SPECIAL REPORT AT 4:30 PM ET
VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican's prefect for the Congregation for Bishops has confirmed that, in response to Theodore McCarrick's serial sexual predation of young men and boys, Pope Benedict XVI imposed punitive measures against the former Washington, D.C. cardinal — and that Pope Francis lifted them.
In an open letter published Sunday, Cdl. Marc Ouellet slammed Vatican whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's claims of sex abuse cover-up as a "blasphemous" attack on Francis. To "accuse Pope Francis of having covered with full knowledge of the facts this alleged predator and therefore of being an accomplice of the corruption that is spreading in the Church ... is incredible," he said.
Some observers are suggesting Francis is responding to Abp. Viganò's allegations vicariously through Ouellet, noting that, as the cardinal himself indicated, his letter was published with "due pontifical permission."
Intended as a defense of the Pope, Ouellet's letter is noteworthy for what it revealed about the Pope's handling of McCarrick.
Though asserting the measures were improperly termed "sanctions," as Viganò described them, Cdl. Ouellet corroborated the former papal nuncio's assertion that McCarrick was under penalty — banned from traveling and making public appearances — by order of Pope Benedict. He also conceded Pope Francis "invalidated them."
In trying to defend Francis, Ouelett did not deny that Abp. Viganò alerted the Pope to McCarrick's history of sexual assault on June 23, 2013; instead, he suggested Francis was both overwhelmed with information on that particular day and that he was likely unimpressed by the McCarrick disclosure:
I imagine the enormous amount of verbal and written information he had to gather on that occasion about many people and situations. I strongly doubt that McCarrick interested him to the extent that you believe, since he was an archbishop emeritus of 82 years and seven years without a post.
Ouellet suggested he is at a loss to explain McCarrick's rise to the rank of cardinal, considering his decades of sexual predation.
"How can it be that this man of the Church [McCarrick], whose inconsistency is known today, has been promoted on several occasions, to the point of holding the highest positions of Archbishop of Washington and Cardinal?" he asked. "I myself am very surprised by this and recognize the shortcomings in the selection process that has been carried out in his case."
Ouellet's letter was issued a day after the Holy See announced Francis is authorizing a "thorough study" of McCarrick and his advancement through the ranks. The move marks a dramatic reversal, as just weeks ago, the Pope rejected the U.S. bishops' request for a Vatican-led investigation of the case.
Critics are dismissing the move as a delaying tactic, arguing the study will be neither independent nor transparent.
But Ouellet is unwavering in his support for the Pontiff and in his condemnation of Abp. Viganò, who he challenged to "come out of your hiding place, repent of your revolt and return to better feelings towards the Holy Father."
"In response to your unjust and unjustified attack, dear Viganò, I conclude therefore that the accusation is a political set-up without a real foundation," he added. "This cannot come from the Spirit of God."