(Rome, February 16th, 2019) The Vatican announced on Saturday that the disgraced former Archbishop of Washington, DC, Theodore, Edgar McCarrick, has been dismissed from the clerical state after being found guilty of several different canonical crimes, including “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults” and “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession” with “abuse of power” as an aggravating factor.
The Director ad interim of the Press Office of the Holy See told journalists at noon Rome Time on Saturday that the proceedings against McCarrick had been “extra-judicial” — meaning an abbreviated administrative process — and assured reporters that the rights of the accused were nonetheless fully respected throughout the process. “McCarrick’s lawyers played an active role in the course of some of the interrogations,” Gisotti explained, before reaffirming that the verdict and sentence are both final. “[N]o recourse is possible,” Gisotti said.
The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement in response to the news on Saturday morning, saying the penalty, “underscores the gravity of his actions.” The statement went on to say, “Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.”
It is remarkable that, in an age in which the supreme pastor and governor of the universal Church has insisted “clericalism” is the root cause of the leadership crisis in which the Church is currently embroiled, the worst punishment ecclesiastical authority can impose on a cleric is to make him a layman. Nevertheless, thus is Mr. McCarrick punished, neither too soon, nor too severely.
Church leaders in Rome and in the United States seem awfully anxious to put the dreadful business with “Uncle Ted” behind them, and let the healing begin. Before that can happen, however, several outstanding matters require address. Questions regarding who in the US hierarchy and in the Roman Curia knew what about McCarrick, and when, remain without satisfactory — or any — answer from the Vatican, while delivery on promises of transparency and “zero tolerance” continues to receive postponement.
Gisotti on Saturday quoted a communiqué from the Press Office dated October 6th, 2018, in which the Holy stated, “Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.” That same October 6th press release also promised, “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead,” quoting Pope Francis’ remarks in Philadelphia on September 27th, 2015.
Most importantly, it was in the October 6th communiqué that Pope Francis promised:
The Holy See will, in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick. Moreover, with reference to other accusations brought against Archbishop McCarrick, the Holy Father has decided that information gathered during the preliminary investigation be combined with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.
Insofar as the verdict and penal sentence announced Saturday constitute the conclusions of the matter regarding Mr. McCarrick, Pope Francis may say he has made good on his promise. We hope and expect more information will be forthcoming.
If Pope Francis and his lieutenants in the Vatican had hoped to score even a qualified public relations victory with the announcement of the McCarrick verdict, news that broke heading into the weekend made that unlikely.
On Friday, there was a story out of France — first reported by Le Monde — where the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Luigi Ventura, is under investigation for allegedly engaging in inappropriate contact with a male staff member at City Hall in Paris, during a reception held there in late January. The Press Office of the Holy See issued a terse statement saying the Vatican had learned of the investigation in the papers, and is “awaiting the results of the investigation.”
That is surely a case of bad timing, and may be much ado about nothing. Neither of those can account for what La Croix International reported, however, also on Friday.
A high-ranking official of the Apostolic Signatura — the highest ordinary tribunal in the Church’s justice system — Msgr. Joseph Punderson, was listed as “removed from ministry” by his home diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. Punderson appeared on the list of priests credibly accused of abuse, which the Trenton diocese published on Wednesday.
CWR attempted to contact Msgr. Punderson at his last known address, the Villa Stritch on Via della Nocetta, a residence for US clerics working in Rome, but was told Punderson left the facility in September of last year. A spokesperson for the Diocese of Trenton said Msgr. Punderson “resigned his position” last November. The Press Office of the Holy See did not respond to requests for information.
On Thursday of last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the President of Pope Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley OFM of Boston, has been privately complaining at least since 2017 that the Holy See has not been keeping its promises of “zero tolerance” when it comes to abusive clerics. “An appeals panel set up by the pope had reduced the punishments of a number of Catholic priests found guilty of abusing minors,” The Journal reported. “In some cases, the panel canceled their dismissal from the priesthood and gave them short suspensions instead.”
The Journal article quoted O’Malley as telling the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, “If this gets out, it will cause a scandal.”
A great many unanswered questions remain, meanwhile, in connection with the Bishop-emeritus of Orán, Gustavo Zanchetta, for whom Pope Francis created a tailor-made position in 2017, inside the powerful APSA — the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See — which looks after the Holy See’s real estate and financial holdings. Zanchetta is currently under investigation in his home diocese for possibly criminal malfeasance, including the sexual abuse of seminarians.
Despite repeated promises of zero tolerance and transparency, the Vatican has been even more laconic when it comes to what Pope Francis knew about Bishop Zanchetta and when he knew it, than about Mr. McCarrick.
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