Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, ending weeks of mounting speculation and rising anger over Wuerl's role in two clergy sexual abuse scandals.
But Francis has asked Wuerl to remain as the archdiocese's apostolic administrator -- akin to an interim manager -- until a successor is named and in a letter released Friday, the pope praised Wuerl for his "nobility" in handling the criticism against him, reports CNN.
The Pope wrote that Wuerl has "sufficient elements to 'justify'" his 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," the Pope wrote.
Wuerl said on Friday that he was deeply touched by the Pope's "gracious words of understanding" in the letter.
The Pittsburgh native spent more than 50 years climbing the ranks of the Catholic Church, building a reputation as a loyal churchman and scrupulous teacher.
Known as a key ally of Pope Francis, Wuerl sits on the Vatican committee that vets and appoints bishops around the world.
He has faced widespread criticism since August, when a report documenting the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania by Catholic clergy was released.
Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years before coming to Washington in 2006, isn't accused of sexual misconduct himself, but many Catholics say he didn't do enough to root out abuse.