Ouellet vs Viganò: What have we learned?

The cardinal, in refuting claim that Pope Benedict formally imposed sanctions, confirmed that something was done about McCarrick, and far earlier than previously confirmed by the Vatican

Then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives at the Vatican on March 5, 2013. (Credit: InterMirifica.net)

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick has begun a life of prayer and penance in a monastery in Kansas. Questions remain, and continue to be asked, about McCarrick’s rise and fall in the Church. Unusual for Rome, these questions are being asked and answered in public.

Last weekend a letter was released by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. His office is alleged to be the repository for files detailing who knew what and when about McCarrick.

Ouellet’s unexpected intervention was a response to the most recent open letter from former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has – for good or for ill – driven much of the ongoing pressure on the hierarchy to come clean about the handling of McCarrick’s case.

The cardinal’s Oct. 7 letter to Viganò actually does clarify what the Church knew about McCarrick, and how it responded. It also seems to at least partially substantiate some of Viganò’s claims.

The most incendiary aspects of Viganò’s allegations concern what he says happened after McCarrick retired as Washington’s archbishop in 2006.

In his Aug. 25 letter, Viganò said Pope Benedict imposed in 2009 or 2010 canonical “sanctions” on McCarrick. As part of these supposed “sanctions,” McCarrick was directed “to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate Mass in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, [and] with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”

The extent and formality with which these “sanctions” were imposed has become a crucial line of inquiry: first, because the imposition of formal sanctions would indicate the gravity of what the Vatican knew about McCarrick at the time; and second, because the extent to which they were enforced – or not – could seem to indicate either an implicit tolerance for McCarrick’s behavior, or even his rehabilitation.

The possibility that McCarrick was censured and then restored to a position of influence by Pope Francis is the central and most dramatic allegation made by Viganò. The archbishop has insisted that Francis bears immediate and personal responsibility for either shielding or elevating McCarrick, despite knowledge about his past predatory behavior.

On the surface, Ouellet appeared to refute Viganò, saying that no “sanctions” were imposed upon McCarrick. He wrote that it is “false” to present measures taken against McCarrick as “‘sanctions’ formally imposed by Pope Benedict XVI and then invalidated by Pope Francis.” Ouellet said that having searched the archives of the Congregation for Bishops he found “no documents signed by either pope in this regard.”

The cardinal focused on denying that Pope Benedict formally imposed sanctions – that is canonical penalties – and that Pope Francis lifted these penalties. But in doing so, he confirmed that something was done about McCarrick, and far earlier than had been previously confirmed by the Vatican.

In his letter to Viganò, Ouellet wrote that “the written instructions given to you by the Congregation for Bishops at the beginning of your mission [to Washington] in 2011 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.”

In that sentence Ouellet confirmed that some “conditions and restrictions” had been imposed on McCarrick by Rome, that notice of these was communicated verbally and in writing by the Congregation for Bishops to Viganò prior to his arrival in D.C., and that these were linked to allegations – called “rumors” – concerning his past conduct. Those are not minor details.

Ouellet’s letter, officially released by the Vatican, has essentially confirmed three very large “somethings” – that during McCarrick’s retirement Rome knew “something” of the allegations against him, did “something” about it, and told “something” of that to Viganò to prepare him for his arrival in Washington.

Ouellet also wrote that “conditions and restrictions” were communicated to McCarrick through “letters from my predecessor and my own letters… first through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi and then through [Viganò].”

In that light, Viganò’s second-hand account of a stormy meeting between McCarrick and Sambi, during which the terms of McCarrick’s “conditions and restrictions” were communicated appears to gain credibility.

On the other hand, it appears increasingly less credible that the measures against McCarrick were “canonical sanctions.” Ouellet wrote that formal sanctions could not possibly have been imposed by Pope Benedict and that “the reason is that back then, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged culpability.”

Still, Ouellet’s letter made clear that McCarrick was directed to lead a life of prayer and penance. While he said this would not have been a canonical penalty, it might well have been a precept- a canonically binding directive to do, or not do, something specific. It might have been even a less formal kind of exhortation. The form of the instructions given to McCarrick is not yet clear, and Ouellet’s letter does not clarify it.

Ouellet’s account does, however, give some indication as to what Vatican officials might have believed to be true about the archbishop, even while they were lacking probative evidence.

Ouellet wrote that McCarrick was urged “to lead a life of prayer and penance, for his own good and for the good of the Church.” One does not urge penance on someone not believed to be guilty of something. Similarly, noting that McCarrick’s departure from public life was “for the good of the Church” indicates that there was a concern that his behavior could provoke, as it eventually did, a major scandal.

Ouellet’s letter could raise new questions for Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Confirmation that “conditions and restrictions” were communicated to McCarrick by two apostolic nuncios challenge the plausibility of Wuerl’s claim to have been left totally out of the loop, especially given that it is a standard practice of the Holy See to inform the local bishop about concerns or measures taken against a cleric living in his diocese, especially in cases where there is a risk of public scandal.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.

To add a comment, click on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ icons OR go further down to the bottom of comments to the Post your comment box.

Comments

  1. Who do I believe? Vegano gets my vote. McCarrick should go to prison for what he has done, not to some Monastery.

    • Linda Maria says:

      I agree, Denise, that McCarrick belongs behind bars— not in a monastery! The Church does not seem to care about McCarrick’s suffering victims! The Vatican seems not to care very much, about the horrific clergy sex crimes committed—– and punishment for criminals of the clergy, and protection of Catholics and their children and young people! Hypocrites!

  2. Wuerl just resigned.

  3. “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.” I go with Archbishop Viganò and Benedict on this one. One day they will both be canonized.

  4. Elizabeth T. says:

    When you look at the list of the Archbishops/Cardinals whom believe in AB Vigano and those whom do not…..
    it is like day and night!
    Believers are Cardinal Burke, AB Cordileone, AB Chaput, AB Naumann and the like……..ALL ‘real deal’ and TRUE SHEPHERDS of the Church!!! The others…… keep praying for them.

  5. Your Fellow Catholic says:

    Once again, it was FRANCIS, not Benedict, who removed McCarrick from College of Cardinals.

    Once again, if Benedict imposed sanctions, and Vigano knew there were sanctions imposed, why did they allow McCarrick to act as though there were no sanctions? Where is their complicity in this charade?

    • Anonymous says:

      Francis waited until the public found out about McCarrick before he did something for p.r. purposes. Stop trying to fool us.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not trying to fool anybody. Why didn’t Benedict remove him? Why didn’t Vigano do something to enforce the supposed sanctions?

    • “Once again, if Benedict imposed sanctions, and Vigano knew there were sanctions imposed, why did they allow McCarrick to act as though there were no sanctions? Where is their complicity in this charade?” YFC, Vigano explained the matter clearly in his letter. McCarrick ignored the restrictions Benedict imposed upon him, and was allowed to do so by the likes of Wuerl et al. Vigano is attempting to communicate to you the existence of the charade, though he calls is something else: corruption. For an insightful look into at least one aspect of the matter, please attend to Ed Fesers’s blog and the Sept 5 article on Vigano.

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        But whatever corruptiont here were under Benedict and Vigano isn’t at the hands of Francis and Vigano’s successor!

  6. Lou Varini says:

    The title of the article asks “What have we learned?”

    Answer: The leadership of the Church can not be trusted or entrusted to lead the Church established by Jesus.

    • Which all the more shows what a great miracle it is that she, the Church, has survived to this day, though I think recent events in the Church pose the greatest threat since the Protestant reformation. Viva Vigano. He yet may be God’s instrument to rescue the Church in these trying times.

      • Lou Varini says:

        So true; it is and continues to be a validation of Our Lord’s promise of divine assistance. “I will be with you until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28).

      • Lou Varini says:

        The Church does not belong to the prelates; it belongs to Jesus!

      • All things work together for the good of those who love God.
        What I see is that there is a segment of the Catholic population that is under assault from the evil one. It has been going on for decades but it has intensified in the last 15 years or so. They are the Marian devotees and devotees of the Eucharistic Christ. They are vulnerable because of their love for Mary and the Church and the Lord. There is tension in them because they see things that should not be going on (or hear about them.) They forget that the Lord brings them these things so that they can make reparation for them and they turn to sin-gossip, attacking priests, factions, schism.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.