Ouellet Tried to Rebut, but Actually Confirmed Viganò

Note: After this column was prepared for publication, Archbishop Viganò issued a third Testimony, which readers will find in English here. The Archbishop largely confirms what Fr. Murray lays out so clearly below. We’ll be commenting on further developments in the Viganò story in future columns. – RR

Cardinal Marc Ouellet published an Open Letter to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on October 7th in response to Viganò’s first and second testimonies – in particular to his claim that Cardinal McCarrick had been sanctioned by Pope Benedict for sexual immorality with seminarians and priests, and that Pope Francis knew about this but nonetheless set aside or ignored those disciplinary provisions.

There are several important points in this exchange that deserve careful and full attention.

Among other things, Viganò also said that the pope asked McCarrick to travel and speak on behalf of the Holy See in negotiations with the Communist Chinese government: “Your Eminence, before I left for Washington, you were the one who told me of Pope Benedict’s sanctions on McCarrick. You have at your complete disposal key documents incriminating McCarrick and many in the curia for their cover-ups. Your Eminence, I urge you to bear witness to the truth.”

Ouellet’s response reveals that Viganò’s claims are sustained amidst verbal maneuverings that are self-contradictory.

Ouellet first implies that Pope Francis likely paid little attention to Viganò when he told the pope in June 2013 about sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict on McCarrick: “I can only imagine the amount of verbal and written information that was provided to the Holy Father on that occasion about so many persons and situations. I strongly doubt that the pope had such interest in McCarrick, as you would like us to believe, given the fact that by then he was an 82-year-old Archbishop emeritus who had been without a role for seven years.”

Ouellet then addresses the question of the sanctions: “[T]he written instructions given to you by the Congregation for Bishops at the beginning of your mission in 2011 did not say anything about McCarrick, except for 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.” (Emphasis added here and throughout)

Ouellet then states: “The former Cardinal, retired in May of 2006, had been requested not to travel or to make public appearances, in order to avoid new rumors about him. It is false, therefore, to present those measures as ‘sanctions’ formally imposed by Pope Benedict XVI and then invalidated by Pope Francis.”

He continues:

After a review of the archives, I find that there are no documents signed by either Pope in this regard, and there are no audience notes from my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, imposing on the retired Archbishop the obligation to lead a quiet and private life with the weight normally reserved to canonical penalties. The reason is that back then, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged culpability. Thus, the Congregation’s decision was inspired by prudence, and the letters from my predecessor and my own letters urged him,first through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi and then through you, to lead a life of prayer and penance, for his own good and for the good of the Church.

And as further explanation: “His case would have deserved new disciplinary measures if the Nunciature in Washington, or any other source, had provided us recent and definitive information about his behavior. . . .I think it is unjust to reach the conclusion that there is corruption on the part of the persons entrusted with this previous discernment process, even though in the particular case some of the concerns that were raised by testimonies should have been examined more closely. The Archbishop also knew how to cleverly defend himself from those concerns raised about him.” (emphasis added)

In summary, on the one hand Ouellet says that there were no formal “sanctions” imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict; that there is no written evidence that Pope Benedict imposed anything having the weight normally reserved to canonical penalties; that the former cardinal had been requested not to travel or to make public appearances; that it was by the decision of the Congregation [of Bishops], not of Pope Benedict, that he was urged to lead a life of prayer and penance; and that the origin of all this was some rumors.

Photo: Gregory A. Shemitz/CNS

On the other hand, Ouellet states that he verbally communicated to Viganò information about McCarrick’s situation as Bishop emeritus who was under certain conditions and restrictions that he had to follow; that the Holy See conducted a discernment process regarding some concerns that were raised by testimonies that were not adequately examined; that McCarrick’s case would have deserved new disciplinary measures if the Nunciature in Washington, or any other source, had provided recent and definitive information about his behavior.

So, according to Ouellet, McCarrick was in fact under restrictions that he had to follow and he would have deserved new disciplinary measures (which means that he was already under disciplinary measures) had new evidence been brought forward. Disciplinary measures that are obligatory (“he had to follow”) are in fact sanctions, which could only have been imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict himself, according to canons 1401 and 1405.

Furthermore, the pope is not bound to any formality such as issuing a written decree to impose sanctions with binding force. It is inconceivable that the Congregation of Bishops acting on its own decided to impose these sanctions, as Ouellet states. The sanctions were not requests, or a matter of urging McCarrick to do something.  They did possess canonical force and were disciplinary measures that enjoyed the same force as a canonical penalty formally imposed following a canonical trial.

Ouellet first characterizes the cause of these sanctions as being mere rumors that did not establish sufficient proof of his alleged culpability, and then later describes them as being the result of a discernment process in which some of the concerns that were raised by testimonies should have been examined more closely. It is inconceivable that Pope Benedict would have taken such disciplinary measures based on mere rumors lacking sufficient probatory force.

Testimonies are not rumors, but constitute evidence if presented by persons who can truthfully claim to have direct information regarding a matter. Ouellet says that the Archbishop also knew how to cleverly defend himself from those concerns raised about him. And he says that new disciplinary measures would have been imposed had the Holy See been provided new definitive information about his behavior.

So a discernment process of some sort was conducted, McCarrick was questioned by the Holy See about concerns based on testimonies, and he cleverly defended himself. Would a cardinal be grilled about unsubstantiated rumors? Would the result of that process be the imposition of disciplinary measures based on mere rumors that Ouellet says lacked sufficient proof of culpability, and that were obviously denied or explained away by McCarrick?

Pope Benedict’s decision was clearly based on more than rumors that were denied by McCarrick. The testimonies had to have had substance and constitute sufficient proof to result in the measures taken by Pope Benedict against McCarrick. That is exactly what Viganò claims happened.

It should also be noted that Ouellet mischaracterizes what happened regarding McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals: “He [Pope Francis] stripped him of his Cardinal’s dignity as soon as there was a credible accusation of abuse of a minor.”

The Vatican statement on the matter says that McCarrick offered his resignation from the College of Cardinals and that Pope Francis accepted it; he was not removed from the College of Cardinals.

Furthermore, McCarrick only tendered his resignation after a second person came forward alleging that McCarrick sexually molested him beginning when he was eleven years old. He was not removed from the College when Pope Francis was first informed of the credible accusations that he had twice sexually molested a teenage altar boy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In short, Cardinal Ouellet’s letter does much to substantiate the claims of Archbishop Viganò regarding what was known and done by Pope Benedict regarding the accusations of moral turpitude and abuse of authority by Cardinal McCarrick, and does little to refute Viganò’s claim that Pope Francis knew about those sanctions in 2013, and did not enforce them.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.