News reports in the first week in October took my breath away. Happenings at the Vatican seized my attention.
First, Pope Francis announced the creation of an investigation to study how and why the ex-cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, went as far as he did in the American hierarchy.
Then, at almost the same time, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, born and bred in Quebec and head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, released a letter that he had sent to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, formerly apostolic nuncio to the United States, taking issue with highly publicized claims by Archbishop Viganò that Pope Francis ignored, until recently, restrictions put upon McCarrick because of his alleged sexual misconduct.
First, to explain terms, “nuncio” is the Vatican’s word for “ambassador.” At present, almost 180 world governments, along with the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and international law, regard the pope as a sovereign entity.
Each nuncio represents the pope to a national government, as the nuncio in Washington interacts with President Trump, but each nuncio also serves as the papal representative to the local Catholic Church. In this latter responsibility, he oversees bishops and manages the selection of new bishops.
Second, appointing bishops is the right of the pope, but the nitty gritty is handled by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, which employs a considerable staff. Overseeing its work is a group of about 25 to 30 bishops, usually cardinals, from around the world, including two Americans at present.
This group meets twice a month, reviews the data accumulated regarding proposed appointments as bishops and recommends action to the pope. Members of this group serve by papal appointment, for terms designated by Church law. The pope names the head of the operation, almost always a cardinal. Cardinal Ouellet has been in charge since 2010, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. Highly respected, he is very aware of life in the United States.
Archbishop Viganò’s accusations regarding Archbishop McCarrick were explosive. He outright charged that high Church officials knew about McCarrick’s record of sexually harassing or abusing others, but they nevertheless put him in positions of authority and honor. The zinger was the allegation that Pope Francis himself downplayed this record.
Probably no one would know the details of this matter better than the head of the Congregation for Bishops. He has immediate access to records from days before his time.
Cardinal Ouellet bluntly challenged the Viganò claims with a catalogue of facts. He also brought forward what has been whispered among many who know those involved, namely Archbishop Viganò’s personal, strong, hardly concealed dislike for Francis.
Many Catholics were dismayed, and indeed infuriated, by the charges advanced by Archbishop Viganò. They owe it to themselves, to the Church and to the truth to read the Ouellet letter. Just Google “Cardinal Marc Ouellet,” and the text of the letter will be there.
Cardinal Ouellet noted that Archbishop McCarrick was very convincing in denying any and all accusations. He retired in 2006. He held no office at the Vatican. He could not vote in meetings of the American bishops. He could not even be present in the conclave of 2013 that elected Pope Francis. Frankly, his contemporaries had left the scene.
I look forward to the results of the investigation just commissioned by the pope, not to satisfy my curiosity, although I am very curious. With relief, I believe Church leaders will learn and react positively.
Msgr. Owen Campion is OSV’s chaplain.