Catholics were starting to wonder whether the Vatican would ever respond to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s passionate and sometimes rambling “testimony”, published six weeks ago. Archbishop Viganò claimed that a network of corrupt prelates had protected ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a serial sex abuser. Most sensationally, Viganò said Pope Francis had known about McCarrick since at least June 2013, but had nevertheless brought him into his inner circle. To these extraordinary allegations the Vatican responded with silence. Until now.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, has written a letter to Archbishop Viganò demanding that he “repent” of his “calumny and defamation”. But Ouellet only explains in broad terms what he finds calumnious and defamatory in the Viganò testimony.
Admittedly, the cardinal does provide some helpful clarification. He tells us that Benedict XVI did indeed ask McCarrick “not to travel or to make public appearances”, because of unconfirmed “rumours” about his misdemeanours. That matches what Viganò claimed.
For Cardinal Ouellet, the episode was a tragedy brought about by the lack of “sufficient proof” and McCarrick’s ability “to cleverly defend himself”. For Archbishop Viganò, it was a collusion between prelates who knew about McCarrick’s guilt but did nothing. To decide between these narratives, we need a full account of who knew what and when.
Cardinal Ouellet’s letter does not provide us with this information. For instance, he does not reveal what “rumours” had been heard about McCarrick; or how these were investigated; or whether McCarrick was deliberately given more freedom when Pope Francis succeeded Benedict.
What Ouellet does provide is an example of the overwrought style now increasingly common when bishops speak of the Pope – seen even in the recent statement from the Bishops of England and Wales. (“As we spoke with Pope Francis we realised, more and more, that he simply radiates this joy and peace. He is indeed gifted with a unique grace of the Holy Spirit of God.”) Catholics believe remarkable things already about the Pope: he is, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation” of the Church’s unity. There is no need to exaggerate the point.
But Cardinal Ouellet does just that. He suggests that Archbishop Viganò needs to “return to communion” with Francis, as if strongly criticising the Pope meant breaking communion. Cardinal Ouellet even asks how the archbishop can say the rosary, since Pope Francis is “the one Our Lady protects and accompanies every day in his burdensome and courageous mission”. This is a strange argument. Our Lady protects and accompanies all of us. We may, nevertheless, sometimes need to be corrected.
There is, happily, some sign that the Vatican is getting the message. An investigation into the McCarrick scandal is promised, one that we trust will address not just the disgraced Archbishop of Washington’s rise to power but his mysterious rehabilitation during this pontificate. If the process is reinforced by the apostolic visitation requested by the US bishops – conducted by a genuinely independent investigator – then we will know that Rome is finally seeking to repair the damage.
Crumbs of comfort
Last Sunday was Rosary Sunday. This year, the Sunday fell on the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, October 7, itself; but every year parishes are allowed to celebrate one Votive Mass of the Holy Rosary on the Sunday nearest to the feast. One wonders how many take advantage.
Rosary Sunday can be a great opportunity to give away free rosary beads and to explain the history of this devotion, and the way that it has been a mainstay of Catholic life for so many centuries. In addition, the whole month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, which should provide plenty of opportunities for introducing newcomers, both adults and children, to the practice. There are lots of accessible catechetical materials on the market that can help people to pray the rosary.
The rosary is unusual in that it is clearly entry-level prayer, suitable for children and those of no education, such as Saint Bernadette, requiring very little by way of training beyond learning three basic prayers: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.
At the same time, this very simple and straightforward devotion has been a favoured path for some of the Church’s great saints and intellectuals such as John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican, whose order it was first propagated the devotion. At various times in the past the rosary has featured in popular religious revivals; it is eminently suited to this, as it requires so little to organise.
Most recently, Rosary on the Coast has taken place in several countries. This is an excellent way of getting people to pray. A Church in crisis needs more prayer, and the rosary is an excellent place to start. The Holy Father himself has urged us all to say the rosary this month. Let us hope his appeal does not fall on deaf ears.