Settimo Cielodi Sandro Magister
11 mar 19
After the Cardinals Pell and Barbarin Verdicts. Church Under Siege, Stunned
In Australia, Cardinal George Pell (see photo) has ended up in prison. In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, has been given a suspended sentence of six months in jail. And it is not out of the question that other prominent cardinals and bishops could soon end up under the judgment of secular tribunals, charged with having committed or “covered up” sexual abuse against minors.
For the Catholic Church, this opens questions of noteworthy gravity, in the face of which it is showing that it is by no means confident that it knows what to do.
In particular, the following three questions.
1. A SPECIAL TRIBUNAL TO TRY THE POPE?
Both Pell and Barbarin have been found guilty on the basis of questionable proofs, both in a second trial after the first had ended without a guilty verdict. For Barbarin, even the prosecutor had asked for acquittal. Both say they are innocent, and have asked for an appeal ruling.
Meanwhile, however, within the Church, the former was prohibited, when the trial was still underway, from the exercise of his public ministry and from contact with minors. And a few days ago the latter announced his resignation, certain that the pope would accept it.
In Pell’s case, it has been communicated that the congregation for the doctrine of the faith will open a canonical process. And it is likely that the same thing will happen with Barbarin.
But what kind of process? And how? Along general lines, concerning bishops presumed guilty or negligent in matters of abuse, Pope Francis published in June of 2016 an apostolic letter, “Come una madre amorevole,” in which – as he explained afterward at the press conference on the way back from Ireland on August 26 2018 – “it was said that for trying bishops it would be good to set up a special tribunal,” one for all. Soon, however, Francis himself maintained “that this was not practicable,” and opted to resort to a jury set up for each case. As in the case – he presented by way of example – of Guam archbishop Anthony Sablon Apuron, convicted at first instance by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith but whose appeal has been taken in charge by Francis himself, with the assistance of a commission of canonists.
In all this the procedures continue in any case to be uncertain. Last November Francis forbade the episcopal conference of the United States to put to a vote the creation of an independent organism of laymen charged with conducting the first hearing on bishops under investigation. But the alternative solution upheld by Cardinal Blase Cupich and through him by the pope, that is of assigning the first investigation to the metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of the defendant, is also far from being codified, in spite of the fact that it was presented again by Cupich himself at the Vatican summit of February 21-24, dedicated precisely to how to combat the plague of sexual abuse.
Against Cupich’s proposal it is objected, among other things, that entrusting the first investigation to the metropolitan – or to another bishop – of the province of the defendant risks putting the judgment back into the hands of clerics who often belong to the same coterie and therefore are tempted to assist each other.
But there’s more. If there is uncertainty on how to proceed with regard to a bishop presumed to be guilty or negligent, what is to be done when the one under accusation is the pope himself?
In effect this is what is happening. Pope Francis has not yet responded to those who – like former nuncio in the United States Carlo Maria Viganò – have accused him of supporting and promoting to the end then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in spite of the fact that his multiple abuses were known to him. And he continues to keep quiet more than six months after having promised journalists at the press conference on the way back from Ireland, on August 26 2018: “Study, and then I will speak.”
Meanwhile, weighing even more on Francis is the case of Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta, his friend and spiritual son since he was undersecretary of the Argentine episcopal conference, promoted as bishop of Orán in the summer of 2013, who later resigned for unspecified “reasons of health” in the summer of 2017 but was promptly elevated by the pope, in December of that same year, to the Vatican post custom-made for him of “assessor” of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, in spite of the fact that very detailed charges of bad behavior by Zanchetta had been sent by churchmen of the diocese of Orán to the competent authorities, in Argentina and Rome, on several occasions from 2015 to 2017.
On this too Francis is keeping quiet. The only decision that has been made known is that on Zanchetta there has been ordered from Rome a preliminary investigation in Argentina.
And if this investigation, reported back to Rome, should confirm the responsibility of Pope Francis, it will remain to be seen how the imperative of a fair trial might be reconciled with the norms of canon law, which at canon 1404 establishes that “the First See is judged by no one,” but at § 2 of canon 1405 specifies that “a judge cannot review an act… by the Roman Pontiff without his prior mandate.”
2. A REGULAR OR “ADMINISTRATIVE” CANONICAL PROCESS?
In the case of McCarrick, last February 15 the congregation for the doctrine of the faith ruled for his reduction to the lay state, at the end of a penal process of the administrative type, meaning simplified and abbreviated.
The congregation almost always proceeds like this, by the extrajudicial route, in the thousands of cases that come under its jurisdiction in matters of abuse. With McCarrick, this made it possible to arrive rapidly at the sentence of reduction to the lay state, before the summit convened at the Vatican from February 21 to 24. But this brought along with it – perhaps deliberately – a grave disadvantage: the impossibility of reconstructing in a judicial setting the network of complicity and of favors, up to the highest levels of the hierarchy, that McCarrick enjoyed for years, from those who nevertheless knew of his misdeeds.
Not to mention the incomprehensible delay in the publication of everything that turns out to be documented, concerning McCarrick, “in the archives of the dicasteries and offices of the Holy See.” The announcement of the publication of these documents, as also of the results of the preliminary investigation that had led to his removal from the college of cardinals, was made last October 6. And the following day Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation for bishops, confirmed in a letter to the former nuncio Viganò that McCarrick had in effect been under confidential “restrictions,” since 2006, against traveling and appearing in public, “because of rumors around his behavior,” restrictions that he had never obeyed. But since October 6 more than five months have gone by, and still the dossier has not been published as announced.
So then, what procedure will be adopted by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith in the canonical process against Cardinal Pell?
Given that the congregation will wait in any case, before issuing its own ruling, for the result of the appeal process requested by Pell in Australia, the preliminary hearing of which is set for June 5-6, one must keep in mind that which the Holy See customarily does in cases of this kind, that is when it proceeds by the administrative route after a secular tribunal has already issued its verdict.
In cases of this kind, the Holy See is accustomed to take as its basis for judgment the findings of the secular tribunal. And therefore, if in the potential process of appeal the Australian verdict is again for conviction, this will usually be followed by an ecclesiastical conviction as well, with the reduction of Pell to the lay state.
This is why it is likely that Pell’s attorneys will insist that the Holy See not adopt an administrative procedure for their client, but a regular canonical process, more unshackled from the results of the Australian trial. In other words, more autonomous, more free, more sovereign.
3. EXONERATION OR CONVICTION, BOTH AT A STEEP PRICE
And what will happen when the Holy See has issued its ruling on the Pell case?
If it is of conviction, on a par with what may be decided by the Australian appeals court, it is taken for granted that there will be applause from secular public opinion, as also from the champions of “zero tolerance” within the Church.
But protests will also be raised by those who will point out in this a defeat of the elementary rights to a fair trial, seeing the inconsistency of the accusations, as also a ruinous act of submission by the Church to the secular powers.
If instead the sentence is of acquittal, contrary to the one that may be decided by the Australian court, there will be those who will admire the autonomy – and the courage – of the Church in evaluating the effective absence of proofs in support of the accusations and in deciding as a result.
But there will certainly be heated reactions on the part not only of secular public opinion, but also of those sectors of the Church that in any case judge as irredeemable the bishop who may have been simply accused of “covering up” abuse, no matter if he is later acquitted in court.
This, for example, is what has been written in black and white with regard to Cardinal Barbarin by former magistrate of the interdiocesan tribunal of Lyon Pierre Vignon, who publicly called for his resignation last summer, before the second trial against him had been completed and after a first trial had ended with acquittal:
“I have been asked repeatedly how I would react if the cardinal were to be declared innocent by the tribunal. The reply is very simple. The conscience of a Christian need not wait for the sentence of a tribunal to know what must be done. If Cardinal Batbarin is not convicted, in any case he is no longer the person who can present himself before victims.”
And this is also the message of the film “Grâce à Dieu,” the subject and target of which is none other than Cardinal Barbarin, released shortly before the tribunal of Lyon was to issue its sentence.
Returning to the case of Cardinal Pell, there are some who are even afraidthat the Australian government – under the pressure of public opinion – could interpret an ecclesiastical acquittal of the cardinal as an implicit condemnation of the judicial system of Australia, and as a result break off relations with the Holy See and push for its expulsion from the association of sovereign states.
Whether this dramatic outcome proves true or not, they are times of siege, these, for the Church.Condividi:
- 11 marzo 2019