Ave Maria president denounces 'defiance' of pope by 'conservative Catholics'

Ave Maria University. Credit: Lee Leblanc cc by nc sa 2.0
Ave Maria University. Credit: Lee Leblanc cc by nc sa 2.0

.- Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, said Wednesday that he unhesitatingly supports Pope Francis, in the wake of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò's call for the pope's resignation.

Archbishop Viganò, the emeritus apostolic nuncio to the US, alleged that Francis ignored sexual misconduct allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (who resigned from the cardinalate July 28), lifting sanctions on the former Archbishop of Washington which had been imposed by Benedict XVI.

Towey's Aug. 29 statement “regarding the rift within the Church” characterized Archbishop Viganò's testimony as part of a “rift between Pope Francis and some conservative members of the Church hierarchy”, the “battle lines” of which were drawn “five years ago shortly after the Pope ascended to the chair of Saint Peter.”

Towey quoted the pope's 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, in which Pope Francis criticized "false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises.”

Affirming that God is full of surprises, the university president asserted that “the call for the Pope’s resignation by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò is not one of them. Neither is the challenge to the Pope’s authority by Raymond Cardinal Burke, an American prelate who has consistently opposed the direction Pope Francis has led the Church on certain matters.”

Towey also speculated that Cardinal Burke “may still be smarting” from his 2014 removal as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

Towey stated that the timing of the release of Archbishop Viganò's testimony seemed to be meant “to inflict the maximum damage possible to the Pope’s credibility, and the choreographed chorus of support by others in league with them, was just as troubling.”

“Contrary to the popular narrative, most conservative Catholics are not following suit and embracing their defiance, and certainly not on our campus,” he added.

Towey said Ave Maria University is known “for our unqualified fidelity to the Church”, which he said “we do … not because we are conservative (we are) but because this is the requirement of discipleship. This explains why our students love Pope Francis and support him wholeheartedly.”

Noting that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of St. Peter, who “bears the anointing of the Holy Spirit”, Towey said that “conservative Catholics may legitimately disagree with Pope Francis’ take on everything from the environment and capitalism, to marriage and family.”

He called such “dissent” healthy “when properly channeled and respectfully communicated.”

“But when Church dissent becomes openly hostile and rebellious, and some members of the hierarchy assert their opinions as if they were elected pope instead of Francis, faithful Catholics like our students will rally to the Supreme Pontiff’s defense,” Towey asserted.

Towey added that “we forgive” Francis, who “has admitted that he failed in his own response to the clergy sex abuse scandal and its cover-up.”

He also said that Francis “wasn’t the only one to be charmed by now-disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,” saying that “Saints John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta also knew Cardinal McCarrick personally and were deceived by him, too.”

Towey said that “personal attacks against the Vicar of Christ and calls for his resignation are wildly divisive and patently wrong … at a time when the Church is roiled by scandal occasioned by so many within the hierarchy.”

“Those so-called conservative Catholics who now challenge the Holy Father’s legitimate authority and openly undermine his papacy, are betraying their own principles and hurting the Church they profess to love. They should stop now,” Towey maintained.

Among the US bishops, Archbishop Viganò's testimony has received a mixed response.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago found it “astonishing,” and called for a “thorough vetting of the former nuncio’s many claims...before any assessment of their credibility can be made.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark expressed “shock, sadness and consternation at the wide-ranging array of allegations...which cannot be understood as contributing to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse,” and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called the former nuncio's words a “distortion.”

By contrast, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler said that while Archbishop Viganò’s claims have not been investigated and are “still allegations...as your shepherd I find them to be credible.”

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said Archbishop Viganò's allegations “mark a good place to begin the investigations that must happen in order for us to restore holiness and accountability to the leadership of the Church.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City both also called for an investigation of Vigano’s claims, and both have affirmed their respect for the former nuncio.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said the former nuncio “served his mission with selfless dedication” and “at great personal sacrifice and with absolutely no consideration given to furthering his 'career' – all of which speaks to his integrity and sincere love of the Church.”

“Moreover, while having no privileged information about the Archbishop McCarrick situation, from information I do have about a very few of the other statements Archbishop Viganò makes, I can confirm that they are true. His statements, therefore, must be taken seriously. To dismiss them lightly would continue a culture of denial and obfuscation.”

Towey, who dismissed Archbishop Viganò's testimony as "personal attacks against the Vicar of Christ," has served as president of Ave Maria University since 2011.

When he was named president of the university, he told the National Catholic Register that his bishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, “twisted my arm a little bit when I was discerning to take the job.”

Archbishop Viganò wrote in his testimony that Cardinal Wuerl knew of McCarrick's misdeeds: “I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions, and I certainly didn’t need to go into detail because it was immediately clear to me that he was fully aware of it.”

Ed McFadden, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that Wuerl categorically denies having been informed that McCarrick’s ministry had been restricted by the Vatican.

The bishops on the board of trustees of Ave Maria University are Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice in Florida, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

O’Malley is mentioned by Viganò’s testimony, which said that the cardinal’s “latest statements on the McCarrick case are disconcerting, and have totally obscured his transparency and credibility.”

Tags: Catholic Universities, Catholic News, Ave Maria University, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Carlo Vigano