venerdì 19 agosto 2022

L'affaire Ouellet

(Ed. Condon, The Pillar)
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, was named in a class-action lawsuit filed in his former Archdiocese of Quebec this week.  
A woman has accused the cardinal of several instances of inappropriate and unwanted touching while she was a young intern in the archdiocesan chancery. In an interview with Radio-Canada, the woman described the alleged incidents as “quite intrusive for, let’s say, for someone who is my superior, who is the archbishop of Quebec.” 
That analysis was quickly proven correct, with the Vatican announcing yesterday that a preliminary investigation into the allegations, which were first presented to the pope more than 18 months ago, had determined that “there are no grounds to open an investigation” into a canonical crime by the cardinal. 
That statement notwithstanding, a truly interesting aspect of this story is that the Vatican has been aware of the allegations for more than a year-and-a-half, with the pope appointing a… not obviously qualified priest to look into the matter, while Ouellet remained at the head of the Vatican department in charge of investigating claims of misconduct by bishops around the world.  
We spoke to her lawyer, too, who told us she had initially shied away from pressing a civil case. 
“She didn’t want to call the lawyers first,” he told us, but did so because after presenting her complaint to the pope “one-year-and-a-half later, she still had no news.” 
The accusations against Ouellet, and the news that they were known in Rome for more than a year and a half, have set off waves of speculation. 
From the moment the story broke Tuesday, I heard from some people insisting the timing was a political hit against the Canadian cardinal, aimed at tarnishing his reputation and blocking any chances he might have had of being elected by a future conclave. 
For what it’s worth, the alleged victim’s lawyer flatly rejected that thesis when talking to us. 
And for myself, I find the idea that the allegations are part of a kind of intra-ecclesiastical hit on the last Benedict XVI-era appointee still in a job very unpersuasive. 
The cardinal, 78, was by all accounts due to leave his role next month anyway, to make way for a long-awaited new prefect at the Dicastery for Bishops. And however popular he might have been in a previous session, I doubt very much that any future conclave will return a nearly 80-year-old pope.
Far more interesting to me is how and why the allegations were kept so quiet in Rome for more than a year-and-a-half, and a not obviously qualified investigator was appointed to look into the matter, while the cardinal himself was left in post to oversee similar processes against other bishops around the world.
Another theory I’ve heard, mostly from Vatican sources close to the Dicastery for Bishops, is that the allegations against Ouellet may have been kept very quietly on the back burner in Rome, as an unspoken “encouragement” for him to toe the line in his day job. The same people went out of their way to remind me that Francis is often criticized — fairly or not — as preferring to work with people whose secrets he knows.
Those working around the dicastery have said for some time that the department is effectively run by its secretary, Brazilian Archbishop Ilson de Jesus Montanari, with Ouellet acting as more of a figurehead than as a real force in the office, and with neither man sharing much sympathy for the other. 
Curial sources routinely report that Pope Francis has wanted to replace Ouellet with Montanari for years, but the archbishop has repeatedly turned down the post, preferring instead to return to Brazil at the end of his current Vatican term.
Francis, I’ve often been told, has kept Ouellet in nominal charge of the dicastery, with Montanari in day-to-day control, while he considers other candidates for the job.
More than a few people in and around the dicastery are suggesting to me that the allegations against Ouellet may have meant he felt pressured to go along with decisions he would otherwise oppose fiercely — like the sacking of Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, who was dismissed last year over allegations similar to his own.
Perhaps that seems a bit too conspiratorial a theory for your tastes. Perhaps it is far-fetched. Or perhaps it’s true.
But whatever the curial politics, it is clear that Pope Francis opted in Ouellet’s case not to dispense the kind of summary justice he’s been willing to use with other bishops. And Ouellet will have known that.
The examples of bishops sacked for seemingly little or no reason continue to tick up, while others seem able to brazen out scandal after scandal — and Ouellet was, apparently, running the department charged with overseeing all these cases with a Damoclean sword over his own head. Whatever the reason for the pope’s decision, and whatever effect it had on how Ouellet did his day job, that choice is significant. 
And it is another line - in bold - on the list of examples some canonists are citing to say that for all Francis’ reforms of rules and processes, the rule of law in the Church has fast become much less certain.