Cardinal Ouellet’s letter forceful, but does not provide substantial refutation

Insofar as its probative value is concerned, Ouellet’s opinion of the matter is irrelevant. An expression of incredulity is simply insufficient.

Left: Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in July 2018. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence); right: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano in 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

ROME, October 7th, 2018 — To cut to the chase: Cardinal Ouellet’s open letter (full text herehas confirmed there were restrictions on then-Cardinal McCarrick. This has been a major point of contention in the press, but it is really a secondary or an ancillary consideration. I’ve been saying from the start — I called it on August 27th, in the Catholic Herald — that the “sanctions” of which Archbishop Viganò wrote in his original J’Accuse! were in essence a sort of ecclesiastical double-secret probation. Nevertheless, there, you have it.

Cardinal Ouellet has expressed incredulity regarding Viganò’s recollection of the conversation, that constitutes the core of his accusation against Pope Francis: that Viganò informed Pope Francis of McCarrick’s character, behavior, and proclivities, in a private exchange on June 23rd, 2013, on the sidelines of an audience with Apostolic Nuncios.

Archbishop Viganò’s direct report of his own speech has always been rather incredible on its face: he protested too clear a recollection of his precise words, given — as that report was — at more than five years’ remove. Viganò was also irresponsible in his more fanciful interpolations and colorful surmises of Pope Francis’s motives and state of mind. A rehearsal of the substance and the facts would have sufficed, and been more effective.

Nevertheless, Cardinal Ouellet offers nothing in the way of substantial refutation. Insofar as its probative value is concerned, Ouellet’s opinion of the matter is irrelevant. An expression of incredulity is simply insufficient, especially when coupled with so anemic a qualification as that, which Ouellet’s defense of the Pope in this regard does offer. “I very much doubt that McCarrick interested [Pope Francis] to the point that you would have us believe,” Ouellet writes — and here it does bear mention that Viganò claims it was Pope Francis, who raised the issue of McCarrick with him during the course of their colloquy. “[McCarrick] was an 82-year-old Archbishop emeritus, who had been seven years without an assignment,” Ouellet went on to offer.

“It seems unjust to me,” writes Cardinal Ouellet in his open letter, “to conclude that the persons once responsible for discernment are corrupt — even if, in this specific case, some evidence provided by testimonies should have been examined further.” Ouellet, in other words, concedes that there were failures of oversight. It comes to an admission in the weak-kneed middle voice of bureaucratic functionaries: mistakes were made. “The prelate in question,” i.e. McCarrick, “was able to defend himself with great skill from the doubts raised about him,” Ouellet goes on to say.

“On the other hand, the fact that there may be people in the Vatican who practice and support behavior contrary to the values of the Gospel in matters of sexuality, does not authorize us to generalize and declare this or that and even the Holy Father himself unworthy and complicit,” writes Cardinal Ouellet. “Must not the ministers of the truth guard themselves in the first from slander and defamation?”

Every reader not already poisoned by partisanship will concede the point, whether made in reference to the perpetrators of such crimes, or to the victims of them.

Nevertheless, the idea that the moral turpitude of clerics high or low is no concern of high Curial officials, unless there is significant evidence of crime, is frankly disturbing. The specific language Cardinal Ouellet entertains also constitutes admission that the presence of a so-called “lavender mafia” might not be so far-fetched, after all.

The fact remains, however, that Archbishop Viganò named lots of men in his letter, and leveled many allegations of many different kinds. Too many allegations, in fact, and with an intemperance and evident animus that will likely expose Viganò to the charge of slander.

Rather than let this sordid epistolary soap opera play out any further, a pastor who was also a statesman and a leader would summon Archbishop Viganò to answer for his crimes, on pain of sanction — very real, and very public — should he fail to appear. The time for star chambers is past.

My suggestion: let Archbishop Viganò be tried for his crimes, publicly.

Then, he would have counsel and recourse to witnesses. He would have rights of discovery and access to compulsory process. Let the work of justice be done in the light of day, before a candid world.

The longer the Holy See delays such a measure, the more readily credible will be the surmise that the Holy See is afraid of doing so, precisely because it would allow Archbishop Viganò to make his case. Nor will appeals avail to discretion and care for the reputations of men at any rate protected: for one thing, that ship has sailed — the allegations are published. For another, they are misplaced: the current, secret system can only do further harm to good men falsely accused, even as they further the cause of wicked men intent on concealing their crimes.

Instead, we are promised more secret commissions to study the matter.

The Holy See on Saturday promised a “thorough study” of its McCarrick files. The promise is not worth much. Carefully parsed, it is not even clear that the results of the “thorough study” will be fully disclosed. That promise — of full disclosure in due course — appears immediately after a discussion of the abuse charge, and before any mention is made of the documentary review.

The Holy See is implicated in this devilish business: whatever they release will be about as credible as the Nixon administration’s redacted transcripts of the Oval Office conversations about the Watergate coverup.

It is true: Apostolica Sedes a nemine iudicatur – the Apostolic See is judged by no man. Here, however, another maxim equally applies: Nemo iudex in causa propria – No man is to be judge in his own case.

Make no mistake: they’re trolling us now.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. It is hard to take this author seriously. It is as if he has not been listening to Pope Francis for the past five years, or reading any papal pronouncements or interviews. Archbishop Viganò needs to be put on trial?! Good grief! I guess we know who butters the bread at Vocaris Media.

    • I would HOPE the author’s intent at canonical trial comments were because of confidence it would show Viganò to speak the truth, or, sarcasm as to likelihood thereof, and why the Canadian commentary worthless…

      I HOPE….but ANYBODY sitting on sidelines tsktsking as to Viganò’s tone and content of letters has obviously not tried to buck the system and fix broken things, for fear of retribution,…

      and is an armchair quarterback/general who never tried out for the team or even signed uo for Basic…much less, joined the battle…they have just “played the game”, and recognize a bad career move when they see one..

      • Altieri seems to mean two things by this. Firstly, a public trial for Viganò’s “blasphemy” and, as Ouellet very strongly implies, schism (“Dear brother, how much I wish that I could help you return to communion with him who is the visible guarantor of communion in the Catholic Church.”) would make it harder to punish Viganò WITHOUT any kind of fair trial. Make no mistake: absence of a trial does NOT mean absence of punishment. Secondly, the evidence presented at such a trial would illuminate much about not only the sordid McCarrick affair, but also the state of things in the Church today.

  2. The idea that Vigano should be “prosecuted for his crimes” is a bit like saying that Deep Thorat should have been tried for his crimes during Watergate. Being a whistleblower is not a crime, nor should we resort to the fiction that Vigano is a criminal for revealing the slime that is going on in the Vatican. What needs to be done is not the pretense of trying Vigano presumably so that he can exonerate himself. What needs to take place is that outside investigators need to investigate his charges. Things are actually playing out quite nicely as they are going. Vigano made charges. Oullet basically confirms many of hisc harges in his letter. Oullet pretends to yell and be upset, but in fact he verifies that McCarrcik was under some sort of sanction. He verifies that there is a gay mafia with influence in the Vatican. He does a bit of over the top yelling and making charges, but the essence of what he says backs up Vigano.

    • Well said. The author of this piece seems inclined to presumptive avoidance of the issue at hand– a clerical cover-up of serious CRIMINAL activity. Again.

      Oulette’s bloviated upset is just that, overblown and emotional.

      So I guess the crime here is speaking the truth in language another person doesn’t like. Ciaphas didn’t like Jesus speaking the truth either. And the sentries took issue with His tone in speaking to the High Priest.

      Good grief.

    • Not sure how you conclude…or this author concluded that Vigan “basically” substantiates Viganò’s claims RE. Sanctions. This is what the cardinal actually said which is the opposite of you and this author’s opinions.

      Cardinal McCarrick “was strongly exhorted not to travel and not to appear in public so as not to provoke further rumors,” Cardinal Ouellet said, but “it is false to present these measures taken in his regard as ‘sanctions’ decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and annulled by Pope Francis. After re-examining the archives, I certify that there are no such documents signed by either pope.”

      • So what if there are not documents? You (and Cardinal Ouellet) admit that he was told not to travel or appear in public. Not all orders are written.

  3. Card. Marc Ouellet has just confirmed the testimony of archbishop Viganò about the existence of restrictions that Pope Benedict XVI had made verbally to MacCarrick and owhich Pope Francis did not take into account: ” 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.”
    The personal judgments of Oullet about Viganò do not change this fact.

    • It seems very odd to me to claim that Pope Benedict would have put “certain conditions and restrictions” in place based merely on “some rumors about his past conduct.” That would be unjust, wouldn’t it? I have to assume that if there were restrictions, as there were, it had to be more than unsubstantiated rumors that caused the Pope to act.

      • No, in fact, there are Canon Law sections that deal with reports of suspected grave occult (meaning in this case not publicly known) offenses involving bishops (aka “ordinaries”).

        The procedures are that allegations of offenses that are secret (occult) are dealt with by communicating “secret” sanctions on said Bishop, controlling where they live and travel and removing them from representing the Church.

        This seems in fact precisely the thing that was done in the McCarrick case, “secret” sanctions communicated to him by Pope B16 via the US Papal Nuncio.

          • Leslie

            That is of course the question. And we are being kept in the dark by the Vatican.

            Clearly, we have a letter to the Papal Nuncio from Fr. Ramsey, sometime I believe before the start of the B16 pontificate, alleging sexual abuse of seminarians by McCarrick. A 2006 (if I recall correctly?) letter from the Papal Nuncio back to Ramsey prices that Ramsey’s letter was received and alludes that unidentified authorities in Rome were aware of and concerned with Ramsey’s allegations against McCarrick, to the extent of asking whether Ramsey knew if a particular priest under consideration for a post at the Vatican had somehow been compromised at a seminary prowled by McCarrick.

            Oullet has now by his own admission confirmed that B16 had sanctioned McCarrick. So Oullet has, as many observers have noted, substantiated Viganò’s claim that Benedict sanctioned McCarrick.

            The remaining piece is simply this: Viganò claims that be personally told Pope Francis that McCarrick had been sanctioned, and that despite this knowledge Pope Francis lifted the sanctions.

            So the story is narrowing down to Francis himself.

            And it is already known that Francis has a track record of restoring clergy who were guilty of abuse or coverup. In 2014 Francis restored priestly faculties to a known homosexual abuser of minors, Mauro Inzoli, who in 2013 had been investigated by the CDF, found guilty, and was stripped of his priestly faculties by Pope Benedict. Francis, reportedly as a favor to “Cardinal friends of Inzoli,” including Cardinal Coccopalmerio,” reversed the just decision and restored Inzoli. Then the civil courts in Italy also found Inzoli guilty of the crimes, vindicating the verdict of B16 against Inzoli, and Francis was forced to “undo” his reversal of justice and strip Inzoli again.

            Also, Francis restored the disgraced Cardinal Danneels, who had under B16 been retired in disgrace after being exposed in the Belgian newspapers for covering up the homosexual incest of his friend Bishop Vangelhuwe, who raped his own nephew. Danneels (like McCarrick) bragged about helping to get Francis elected Pope, and in reward, Danneels stood on the balcony with Francis on Day 1 in St. Peter’s Square…and was given a leadership role in the 2014 “Family Synod.”

            And now the German liberal magazine Der Spiegel is exposing the history of then-Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina, who is reported by victims and families and their attorneys as having ignored their pleas for assistance, while behind the scenes mounting an extensive legal defense of Rev. Julio Grassi, who is now serving 15 years in prison for sexual abuse of minors.

  4. Ouellet’s letter is an offense against faith, reason and human decency.
    Reading it I find myself shocked – why I should any longer find myself shocked after the last five years is beyond me – but I am indeed shocked by Cardinal Ouellet’s “open” letter to Archbishop Viganò. It is a demonstration of clerical imperialism in its grossest form. One is left amazed at how the denizens of this pontificate continually and without respite characterize its critics with judgements most appropriately applied to itself. It is as if the subject regards itself in a mirror and attributes its identity to another. Is there a clinical term for such behavior?
    There is absolutely no need for Ouellet to respond to Viganò publically. There is however a crying need for this pontificate to jettison the obtrufication and adopt a sincere honest engagement with the issues and the behavior Viganò brought to the attention of the Holy Father, and to do so officially, without rancor, and expeditiously.
    One is left to wonder how the exercise of the responsibilities of the Archbishop in the defense of the Church and the faithful who compose the Mystical Body of Christ are challenged when there are legions of priests who preach heresy and live unambiguously immoral lives. For example, how does a James Martin still have priestly faculties and a Jesuit pillow to rest his head upon each evening? How does a bishop publically perceived in his own country as living in concubinage find himself elevated to the cardinalate? How does the Cardinal Archbishop of Tegucigalpa find himself still intimately involved in the workings of this pontificate without discipline? How does any bishop in our Church find it acceptable to distribute the Holy Eucharist to those living a bigamous existence?
    Not going so far to say that everyone knew about Cardinal McCarrick despicable behavior, but if I knew about it during my monastic formation back in 2001, I think it’s safe to say that those who inhabit the rarified cocoon of the episcopate and cardinalate did. Information is the currency of choice in clergy circles. From my experience Archbishop Viganò remains the man standing in the room, despite Cardinal Ouellet’s vacuous protests and appeals to pious notions which obviously are only wheeled out when they can be weaponized.
    We seem to have arrived at a moment of history that the only members of the episcopate who have credence are the ones who have their head on the block. But isn’t that what all those advocates of “reading the signs of the times” have been looking forward to for the past sixty years?
    Our current problem far, far exceeds the scandal of sexual abuse. That is merely a symptom of the loss of faith which is at the core of this hideous epoch, not merely in civil society, but ever more gravely and demonically in the Church.

  5. Mr. Altieri takes pains to be even-handed, which is a credit to him and to the CWR.

    My conclusion, reinforced by the Holy See’s recent “offer” of an “in house records review” and Cardinal Oullet’s statement, is that most of the Bishops in the US and among the current pontificate, including the Bishop of Rome, are determined to keep up the pretending they have so long practiced, and have every intention of protecting their positions and refusing any investigation into their own behavior, because they know that so many grave offenses would be uncovered that they would fall by the dozens.

    The entire chancery of the AD of Washington and the staff of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are compromised by the McCarrick-Wuerl-Bransfield-Rossi sex abuse and coverup and double-living scandal. Indeed, Msgr. Rossi is credibly accused of owning a house in Fort Lauderdale with a priest from Scranton PA, and public property records in FL that have been posted on line attest to this.

    It is the behavior of the Rossi’s of the Church that is the eternal reason why the abuse of altar boys etc. is covered up.

    Once the truth comes out about one set of offenders, it threatens the exposure of all offenses.

    Thus – the Bishops expect the faithful to shut up and act like cattle so that hey can blame everything on McCarrick and “move on” and keep living double lives.

    It’s not going to work. No serious Catholic adults or teenagers are going to accept the continued “gaslighting” operation by Rome and certain US Bishops.

    Bishop Tobin of Newark is being accused of living with an Italian film star (I will dig up the name…don’t want to get it wrong) in the Bishop’s residence in Newark.

  6. Did Ouellet really write that? Does he really believe calling for truth from a Pope is blasphemous?? Has he drunk the Kook-Aid?

  7. As someone of retired military and civil service status, I know exactly what Viganò was up against…

    Those of us few do-gooders, we have not a diplomatic bone in our bodies…Viganò far more diplomatic than most…

    But, often forgotten in all the translations, also an Italian, and speaking passionately as an Italian.

    In his fed-upness with a corrupt system, he exploded with everything he knew, and thought he knew…

    And those of us who have made impassioned pleas to corruot bosses DO remember every word and genture later on…

    Just as we remember being blind sided by some trumped up charge demotion or move, as wave makers are not tolerated…

    Anyone who wishes to disparage dispassionately Viganò’s various signed testimonies BEFORE GOD, has obviously “played the game” themselves far too successfully, and obviously made excuses as to why tackling corruption head-on is a bad idea..

    A bad idea generally linked to job security and income…

    While those of us now retired and out, and “relatively” safe, speak bluntly and tell the truth as we see it…

  8. I have always had the highest regard for Chris Altieri. Having read the article, I had to re-read the byline twice to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. A canonical process against Abp Vigano? Really? A man who has not had a single accusation refuted by anyone who has had the temerity even to respond? Is this an ecclesiastical version of the Kavanaugh debacle? Are we in a Catholic Twilight Zone?

    • Yes. Unfortunately. This Vatican is apparently dismantling and demolishing the only home we have had. We can only hope and pray we can all live within any new one which is planned. We’re in demolition stage I right now.

    • It looked to me more like “Go ahead – try him. That’ll shine some light on the cockroaches scurrying behind the baseboards.” Not as if Mr. Altieri was thinking the cardinal was guilty of anything, but as a way of making those who are accusing him of lying prove it.

      • That’s how I read it also. Note that M. Altieri indicates that this would entitle Archbishop Vigano to be represented by counsel and the use of discovery, to neither of which he can resort at present. I think the author meant to say that a trial would considerably strengthen the archbishop’s case, since the Vatican would have much less room for evasion or stonewalling as it’s done since August. Seen in that light, I think it’s a potentially useful strategy for the archbishop and his allies.

    • Yes, Father Stravinskas, I believe we are in a Catholic Twilight Zone.
      It began in March, 2013.
      This is Alice Through the Looking Glass. I can’t believe my eyes.

    • Yes Father, agree, strange, isn’t it? That we should be talking about legal proceedings against the good archbishop. But as regards the truth of the assertions at issue, it means the Vatican is admitting to the substance of the charges.

  9. The author’s incredulity about the clarity of Archbishop Viganò’s recollection of his audience with Pope Francis is rather puzzling.
    If there author were to meet with the Holy Father, would he not take very precise notes immediately thereafter? If the Pope were to say something utterly baffling on a subject which had occupied the author’s concern for years, would it not be burned into his memory? It would be into mine. Thus I find in this detail no reason to cast doubt on the testimony’s accuracy.

  10. “Too many allegations, in fact, and with an intemperance and evident animus that will likely expose Viganò to the charge of slander.”

    Mindreading Pope Francis is not acceptable, but it is for Archbishop Vigano?

  11. Oullet’s letter is an astonishing tirade filled with ad hominem attacks but, as Altieri already noted, it confirms Vigano’s main charge- that sanctions were indeed imposed on McCarrick, which Pope Francis clearly lifted because shortly after his election McCarrick was going to VIP events and travelling to China to negotiate with the government on behalf of the Holy See. As Damian Thompson of the Catholic Herald noted, Oullet’s letter does nothing to help Pope Francis.

  12. Do some readers misunderstand Altieri? By suggesting a formal trial–with all the cards on the table–perhaps Altieri is proposing that a pair of twos can’t beat Vigano’s royal flush (pun intended).

  13. “Who is going to save our Church? Not our Bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious” – Saint (in my opinion) Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

    Men like McCarrick don’t rise to the top of the hierarchy without a network of corruption to support him and this network of corruption is going to investigate itself? What a joke. It isn’t going to get any better until this is cleaned. And the remarks about Jesus being silent are not true. He was interrogated by Pilot and he found him innocent although he caved in to the demands of the corrupt.

    • Wow! It’s seems that lay people are not only going to straighten out the Church but now will have the right to canonize. It doesn’t take long for everyone to appoint themselves pope!
      Thank God for Cardinal Ouellette and the truth. His letter is God sent and a healing invitation to the Ab. May he heed the Cardinal’s invitation and return to Peter and the fold of Christ. For this we should pray. We lay people can do what our vocation has always been. Pray, pray, pray! Our Lady has appeared so many places and I’ve never heard her ask for us to criticize our Shepherds but she has asked us to pray. This month of the Holy Rosary let us pray as our Holy Father has asked, the Holy Rosary with the Sub Tuum and the Prayer to St. Michael. I will lead by example, please join me in leaving this site and pray the Rosary!

  14. The author says Vigano made many accusations, “too many, in fact”. He implies that the length of the list impugns Vigano himself. If one has a list of allegedly guilty parties, how dare the author declare that it should have been pared down? How dare he say that naming the guilty makes Vigano suspect? This partial disclosure mentality put forth by the author actually impugns the author.

  15. What are Vigano’ sins? He seems to be accused of rebellion and blasphemy? Wasn’t Jesus accused of the same?
    What are Cardinal McCarrick’s sins? The list is numerous, but he never exposed the Pope Francis as a fraud who was covering up sexually abusive homosexual clerics who abused minors and seminaries.
    What are Pope Francis sins? He seems to have covered up while in Argentina and now as Pope the sexual abuse of Cardinals and Bishops and priests against vulnerable adults (deaf persons); children; minors and seminarians. He is surrounded by homosexual Cardinals and Jesuits like James Martin, and seems to be promoting acceptance of homosexuality, not to mention other apostacies.
    Why are we having a conversation about Vigano’ sins? It seems that Pope Francis has sent Ouellet a prior confident of Vigano’ to rebuke him. Hum…

    The Gospel seems to be playing out here, but Pope Francis doesn’t seem to represent Jesus. It appears to be a power struggle, pride against humility and truth against lies. Seems more like the High Priest Capias ordering the guard to strike Jesus for telling the truth in order to silence Jesus.

  16. States Mr. Altieri: “Archbishop Viganò’s direct report of his own speech has always been rather incredible on its face: he protested too clear a recollection of his precise words, given — as that report was — at more than five years’ remove. Viganò was also irresponsible in his more fanciful interpolations and colorful surmises of Pope Francis’s motives and state of mind. A rehearsal of the substance and the facts would have sufficed, and been more effective.”

    Interesting. Perhaps some five or six years ago, or at some point in time, Archbishop Vigano walked past Mr. Altieri and couldn’t remember his name, or his importance. Mr. Altieri’s own overly-fanciful and overly-colorful use of phrases such as “fanciful interpolations” and “colorful surmises” regarding Archbishop Vigano’s statements and the Archbishop’s credibility, come across not so much as “irresponsible” as gratuitous, vaguely creepy and, somehow, weirdly personal. One might even say of Mr. Altieri and his reporting that in respect to Archbishop Vigano, “a rehearsal of the substance and the facts would have sufficed, and been more effective.” Otherwise, Archbishop Vigano has as much right to “fanciful interpolations” and “colorful surmises” as does Mr. Altieri, and, in my opinion, a good deal more than many of our more powerful and pompous prelates who, when they practice the art, call it discernment.

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