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.