In accepting his resignation now, Francis asked that Wuerl remain as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
"Your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologise and ask for pardon". In his first months as bishop, after the priests were charged with more than 100 counts of abuse, he formed a review board at the diocese level.
"The pope's letter to Cardinal Wuerl sends a clear message that for Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl is more important than the children he put in harm's way", said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.
Wuerl has also been accused of knowing that his predecessor in Washington, ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had forced male adult seminarians to have sex with him years ago. He said bishops were under attack from the "great accuser", another name for Satan. But cardinals are often allowed to serve until they are 80.
On Saturday, Francis ordered an investigation into the Vatican archives over the allegations. He gave an interview to a local television station, saying that the cases had occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, before the church had developed clear policies on clergy sexual abuse.
Following the report's release, Cardinal Wuerl said while the Grand Jury "may be critical of some of my actions" he stressed it "confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse".
It has been widely believed that Cardinal Wuerl hoped to remain in his position at least until the fall meeting of the US bishops' conference in November.
In an October 12 statement, Cardinal Wuerl wrote 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". Wuerl has been an ally of the Pope in the United States Church hierarchy which includes some known to be lukewarm about the pastoral priorities of the Francis pontificate. He earlier served as an auxiliary bishop of Seattle from 1986 until 1988, when he was named bishop of Pittsburgh, where he served for 18 years. Years later, according to the report, six more people alleged that they were sexually assaulted by O'Malley, in some cases after he had been reinstated.
Wuerl denied the grand jury allegations that he protected abusive priests. Pope Benedict elevated then-Archbishop Wuerl to the College of Cardinals in November 2010, shortly after Wuerl's 70th birthday.
Cardinal Wuerl has been archbishop of Washington for the past 12 years.
Wuerl's archdiocese issued a series of similar plaudits on Friday, coinciding with the Vatican announcement. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1966 and went on to receive a doctorate in 1974. He held this position until he was appointed in May 2006 to head the Archdiocese of Washington.
Cardinal Wuerl is a member of several Vatican departments, including the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Congregation for Bishops.
Edward McFadden, a spokesman for Wuerl, said that during the cardinal's 12 years in Washington, "not a single priest of the Archdiocese of Washington has faced a credible claim, and there is not today a single priest in ministry in Washington who has faced a credible claim". As for not attempting to defend himself, Wuerl didn't mind when the archdiocesan office did it for him.