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 CNS Story:

MCCARRICK-PRESS May-16-2006 (960 words) With photos and graphic. xxxn

250-mile move to Washington will bring many changes to new archbishop

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Moving 250 miles east and south from Pittsburgh to Washington will in many ways bring Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, the new head of the Washington Archdiocese, into a different world.

He's moving from one of the country's traditional industrial centers to the nation's center of political power.

Head of the Pittsburgh Diocese since 1988, he was appointed to Washington by Pope Benedict XVI May 16.

At a press conference where he was warmly welcomed by retiring Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Wuerl fielded questions about politics and politicians, homosexual seminarians, immigration legislation and the film "The DaVinci Code."

With almost two decades of experience in television as host of a long-running, nationally syndicated television catechesis program, and a history as the author of numerous catechetical books, Archbishop Wuerl time and again deftly answered reporters' questions by emphasizing the importance of teaching the church's history, morality and theology in addressing a wide range of issues they raised.

That included recommending that people "go back and check the real sources" before accepting as truth the fictions presented in "The DaVinci Code."

In fact, when asked about his agenda, he said, "Being a bishop is sort of the same wherever you are." The main job of any bishop is to teach, he said, and to lead the faithful to sanctity.

Replying to questions about what he would do about Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal, Archbishop Wuerl echoed that theme: "The first task of a bishop is to teach. When Jesus sent his apostles out, he sent them to teach."

In a 2004 speech in Pittsburgh, he said the first approach in dealing with such politicians should be to provide clear teaching on abortion and the problems of voting to support abortion-enabling legislation.

But while there is a "clear and grave obligation" to vote against legislation that bolsters abortion, refusing Communion to politicians who support keeping abortion legal is not part of the pastoral tradition of the church, he said at the time.

At the press conference, in response to questions about pending immigration legislation, he said the task of the church in the debate is to keep emphasizing the inherent dignity, integrity and respect for all people that should be the foundation of any legislation.

"It has to be done in the context of human dignity," he said.

In the five-and-a-half years he has been archbishop of Washington, Cardinal McCarrick has at times seemed to be almost as prominent for his voice in Washington's political and public policy matters as for his pastoral role in the church.

Even before moving to Washington, in his capacity as a member of various bishops' committees, he was a regular witness at congressional hearings on topics ranging from immigration to global debt relief and international religious freedom.

Cardinal McCarrick continued such involvement as archbishop of Washington, speaking out on public policy issues, sometimes participating in meetings at the White House, and regularly writing letters to the president and Congress on various topics. For the last several years he has chaired a task force for the bishops on how to handle Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

Archbishop Wuerl said the prospect of having such a role in the nation's capital was why he carefully chose the word "daunting" in his statement describing his expectations of his new job.

Although Pittsburgh, where he was born and raised, had again been his home since he became bishop there in 1988, he was quite familiar with Washington, having graduated from The Catholic University of America and served on its board and attended "many, many meetings" of the bishops' conference here, he said.

Cardinal McCarrick said he couldn't be more pleased that Archbishop Wuerl was chosen to replace him. He said they have been friends for many years and that he knows him especially to be an articulate teacher.

"He has been a wonderful friend to me over so many years and I have watched with delight and deep respect -- and sometimes with more than a little envy -- the great things that the church of Pittsburgh has accomplished under his leadership," Cardinal McCarrick said. "I cannot think of a better choice for Washington than Bishop Donald Wuerl."

As for his own plans, Cardinal McCarrick said he first wants to learn a sixth language, Arabic, both to "keep my mind from turning to jelly" and so that when he gets off an airplane on visits to the Middle East, "I can read a street sign."

He said he would probably continue to live most of the year in Washington, and perhaps spend a few months with his family in New Jersey.

"You grow where you are planted," he said. "I will be 76 and I will try not to find another garden at this point."

With his move to Washington, Archbishop Wuerl will now have responsibility for 579,000 Catholics, compared to an estimated 800,000 in Pittsburgh, according to the Official Catholic Directory.

The Archdiocese of Washington also has fewer parishes, 140, compared to Pittsburgh's 215, as well as fewer diocesan priests, 298 in Washington and 420 in Pittsburgh.

However, Washington also is home to 30 seminaries, nearly all operated by religious orders and three Catholic colleges, which add more than 750 religious order priests to the population of the diocese.

Washington is also a more culturally and ethnically diverse area than Pittsburgh, with liturgies in 22 languages on a regular basis.

Archbishop Wuerl is fluent in Italian and made a few comments in Italian-tinged Spanish at the Washington press conference, saying he joyfully anticipates collaborating with the people of his new archdiocese.

His installation as archbishop will be June 22.


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