Rome, where he successfully persuaded the Vatican to overturn the reinstatement of an abusive priest.