However, the cardinal will continue as Apostolic Administrator until a replacement is appointed

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington, but asked him to continue as Apostolic Administrator until a successor is appointed.

The 77-year-old cardinal submitted his resignation two years ago upon reaching the canonical age of retirement, but Pope Francis had not accepted it up to this point.

In a letter to Cardinal Wuerl, obtained by CNA, the Pope said: “Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church.

“In accepting your resignation, I ask you to remain as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese until the appointment of your successor.”

The cardinal travelled to Rome at the end of last month to request that the Pope accept his resignation. Referring to this, Pope Francis wrote: “This request rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry: to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care.”

The cardinal faced strong criticism and increasing pressure to stand down after the Pennsylvania grand jury report criticised his handling of abuse cases during his time as Bishop of Pittsburgh.

In his letter on Friday, Pope Francis defended the cardinal, writing: “You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and 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 defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”

“Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church,” the Pope added.

In a statement, Cardinal Wuerl said that “the Holy Father’s decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future. It permits this local Church to move forward.”

“Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington.”