CBS News October 12, 2018, 6:01 AM Pope Francis accepts Cardinal Donald Wuerl's resignation as D.C. archbishop

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

CBS News

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl from his post as the archbishop of Washington, D.C. The Vatican released a letter from the pope on Friday addressed to Wuerl in which the pontiff confirms he has accepted Wuerl's resignation, submitted on Sept. 21, and lauds him for putting the church's interests over his own personal defense against claims he protected abusive priests.

Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese for 18 years, was implicated in a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report and had faced increased calls to step down over allegations he covered up for so-called "predator priests."

"You have sufficient elements to 'justify' your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not 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.

The pope asked Wuerl to, "remain as Apostolic Administrator to the Archdiocese" in Washington until the appointment of his successor.

On Labor Day, Wuerl met with the priests in his archdiocese. In a letter to them earlier this month, he shared his intent to meet the pope about his future. An expert told CBS News at the time that the letter was highly unusual, but that a resignation would be even more so.

In the letter, Wuerl said a decision on his future was "essential" so that his archdiocese "can move forward."

The letter came the same day Pope Francis drew criticism for comments he made during a Mass in Rome. He said bishops were under attack from the "great accuser," another name for Satan.

"It seems like the great accuser has been unchained," the pope said, adding, "He tries to uncover the sins so they are visible in order to scandalize the people."

The Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August found more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused more than 1,000 children since 1947. Wuerl presided over 32 accused priests during his time at the Pittsburgh diocese. Among the accusations against him is that he reassigned and reinstated some of them.

"Did you ever move priests quietly?" CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste asked Wuerl in August.

"That wasn't – that wasn't our process," Wuerl responded the night before the report's release.

"Do you have any plans to resign?"

"What I want to talk about is what effort I made in my 18 years there. 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.

Patrick Hornbeck, chair of the theology department at Fordham University in New York, said in September that many people were "looking to Pope Francis to show a degree of leadership on this matter that he hasn't yet shown."

"I think it's fair to say that the Catholic Church, in the U.S. at least, is in a crisis that it's not seen for a long time," Hornbeck said.