Finally, a senior Curial cardinal has spoken out about the Vigano accusations. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation For Bishops, was called out by Vigano on September 27, in a new letter. Excerpt:
I would like to make a special appeal to Cardinal Ouellet, because as nuncio I always worked in great harmony with him, and I have always had great esteem and affection towards him. He will remember when, at the end of my mission in Washington, he received me at his apartment in Rome in the evening for a long conversation. At the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate, he had maintained his dignity, as he had shown with courage when he was Archbishop of Québec. Later, however, when his work as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops was being undermined because recommendations for episcopal appointments were being passed directly to Pope Francis by two homosexual “friends” of his dicastery, bypassing the Cardinal, he gave up. His long article in L’Osservatore Romano, in which he came out in favor of the more controversial aspects of Amoris Laetitia, represents his surrender.
Your Eminence, before I left for Washington, you were the one who told me of Pope Benedict’s sanctions on McCarrick. You have at your complete disposal key documents incriminating McCarrick and many in the curia for their cover-ups. Your Eminence, I urge you to bear witness to the truth.
In a scathing open letter released by the Vatican yesterday — the entire thing is here — Ouellet responds vigorously. Note this part:
You said that on June 23, 2013, you provided Pope Francis with information about McCarrick in an audience he granted to you, as he also did for many pontifical representatives with whom he met for the first time that day. I can only imagine the amount of verbal and written information that was provided to the Holy Father on that occasion about so many persons and situations. I strongly doubt that the Pope had such interest in McCarrick, as you would like us to believe, given the fact that by then he was an 82-year-old Archbishop emeritus who had been without a role for seven years. Moreover, the written instructions given to you by the Congregation for Bishops at the beginning of your mission in 2001 [Note: this must be an error; Vigano’s mission as nuncio began in 2011 — RD] did not say anything about McCarrick, except for what I mentioned to you verbally about his situation as Bishop emeritus and certain conditions and restrictions that he had to follow on account of some rumors about his past conduct.
Emphasis mine. This appears to vindicate Vigano’s claim that Benedict XVI put McCarrick on some sort of leash because McCarrick was a lecher. Notice how carefully he words this: that there were “rumours” that McCarrick was dirty.
Note too that Ouellet’s defense of Francis is that the pope was probably too overwhelmed by information to remember that his nuncio to the most powerful nation in the world had warned him that the retired cardinal archbishop of the capital city of the most powerful nation in the world was a sex abuser. That strains credulity. Even if it’s true, that does not put Francis in the best light, does it?
From 30th June 2010, when I became Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, I never presented in audience the McCarrick case to Pope Benedict XVI or to Pope Francis – not until recently, after his dismissal from the College of Cardinals. The former Cardinal, retired in May of 2006, had been requested not to travel or to make public appearances, in order to avoid new rumors about him.
Not “in order to keep him from molesting again,” but “in order to avoid new rumours about him.” This felicitous formulation preserves deniability, but also underscores the importance for the Vatican of maintaining “bella figura” — an attractive appearance. More:
It is false, therefore, to present those measures as “sanctions” formally imposed by Pope Benedict XVI and then invalidated by Pope Francis.
OK, so where did the restrictions that Ouellet recalls having mentioned verbally to the incoming nuncio Vigano originate? Given that only the Pope could restrict the activities of a cardinal archbishop, there’s a lot riding on the word “formally” in this paragraph.
After a review of the archives, I find that there are no documents signed by either Pope in this regard, and there are no audience notes from my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, imposing on the retired Archbishop the obligation to lead a quiet and private life with the weight normally reserved to canonical penalties. The reason is that back then, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged culpability. Thus, the Congregation’s decision was inspired by prudence, and the letters from my predecessor and my own letters urged him, first through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi and then through you, to lead a life of prayer and penance, for his own good and for the good of the Church. His case would have deserved new disciplinary measures if the Nunciature in Washington, or any other source, had provided us recent and definitive information about his behavior. I am of the opinion that, out of respect for the victims and given the need for justice, the inquiry currently underway in the United States and in the Roman Curia should provide a comprehensive and critical study of the procedures and the circumstances of this painful case in order to prevent something like it from ever happening in the future.
So, according to Cardinal Ouellet, there are no documents that back up Vigano’s claim that Benedict XVI formally — that word — sanctioned McCarrick. The reason for that, Ouellet continues, is that there wasn’t enough proof against McCarrick.
To believe that the Vatican operated in good faith with regard to McCarrick back then, you have to believe that these statements from Archbishop Vigano, in his first testimony, are untrue. First, he mentions the 2000 letter from Father Boniface Ramsey, which we now know, thanks to this September 7 report from Catholic News Service, was sent, and was acknowledged by the Vatican as received. Moreover, as these screenshots from the Vigano memo claim:
To believe Ouellet’s claim that the Vatican hadn’t sufficient proof to act against McCarrick, you have to believe that Vigano is lying about documents, including his own 6 December 2006 memo.
Ouellet goes on:
How is it possible that this man of the Church [McCarrick — RD], whose incoherence has now been revealed, was promoted many times, and was nominated to such a high position as Archbishop of Washington and Cardinal? I am personally very surprised, and I recognize that there were failures in the selection procedures implemented in his case. However, and without entering here into details, it must be understood that the decisions taken by the Supreme Pontiff [John Paul II — RD] are based on the information available to him at the time and that they are the object of a prudential judgment which is not infallible. I think it is unjust to reach the conclusion that there is corruption on the part of the persons entrusted with this previous discernment process, even though in the particular case some of the concerns that were raised by testimonies should have been examined more closely. The Archbishop also knew how to cleverly defend himself from those concerns raised about him. Furthermore, the fact that there could be in the Vatican persons who practice or support sexual behavior that is contrary to the values of the Gospel, does not authorize us to make generalizations or to declare unworthy and complicit this or that individual, including the Holy Father himself. Should not ministers of the truth avoid above all calumny and defamation?
Shorter Ouellet: just because there might be a lavender mafia in the Curia doesn’t mean that they had anything to do with promoting and protecting a powerful gay cardinal. Sure, that’s possible. But is it likely?
Here’s where the nonsense gets really thick:
Dear pontifical representative emeritus, I tell you frankly that to accuse Pope Francis of having covered-up knowingly the case of an alleged sexual predator and, therefore, of being an accomplice to the corruption that afflicts the Church, to the point that he could no longer continue to carry out his reform as the first shepherd of the Church, appears to me from all viewpoints unbelievable and without any foundation. I cannot understand how could you have allowed yourself to be convinced of this monstrous and unsubstantiated accusation. Francis had nothing to do with McCarrick’s promotions to New York, Metuchen, Newark and Washington. He stripped him of his Cardinal’s dignity as soon as there was a credible accusation of abuse of a minor. For a Pope who does not hide the trust that he places in certain prelates, I never heard him refer to this so called great advisor for the pontificate for episcopal appointments in the United States. I can only surmise that some of those prelates are not of your preference or the preference of your friends who support your interpretation of matters. I think it is abhorrent, however, for you to use the clamorous sexual abuse scandal in the United States to inflict an unmerited and unheard of a blow to the moral authority of your superior, the Supreme Pontiff.
Please. The Catholic journalist Matthew Schmitz tears this claim to shreds in a tweetstorm. Schmitz cites this 2016 item from Rocco Palmo, the well-sourced liberal Catholic chronicler of church happenings, reflecting on the appointment of Cardinal Joseph Tobin to Newark. Excerpt:
As reported at the top, multiple signs point to Newark’s fourth archbishop [McCarrick — RD] as the lead architect behind the choice of his second successor. Having maintained an enduring devotion for and among the Jersey church since his transfer to the capital in 2000, McCarrick – who Francis is said to revere as “a hero” of his – made a direct appeal over recent weeks for Tobin to be named to Newark, according to two sources familiar with the cardinal’s thinking.
Per Schmitz, in 2014, Vatican journalist Sandro Magister identified Uncle Ted as the chief force engineering dark horse progressive Bishop Blase Cupich to be named to the See of Chicago, against the preferences of US bishops:
For Chicago, it appears that Pope Francis proceeded with his own personal consultation, parallel to that of the dicastery. The appointment of Cupich is thought to have been recommended to the pope with particular enthusiasm by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga and above all by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, a representative of the “liberal” old guard of the U.S. episcopate.
Of course Francis had nothing to do with McCarrick’s rise within the hierarchy; that was all John Paul II’s doing. But nobody claims that Francis did! Furthermore, it is simply not credible that McCarrick had no influence with Francis. Back in 2014, Catholic journalist David Gibson, also a progressive, published a breezy National Catholic Reporter profile about McCarrick’s new role under Francis’s pontificate. Excerpt:
McCarrick is one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. But now Francis is pope, and prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper (another old friend of McCarrick’s) and McCarrick himself are back in the mix and busier than ever.
McCarrick in particular has been on a tear in the past year, traveling to the Philippines to console typhoon victims and visiting geopolitical pivot points such as China and Iran for sensitive talks on religious freedom and nuclear proliferation.
“I truly believe there should be a religious channel in handling things where you do not have the diplomatic channel,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month after a trip to Tehran.
McCarrick travels regularly to the Middle East and was in the Holy Land for Francis’ visit in May. “The bad ones, they never die!” the pope teased McCarrick again when he saw him.
Ha ha! That’s the second joke Francis made about McCarrick’s poor character, according to the piece, which presents them as a lighthearted matter. It’s much less so in light of what we now know, of course.
Remember that his famous “who am I to judge?” remarks about homosexuality came in a certain context. Here is that context, in the transcript of the 2013 press conference in which he made the remarks. “Monsignor Ricca” is Battista Ricca, a former papal nuncio who Francis had just appointed as his representative to the Vatican Bank. Ricca had led a dissolute lifestyle as nuncio, living openly with a gay lover, being found in a trapped elevator by police with a male prostitute, and so on. And yet, he continued to rise and rise. From the press conference; emphases below are mine:
I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?
About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. Thank you so much for asking this question. Many thanks.
It seems quite clear from this that Francis considers sex with adults to be merely “sins,” not crimes. This would explain why he rehabilitated McCarrick, even while joking about what a bad boy he is. This would also explain why he punished McCarrick when he found out that the New York Archdiocese had concluded, after investigation, that McCarrick had molested a minor decades ago. The likeliest explanation, in my view, is that Francis knew about McCarrick’s past as a molester of seminarians, but did not take it seriously. This is something that’s demonstrably within his character.
We are finding out that Francis has an ugly past handling abuse as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires (for example). And we know that when Chileans complained bitterly about his appointment of a bishop who was a disciple of a serial child molester, Francis repeatedly denounced them as pawns of a leftist political plot. Only later, did the Pope admit he had been wrong, and apologize to Chilean victims. Keep that in mind when you hear Francis and his defenders, like Cardinal Ouellet, denounce Vigano and other critics as pawns of a rightist political plot.
Cardinal Ouellet’s letter is oozes sweetness and oil like a doughnut fresh out of the fryer. It is not credible. Archbishop Vigano’s claims remain unaddressed in a meaningful way. The real news out of the Ouellet letter is that McCarrick was placed on some kind of restriction over his behavior, though Ouellet maintains that there is no paper record of it having been done. But Ouellet’s claims that Francis had no particular interest in McCarrick, and that there is no evidence that McCarrick had influence over Francis, cannot be taken seriously. The greater part of the Ouellet epistle amounts to a sanctimonious, “How dare you, Vigano?!” Ouellet:
I find your current attitude incomprehensible and extremely troubling, not only because of the confusion it sows among the People of God, but because your public accusations gravely harm the reputation of the bishops, successors of the Apostles.
But are they true? Read Ouellet’s letter closely. It’s almost entirely unsupported assertion.
Ouellet’s letter is propaganda. We are scarcely closer to determining the truth of what happened in the case of McCarrick. Francis has yet to speak publicly to journalists about what he knew and when he knew it. At least he has stopped giving that series of embarrassing homilies (for example) in which he presented himself as a suffering, silent, sweet Christ, and Vigano as the Devil. That’s something.