Analysis: Justice by papal fiat points to serious lack of trust within the Church

Pope Francis cannot earn back trust simply with displays of raw power given piecemeal against old men who used to be someone, or secluded perverts that nobody likes and few even realized were still breathing.

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate the canonization Mass for seven new saints in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 14. CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican announced on Saturday that Pope Francis has reduced two Chilean bishops to the lay state. One of the defrocked is an 85-year-old man reported now to be suffering senile dementia, Francisco José Cox Huneeus, who was bishop of La Serena from 1990 to 1997. The other is 53-year-old Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, who served as bishop of Iquique from 2006 to 2012.

Allegations against Mr. Cox go back at least to 1974, the documentation of which contains gruesome details. Mr. Órdenes had what can only be described as a meteoric rise, becoming in 2006 the youngest bishop in Chile’s history, at age 42. He would retire a half-dozen years later, citing ill health.

Órdenes has apparently lived a quiet and secluded life since handing in his letter, while Cox bounced around for a while — with the help of another high-ranking Chilean prelate (and Cox’s confrère in the Schönstatt fraternity, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz — before settling at the Schönstatt General House in Germany sometime in 2002.

(The best nutshell version of Cox’s and Órdenes’s stories is to be found in the e-pages of Crux, where readers will also find a succinct rehearsal of the Vatican’s involvement in the rise of both men, along with details regarding the management of each man’s fall.)

There can be no real doubt that the men merit the most severe punishment.

While no one can reasonably deny that the men thus reduced deserved at least what they got from Pope Francis, the manner in which the Holy Father has done the thing brings questions of his ability to govern the Church into tight focus. The statement announcing the moves came on Saturday. CWR’s translation from the Spanish follows:

The Holy Father has dismissed from the clerical state Francisco José Cox Huneeus, Archbishop emeritus of La Serena (Chile), member of the Institute of the Schönstatt Fathers, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, Bishop emeritus of Iquique (Chile).

In both cases, Article 21 § 2.2 of the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela has been applied, as a consequence of manifest acts of abuse of minors.

The decision adopted by the Pope last Thursday, October 11, 2018, admits no recourse.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already notified the interested parties, through their respective superiors, in their respective residences. Francisco José Cox Huneeus will continue to be part of the Institute of Schönstatt Fathers.

Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela is the piece of special legislation governing the gravest delicts — the most serious crimes — in canon law. Article 21 § 2.2 states that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has ordinary jurisdiction over such crimes, may present the gravest of the most grave cases to the Pope for his decision with regard to dismissal from the clerical state or deposition, together with dispensation from the law of celibacy, when it is manifestly evident that the delict was committed and after having given the guilty party the possibility of defending himself.

The Vatican, in other words, was at pains to make it clear that this was Pope Francis’s decision.

It was also a decision taken outside the Church’s normal system of judicial procedure: in short, Cox and Órdenes were laicized with no judicial process — no trial — to speak of. Even in normal circumstances, canonical trials are paperwork affairs — conducted in secret, to boot — and that is a problem. Said simply: (at risk of sounding like a broken record) justice must be seen to be done. There must be independent investigations conducted in the light of day, and reasonably transparent processes for the adjudication of criminal charges against clerics high and low.

Vatican City has the rudiments of such investigative and judicial mechanisms, and has used them recently in connection with crimes both financial and moral. For reasons both juridical-political and practical, the Vatican City system could not possibly be used to process canonical cases. Nevertherless, the existence of the system shows that the Church at the highest levels of governance is not unfamiliar with either the process or the reasons for it.

In any case, Cox and Fernandez received summary justice by papal fiat — and that is a bigger problem.

If the Church’s continued use of secret trials is a hindrance to the recovery of trust, insofar as it renders reasonable persons incapable of confidence in her capacity to administer justice, so much more will naked exercises of raw power serve to undermine and indeed destroy the very ground on which any such confidence must be based: the reasonable belief in the Church’s own bona fide commitment to doing justice at all.

With specific regard to the Chilean theater of the global crisis, there can be no doubt, but that Pope Francis faces a terrible dilemma.

When the bishops of Chile resigned en masse in May of this year, they created a serious conundrum for Pope Francis. Basically, they left him with a set of three alternatives: accept all the resignations and start from scratch; accept some of the resignations and sit on others; accept none of the resignations and proceed piecemeal.

Each of the three options poses its own set of peculiar dangers, and none of them is without a downside. Francis seems to have opted for an out-of-the-box hybrid solution in Chile, somewhere between door number two and door number three. Seems, one says, because Pope Francis has not shared his plan with the faithful — not even in broad strokes — even as he has constantly insisted we are all in this together.

While the breakdown in trust among bishops and bodies of the faithful in virtually every ecclesiastical jurisdiction is heartbreaking and truly scandalous, there appears to be an even more grievous breakdown in trust within the bishops’ own ranks. The dilemma facing Pope Francis with regard to the world’s bishops is even more terrible than the one facing him in Chile: he can’t trust any of them.

Pope Francis also appears also to be wary of the faithful. In his recent letter to Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl accepting his resignation and congratulating him on a job well done after the Cardinal’s defensiveness and lack of candor lost him the confidence of the clergy and the faithful in his archdiocese, Pope Francis wrote:

I recognize in your request the heart of the shepherd who, by widening his vision to recognize a greater good that can benefit the whole body (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 235), prioritizes actions that support, stimulate and make the unity and mission of the Church grow above every kind of sterile division sown by the father of lies who, trying to hurt the shepherd, wants nothing more than that the sheep be dispersed (cf. Matthew 26:31).

Whatever else these lines do, they certainly tend to confirm the worst suspicions of those, who read his series of September fervorini as showing that he believes the faithful to be a ginned-up mob, and at best the tools and playthings of the Devil.

From his dismissal of the faithful in the small Chilean diocese on which he foisted the hapless and unready Bishop Juan Barros — “Osorno is suffering because it is dumb,” — to his juxtaposition — if not comparison — of the faithful desirous of transparency and accountability from the Church’s leaders to the bloodthirsty crowds calling for Christ’s crucifixion, Francis has shown astounding insensitivity to the concerns of the faithful. If his eyes were ever opened to the callousness of his disregard for the real hurt of the people he professes to love, it appears he has repented of his discovery.

Perhaps it is the case that Pope Francis himself believes — as the Catholic News Agency’s level-headed and judicious JD Flynn in an excellent piece of news analysis recently speculated Vatican officials may believe — that the crisis in the Church is somehow playing out as a referendum on his leadership?

It is certain that elements in the Church are using the crisis to make political hay. This weekend, during a press conference to mark the anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, the bishop of Leiria-Fátima, Cardinal Antonio Marto called l’Affaire Viganò an “ignoble attack” on Pope Francis. “[The whole business] is nothing more than a political montage, with no real foundation,” he said. At best, he’s half right.

Even without Viganò’s extraordinary “testimonies” — the original 11-page letter and the follow-up, to both of which Cardinal Marc Ouellet responded last weekend — we have more than enough to know there is rot in the Church that reaches the Curia. We need to discover the extent of its spread and the vectors of its spreading. The Archbishop of Munich and Friesing and C9 member, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, admitted as much at a press event October 5th to launch a training initiative on safeguarding efforts at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. “[The crisis with its fallout] has not been caused by the press doing their job properly,” he said. “It’s caused by the Church leadership.”

Said simply, the faithful have a right to know.

In order to begin to address the crisis at its root, Pope Francis needs to earn back some small measure of trust. He simply cannot do that by displays of raw power given piecemeal against old men who used to be someone, or secluded perverts that nobody likes and few even realized were still breathing.

Instead, he needs to come up with a plan for reform apt to produce the necessary transparency in governance — especially insofar as the administration of justice is concerned — and he needs to be transparent about that. If he has such a plan, he needs to submit it to the faithful, who have rights in the Church both moral and legal.

Even the Archbishop-emeritus of Washington, DC, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl — a close adviser and papal favorite — admitted as much when pressed. “[Y]es,” he told CWR this past August, “the laity do have a place: they have a moral place — a right in that sense — to participate in whatever is going on in the life of the Church.” So, do victims of wicked clerics. So, do the men accused of wicked deeds, though it does not gratify our thirst for vengeance to say so.

Even if they did not, the laity are a resource Pope Francis simply cannot afford not to tap.

“Give him time,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, at a recent press briefing on the doings of the Synod Assembly underway in Rome, in response to a question regarding what the attitude of the faithful should be with respect to Pope Francis’s leadership. With due respect to Archbishop Scicluna — who may be the closest thing to a good guy one is like to find in this whole sordid business — Pope Francis has had plenty of that.

About Christopher R. Altieri 60 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

36 Comments

  1. “Perhaps it is the case that Pope Francis himself believes — as the Catholic News Agency’s level-headed and judicious JD Flynn in an excellent piece of news analysis recently speculated Vatican officials may believe — that the crisis in the Church is somehow playing out as a referendum on his leadership?”

    But this can’t be true because of course a humble person does not mind at all if others think poorly of his leadership.

    • The man is doing little to those living offenders in North America who are worthy (as well as their enablers) of being removed from the clerical state.
      While, instead bishopz are going after priests who might be guilty or not. This is a leadership problem more than an abuse problem.

      • Everybody alludes to these accusers. Vaguely and ominously. Can somebody name names? List them. Where can an ordinary member of the laity find out about them, if they are so much present. If the hierarchy can’t take care of itself, perhaps having their names and confessions/convictions listed will help the faithful do the job for them.

  2. “…he believes the faithful to be a ginned-up mob, and at best the tools and playthings of the Devil.”
    He does indeed.
    It is the quintessential example, far superseding any other, of the clericalism he pretends to abhor. This is the heart of the problem. Such bespeaks a kind of self-deception, disorientation, and bold deceit. It is the sterling example of a clergy class train wreck.

  3. Francis may or may not know it but Catholics are abandoning the Church in droves, due in no small part to the faulty leadership by bishops, including Francis himself. These bishops have less to fear from the laity but should greatly fear Christ’s own judgment. Those who have caused the sheep to stray will be held accountable. If I were Francis, I’d be trembling, not posturing or name-calling.

    • Interestingly, the clergy crisis is exacerbated by the decades of poor catechesis, so that the lay faithful are fuzzy on the need for Sacraments — or even a Saviour, for that matter. Somehow, we’ve arrived at a point where the Church is mere “community” (and should be a welcoming one at that!) so if the community is a/ headed by men of dubious character, or b/headed by shepherds who speak of sin and repentance, the sheep walk away, believing neither worth the trouble.

      • And surely that was the intended purpose for the eradication of authentic accurate catechesis. Eliminate a memory of the faith in order to replace it with a “new paradigm.”
        I watched it happen in high school as a student. I tried to combat it as a high school religion teacher in the seventies and was marginalized.
        Never doubt for a moment we were lied to.

  4. Excellent and incisive article by Mr. Altieri. I especially commend his proper emphasis on the cascading lack of trust at every level of the hierarchy that Bergoglio is compounding by his dictatorial actions that betray yet again his contempt for canon law and due process.

    It also needs to be asked why Bergoglio has not laicized McCarrick when he has done so with Cox and Ordenes even though their crimes and delicts involving the sexual rape and abuse of minors is identical.

    Even more it needs to be asked why Bergoglio can deal so ferociously with these episcopal malefactors but hide with studied silence his own grave crimes and delicts of covering up sexual abuse in Argentina as well as in Rome.

  5. Wow–“secluded perverts.” You’ve brought CWR to the level of Church Militant in terms of civil (not to mention Christian) discourse. Can’t the name-calling just end?! Things are bad enough.

    • The definition of a “pervert” is “a person whose sexual behavior is regarded as abnormal and unacceptable.” So how is using it not appropriate here?

    • Thank you, totally agree./ Please pray for Pope Francis, he is trying to unite the Church and purge out the accuser. Not funny how the writers here and at other Catholic news sources are dividing the Church more and more.
      Fake Catholic News, doing the same thing the big boys do, sow discontent and negative opinion. Just give us the news and keep your dividing agenda to yourself.

      • Jerry, the news is that there are priests and bishops who have committed vile and evil acts, and bishops who have covered it up.

        It is not the people who are reporting the truth who are dividing the Church, it’s the shepherds who are failing to protect their flocks.

      • I would sure like to see evidence of how Francis is trying to unite the Church. Everything he says and does sews more doubt and questions. The laity are hanging on by their fingernails trying to figure out what is going on until they finally give up leave the Church or make up what they believe.

  6. What a difference btw Pope B16 and Pope F:

    Benedict modeling intellectual openness, patience, lucid communication, humility, charity and service.

    PF closed, manipulative, combative, secretive, high-handed and thin-skinned.

    I pray for them both…in gratitude for B16…for PF…who is this man…and what on earth does he think he is?

    • And yet without Pope Benedict XVI–who was evidently JPII’s number two–and JPII, we wouldn’t have most of these men in leadership.

      • Brian:

        I share your concern about the appointment of McCarrick by JP2.

        I do not conclude…as you attempt above…that B16 endorsed or otherwise approved of such. There is already plenty of evidence from the JP2 years that McCarrick was in open defiance of JP2 and then-Ratzinger…for instance McCarrick’s notorious withholding of the Ratzinger CDF memo on duties of Bishops under Canon 915…addressed to US Bishops…and entrusted to McCarrick…who withheld it and lied about its contents.

        So yes…bad appointments by JP2…but no…McCarrick etc doesn’t translate to B16.

        On the other hand, I am certainly dismayed about whomever it was that made Archbishop Bergoglio a Cardinal.

        • It was JPII all the way: bishop, archbishop, and cardinal, the same consistory where McCarrick and Murphy-O’Connor were given the red hat.

  7. “… Catholics are abandoning the Church in droves, due in no small part to the faulty leadership by bishops. . . These bishops have less to fear from the laity but should greatly fear Christ’s own judgment. Those who have caused the sheep to stray will be held accountable. ”
    .
    What exactly does it mean to abandon the Church. I’ve really wondered about that recently. I don’t think I have, but I do think the leadership has. I believe contraception and abortion are evil. I believe in the Real Presence (or at least, that such a thing is possible). We have taken to going to adoration at the local chapel. I care about the poor. (I am definitely waffling on a celibate priesthood, but that is a matter of disciple.)
    .
    Not so sure the leadership cares about anything other that their cushy lives, power, “sex”, and drug parties. Or believes in the Church’s “moral teachings” or even Transubstantiation. I feel like I am the one who has been abandoned. And I don’t particularly care to give money to these people to fund their fun and games, or promote policies that I firmly believe economically/morally hurt the very poor they claim to wish to help. I don’t particularly wish to spend my Sunday afternoon watching them play pretend.
    .

    • What you’ve described in your comment embodies the reasons why my wife and I are considering moving to an SSPX chapel.

      And it speaks volumes about the pope’s friends that Cardinal Wuerl, his trusted buddy, thinks that spending the Church’s money on a personal PR campaign replete with the development of a website and television advertisements on CNN is appropriate when there are people starving, Catholic schools closing, Church’s in disrepair, etc. If Cardinal Wuerl is innocent and he believes in the teachings of the Church, he should be quite able to accept the fact that he may be hated, that this is an attack of the devil. But he cannot seem to accept the idea of his reputation being sullied, of being hated.

  8. Back to the Third Secret and Our Lady’s Warnings at Fatima . Lest we lose hope , we now know the fullest extent of what she meant by the “errors” that would be spread . This pontificate demonstrates the fullness of these “errors” . The humanity of God bring used to consume humanity itself . We the laity can accept our role in this “consumption” as well . The souls that have fallen into hell weigh heavy on us all , but it is time for our Shepherds to accept their grave responsibility now in this disaster and rouse themselves before it is too late . Do not wait for the” end” dear bishops and cardinals , because all those additional souls that will be lost will be directly in your heads ! It is frightful to contemplate this . The end is now . “ in the end , my Immaculate Heart will Triumph “ .

  9. It seems to me that the current regime in the Vatican represents, and presents, EVERYthing which ANY reformer, including modern “progressives”, has EVER fought against.

    And I mean everything….

    Meanwhile, clever analysts continue to wear their political xray glasses as they parse every move, from political angles, social justice angles, to hierarchical and financial angles. Judging events as if those of major corporate CEOs out of touch with their share holders..

    And the CEOs willingly oblige by being and behaving exactly in such a manner.

    Superficial men in supernatural roles leading superficial flocks who daily violate precepts of the Church by excusing them as not germane to their daily lives, and in truth, being a true disciple of the Christ not germane to any of their lives, and the shepherds are those who arose out of these same faux Catholic flocks.

    And THEN, everybody wants to get all angst filled, huffy, write endless essays for money, when having unholy leaders of unholy flocks leads to open flaunting of unholy acts and lifestyles.

    Meanwhile, everybody trots up to eat their magic cookie on Sundays, if they bother going at all, what with little league, the vacation plans, etc etc etc, no matter how they live or what they do, lying, cheating on spouses, backstabbing their way up the corporate ladder, and no different than the culture in which they live.

    But, oh my, where did these evil men running things come from!!!

    They came from US.

  10. It’s a game of checkers because it doesn’t meet the intelligence required for chess. The canning of two literal dead men Huneeus and La Serena has no import except for pretension. Indeed how pointed of the Pontiff to make such a powerful decision. One might even wonder if Cardinals Errázuriz and Maradiaga are shaking in fright. Or Cardinal Kevin Farrell. They of course have no worry since they are well aware of the game. The Church continues to suffer. The faithful must come to grips with reality.

  11. Since a fine article on John Paul II’s prophetic legacy is closed to comment I will weave a nexus here with Altieri’s fine article on papal despotism. The difference between John Paul II and Francis is remarkable as most of us [at least many] are aware. Francis rules by idiosyncratic fiat John Paul by likable charm for preservation of the Deposit of Faith obedience to Christ’s commandments. The art of the former is the bludgeon use of words [pharisee, rigid] to effect paradigmatic change the latter by appeal to the best of human nature philosophically, theologically, and by personal charisma. Similar to the author’s experience John Paul II had a remarkable positive effect on the Church and my personal life. His love of culture, the arts, philosophy, people in general was always evident finally reaching a crescendo when slowly dying of Parkinson’s, providing priests like myself with determination and renewed faith in Christ. Some far right extremists in certain extremist circles castigate him, call him soft and a virtual heretic. For those of us priests in the trenches an inspiring man of faith and courage that formed us to withstand the current storm, even to fearlessly witness to Christ as he would.

    • Thank you Father, My vision too. This holy man, JPII prayed for me and sent me a blessed rosary 2 weeks before he died. He was the only real Father I ever knew. I never could ever doubt his leadership or faith in the truth & obedience to the Word of Christ. He is still always an example to me of honest living. Wholesome and good. As for the people leaving the church. This is hardly rational or logical. None of us came to the church (either cradle or convert makes no difference) because of the malcontents, but for Jesus. Read the lives of the saints for heaven’s sake, no one has an easy unworked out path. When you come before the King really are you going to say “Well I left because someone I never even knew did a wrong thing? Or did an evil act?” He demands my Heart every day and I give it for HIM. He protects the sacraments with HIMSELF, that is what I hear and know. Too bad if one is too shallow to find out who they serve before the evil one tells him lies. God beyond all telling is mine and I am HIS that is all I need to know. So grateful, grateful. Goodness Truth and Beauty…we are blessed beyond knowing. Don’t throw it out for stupidity.

      • What you wrote reminds me of something: people are all to ready to blame and to abandon the Church because of the actions of some priests and some bishops. Yet they don’t look at the saints, the people of heroic virtue, the good people, and decide to stay in the Church because of them. Why is it they’re more prepared to look at the evil than at the good?

      • Lynda I wrote a response to Bill Bannon’s comment in G Weigel’s John Paul II Youth Minister, which coincides with Donna Bethel’s criticism here. My response doesn’t deny the validity of their criticisms which have basis. It offers reason why I believe those infractions particularly then Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse acts and meteoric elevation occurred under John Paul II. I could also refer to Boston Archbishop Law who was given a titular bishopric in Rome following the Fr Shanley expose. That was a serious mistake particularly a scandal for laity. I’m not convinced John Paul II had full knowledge although even saintly persons make grave errors.

        • Dear Fr. Morello, It is difficult, in such shirt space to convey intention and spirit so I want you to know I completely understand your lucid and informative comments. No outspoken fact driven truth will ever cause me a problem. I have thought over the varied comments about JPII. 2 things: JPII had a lot on his plate and dove in. Facing Nazi evil, staring down communists face to face (Wiegle’s book), Reagan, Thatcher, S. America’s communist errors, Cuba, Youth days, Covering all developing thing emerging on the world scene post VII,” If he knew specific cases possibly not the whole thing we are now seeing and it has passed to our time to deal with. I remember the Boston- Law too and thought I wish I could get such a punishment!!

          I had 4 brothers and the one closest to me was homosexual and I did not fully grasp what that was until in my 30’s because my plate was full of real life overflowing, and I loved him. It just did not move to the front burner until I saw him make it his identity and give it God’s place in heart. He would not listen.

          Also, I have wondered why Jesus chose Judas and kept him even when they knew he was stealing?? ( When C. Pell found this, he was sent to Australia Hmmm.) He did not confront him Takes some thinking. Thank you for your work.

    • Dear Father Morello,

      I will grant you all you say about JP II’s good effects. But he almost entirely neglected the governance of the Church, the disciplining of erroneous teachers, priests, and prelates, and the appointment of good shepherds. We are reaping now what he sowed. God help us.

      • I’m aware of the anomalies Donna and don’t discount them. I studied in Rome during the latter years of his pontificate. I was ordained years previous and stayed as a guest at the Casa Santa Maria the graduate studies dorm of the North Am Coll. The men were basically good, generous though the darkness of infidelity was present there and at the Vatican. I met John Paul II twice and offered Mass with him in his private chapel. His Polish bishop secretary seemed furtive, concerned each time. John Paul appeared quite compromised and word was the German Bishops among others pressed for his retirement. They wanted “their man” Jorge. I can only say that John Paul II exuded goodness. Saintly in appearance and manner. The evil that is now more evident at the Vatican was perceivable then. While I’ve been outspoken during the current pontificate I’m also convinced there’s a required value in remaining in Christ’s words like children. Not unaware or lacking in apprehension but having deep trust in Christ’s goodness, and that good persons in this life are often manipulated. It’s our faith in Christ that will see us through.

  12. What can I add to what has been said? that the trouble with the poor man is to have been called to an office he doesn’t understand? Once, speaking to a psychiatrist friend of mine, he said: “let call each other by name; mine is Francis, and yours?”. My God, if I had to be familiar with him, his name would be Jorge Mario; if it is Francis, that I have do address him with all the respect due to “Sua santità”. It looks, unfortunately, that he is incapable to distinguish between Jorge Mario e Francis. That why all his acts come out despotic.
    I am not in a condition to fully argue my undestanding of the poor man. I would need for this to read all his statements, starting from the fervorini of Santa Marta. But I have better things to do with my time. Allow me however to vent this impression, for what it is worth: that what he says, anthropologically befoe than theologically, smacks of pelagianism: from the old Pelagius against whom st. Augustine fought, who believed that Christ is not the “redemptor homins”, the redeemer of men, but the perfect example to look at in order to act rightly. There is no natural or devine law in the society of men, but only morality, an “ought to” without ground in reality, and when someone doesn’t seem to act accordingly, you don’t bring him to trial, but just hit hkm (of course, if he is weak).
    I thank Altieri for the moderation his article displays. I am afraid I am not capable of it. To moderate my words, I can say that the question I am hounded by is: what relation is there between doctrine and morality? And this widely transcends the person of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

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