ROME, October 7th, 2018 — To cut to the chase: Cardinal Ouellet’s open letter (full text here) has 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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