Cardinal Ouellet: Vigano in ‘open and scandalous rebellion’ against Pope Francis

Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes part in the Pontifical Council for Cultures Plenary Assembly on Womens Cultures in Rome on Feb 6 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA CNA 2 6 15 Cardinal Marc Ouellet. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA

The Vatican's prefect for the Congregation for Bishops released a letter Sunday morning refuting charges Pope Francis lifted sanctions against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and saying that charges made by a former Vatican ambassador are an "unjustified attack" on the pope "cannot come from the Spirit of God."

"Your current position seems to me incomprehensible and extremely reprehensible, not only because of the confusion that sows in the people of God, but because your public accusations seriously damage the reputation of the Successors of the Apostles," wrote Cardinal Marc Ouellett, in an Oct. 7 letter addressed to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

"I tell you frankly that to accuse Pope Francis of having covered with full knowledge of the facts this alleged sexual predator and therefore of being an accomplice of the corruption that is spreading in the Church, to the point of considering him unworthy of continuing his reform as the first pastor of the Church, is incredible and unlikely from all points of view," Ouellett added.

The letter, released by the Vatican press office, was written in response to two letters from Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., which charged that the Vatican had ignored reports from him and others about sexual immorality on the part of McCarrick for several years, until Pope Benedict XVI imposed "sanctions" on McCarrick's ministry in 2009 or 2010.

Vigano alleged that Pope Francis lifted the restrictions on McCarrick's ministry after his election to the papacy, and that McCarrick became an adviser to the pope. He then called for the pope to resign.

He also suggested that Ouellet had direct knowledge of the history of allegations and responses in McCarrick's case, and urged him to "bear witness to the truth."

Vigano claims that Ouellet told him in 2011 about sanctions imposed on McCarrick, but added that the cardinal's "work as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops was being undermined because recommendations for episcopal appointments were being passed directly to Pope Francis by two homosexual 'friends' of his dicastery, bypassing the Cardinal, he gave up. His long article in L'Osservatore Romano, in which he came out in favor of the more controversial aspects of Amoris Laetitia, represents his surrender [to Pope Francis]."

The cardinal refuted those claims.

"The written instructions prepared for you by the Congregation for Bishops at the beginning of your service in 2011 did not say anything about McCarrick, except what I told you about his situation as an Emeritus Bishop who had to obey certain conditions and restrictions because of rumors about his behavior in the past."

"The former cardinal, who retired in May 2006, was strongly urged not to travel and not to appear in public, in order not to provoke further rumours about him. It is false to present the measures taken against him as 'sanctions' decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and annulled by Pope Francis," the letter added.

"After reviewing the archives, I note that there are no documents in this regard signed by either Pope, nor a note of audience from my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, which gave mandate to the Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick to silence and private life, with the rigor of canonical penalties. The reason for this is that, unlike today, there was not enough evidence of his alleged guilt at the time. Hence the position of the Congregation inspired by prudence and the letters of my predecessor and mine that reiterated, through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi and then also through you, the exhortation to a discreet lifestyle of prayer and penance for his own good and that of the Church. His case would have been the subject of new disciplinary measures if the Nunciature in Washington, or any other source, had provided us with recent and decisive information on his behavior."

Ouellet acknowledged that he was "very surprised" that a man of McCarrick's apparent character had been promoted through the Church, to the point of becoming the Archbishop of Washington in 2000. He said that he could "recognize the shortcomings in the selection process that has been carried out in his case."

He added that the popes who had promoted McCarrick had done so with the best information that was available to them, and that their judgment on episcopal appointments is "not infallible."

"It seems unfair to me to conclude that the persons in charge of prior discernment are corrupt even though, in the concrete case, some clues provided by the testimonies should have been further examined. The prelate in question was able to defend himself with great skill from the doubts raised in his regard."

Regarding charges that a homosexual network of clerics has exercised undue influence on the appointment of bishops, Ouellet wrote that "the fact that there may be people in the Vatican who practise and support behaviour contrary to the values of the Gospel in matters of sexuality does not authorize us to generalize and to declare this or that and even the Holy Father himself unworthy and complicit. Should the ministers of truth not, first of all, guard themselves against slander and defamation?" he added.

McCarrick has been accused in recent months of serially sexually abusing two teenage boys, and of sexually coercing and assaulting priests and seminarians during decades of ministry as a bishop. In June, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had completed the first stage of a canonical process investigating one of those charges, and had found one allegation that he sexually abused a teenage boy to be "credible and substantiated." McCarrick was subsequently ordered to withdraw from active ministry, and his resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted.

On. Oct 6, the Vatican announced it would conduct a review of its files pertaining to the McCarrick case.

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Ouellet's letter expressed his hope that "the investigation under way in the United States and the Roman Curia will finally give us a critical overall view of the procedures and circumstances of this painful case, so that such events do not recur in the future."

The cardinal's letter including some strong charges against Vigano's letter. He wrote that Vigano's accusation regarding Pope Francis is "a political set-up without a real foundation that can incriminate the Pope, and I reiterate that it deeply hurts the communion of the Church."

The cardinal added that because of his own experience with the pope, he "can not question his personal integrity, his consecration to the mission and especially the charism and peace that inhabit him by the grace of God and the power of the Risen One."

He added that Francis "treats people and problems with much charity, mercy, attention and seriousness, as you yourself have experienced."

Because of this, Ouellet wrote, Vigano's charges against the pope's character "seemed to me really too sarcastic, even blasphemous!"

He urged Vigano to "repent of your revolt and return to better feelings towards the Holy Father, instead of exacerbating hostility against him. How can you celebrate the Holy Eucharist and pronounce his name in the canon of Mass? How can you pray the holy Rosary, Saint Michael the Archangel and the Mother of God, condemning the one she protects and accompanies every day in her heavy and courageous ministry?"

"I understand how bitterness and disappointment have marked your path in service to the Holy See, but you cannot end your priestly life in this way, in an open and scandalous rebellion, which inflicts a very painful wound on the Bride of Christ, whom you claim to serve better, worsening the division and bewilderment in the people of God!"

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