Archbishop McCarrick’s unofficial role in Vatican-China relations


Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 / 08:05 am (CNA).- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the country, attention has turned to the role of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in fostering Vatican-China relations over the last two decades.

Over 20 years, Archbishop McCarrick traveled to China on at least eight occasions, sometimes staying in a state-controlled Beijing seminary, often serving as an unofficial bridge between the Vatican and Chinese government-appointed bishops until 2016.

Prior to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment becoming public this summer, the former cardinal had been an outspoken proponent of a deal between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Church under Pope Francis, according to Chinese reports.

“I see a lot of things happening that would really open many doors because President Xi and his government are concerned about things that Pope Francis is concerned about,” McCarrick told The Global Times, in an exclusive interview in Feb. 2016.

The interview quoted McCarrick as saying that the similarities between Pope Francis and Xi Jinping could be “a special gift for the world.”

The the state-approved Chinese newspaper also reported that McCarrick traveled to China in Feb. 2016 -- “a trip in which the cardinal said he would visit some ‘old friends.’”

“His previous visits included meetings with Wang Zuo'an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and late bishop Fu Tieshan, former president of Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), an organization not recognized by the Holy See,” The Global Times reported.

In June 2014, David Gibson reported in the Washington Post that McCarrick had traveled to China “in the past year” for “sensitive talks on religious freedom.”

This detail aligns, in part, with the 11-page “testimony” of former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Viganò recounted a meeting with McCarrick in June 2013, during which Vigano claims he was told by McCarrick, “The pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I am going to China.”

McCarrick was hosted by the Beijing seminary during at least two trips to China, according to a 2006 State Department document made available via Wikileaks.

The vice-rector of a Communist-approved seminary, Fr. Shu-Jie Chen, described twice hosting McCarrick in an account found in a cable from Christopher Sandrolini, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Chen described himself as “king” of the seminary, saying that he “could do what he wanted within its walls.”

Sandrolini also noted that the vice rector “downplayed persecution of the underground Church,” calling the underground church “uneducated” and “elderly.”  He said that Chen seemed “unconcerned” that “evangelization was not an option for official religious personnel.

A cable from U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney in March 2006 noted that Archbishop Claudio Celli, who was at that time the Holy See’s principal China negotiator, insisted that McCarrick was not in a position to negotiate with China and that his visits to China were “unofficial.”

There appears to be a gap between McCarrick’s trips to China between 2006 and 2013, though McCarrick’s influence was still active.

In 2009, the archbishop had a message relayed to a friend in China through Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi conveyed McCarrick’s greetings to Bishop Aloysius Jin of Shanghai, formerly a leading Chinese Jesuit.

“She [Pelosi] relayed Cardinal McCarrick's good wishes to Bishop Jin. Bishop Jin said he and Cardinal McCarrick had exchanged visits, beginning when the latter was Bishop of Newark,” the State Department cable reads.

During McCarrick’s time as Archbishop of Newark, Aloysius Jin Luxian was not recognized as a bishop by the Vatican. He was ordained a coadjutor bishop of Shanghai without papal approval in 1985, his position was not recognized by the Vatican until 2004. Bishop Jin died in 2013.

A 2007 article in The Atlantic described the close friendship between McCarrick and Jin, and how McCarrick claimed to have relayed messages from the Chinese government-appointed bishop to the pope in the 1990s.

Both the State Department and Chinese media recorded a 1998 visit to China by Archbishop McCarrick. On that trip he was one of three American clerics to visit China to discuss religious freedom, meeting with Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party’s Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress.

Fu was made a bishop by Beijing 1979 without approval of the pope.

Chinese media reported that McCarrick paid a visit to the National Seminary in Beijing in 1998.

In Aug. 2, 2003, the South China Morning Post reported that McCarrick “spent three days in Beijing earlier this week on what was ostensibly a private visit.”

McCarrick was “the first cardinal from a western country to visit the mainland since relations between China and the Vatican turned frosty after a dispute over canonisation in October 2000,” the article continued.

In a Dec. 2003 State Department cable, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson wrote that Vatican Office Director for China Monsignor Gianfranco Rota-Graziosi “did not expect concrete improvement stemming from the informal trip last summer of Washington Cardinal McCarrick to China.”

On Sept. 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Holy See could be about to enter a deal with China which would include the recognition of seven illicitly consecrated bishops serving in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association - a state-sponsored form of Catholicism whose leaders are chosen by Communist authorities.

Reports of the Holy See and Chinese government working towards a formal agreement on the appointment of bishops have been circulating since January, 2018. At the same time, China has launched an increasing crackdown on religious practice in the country, demolishing churches and harassing worshippers.


Scicluna: On abuse crisis, Church must go from words to action


Poznan, Poland, Sep 19, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- According to Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the pope’s recent decision to call to Rome the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world is a sign that prevention of abuse and protection of minors must be a concern for the entire Church.
 
Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of La Valletta, Malta served from 2002-2012 as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He helped establish the Church’s first responses to the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, and his work in the field is still a landmark.
 
Pope Francis twice sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to investigate allegations that Bishop Juan Barros Madrid had covered up crimes against minors.
 
Speaking from Poznan, Poland, where he took part in the annual gathering of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences, Scicluna stressed that the pope’s decision to call to Rome presidents of the different bishops’ conferences around the world “is a clear sign that protection of minors and prevention of abuse are a top priority for the whole Church.”

“The commitment of the Church as a safe place for minors should be for the whole Church, and should be the concern of everybody in the Church,” he added.
 
Scicluna also stressed that “protection of minors is something that has to be an ongoing process in the Church, and therefore it only begins with the good screening of future priests, as St. John Paul II asked for in 1992.”
 
The archbishop referred to Pope St. John Paul II’s 1992 post-synodal exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.  

“It was St. John Paul II’s prophetic message,” he said,”as the document, speaking of the formation of future priests, valued the issue of human formation, of psychological screening and also of a clear evaluation of the candidate from the point of view of emotional authority and eligibility to be the shepherd of the flock.”
 
The document underscored that “in the seminary, that is, in the program of formation, celibacy should be presented clearly, without any ambiguities and in a positive fashion. The seminarian should have a sufficient degree of psychological and sexual maturity as well as an assiduous and authentic life of prayer, and he should put himself under the direction of a spiritual father.”
 
Scicluna said that, beyond the screening of future priests, there must also be “an empowerment to the community, to disclose abuse when it happens and also an empowerment of the community so that together we ascertain and we guarantee that the Church is a safe place for everybody, including minors.”
 
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s former prosecutor also noted that in May 2001 the Congregation asked bishops’ conferences around the world to prepare guidelines to counter abuse.
 
 “The circular letter,” Scicluna said, “gave important indications, as it talked about formation of future priests but also talked about the protection of the community and it also mentioned cooperation with civil authorities.”
 
The letter read that “sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict but also a crime prosecuted by civil law. Although relations with civil authority will differ in various countries, nevertheless it is important to cooperate with such authorities within their responsibilities.”
 
Archbishop Scicluna commented that these things “need to be implemented and constantly put in the local Church’s agenda.”
 
He also said that most bishops’ conferences have issued guidelines following the CDF’s advice, and that all existing guidelines have been now screened by the Vatican.
 
However, Scicluna added, “documents are not enough. We need to sensitize whole communities, because this sad phenomenon cannot be solved with hierarchical decisions, but must involve everyone.”
 
Speaking about the meeting convoked by Pope Francis for February 2019, Scicluna said that the meeting comes from a decision of the Council of Cardinals, but it is also “a response to people’s expectation that we move from documents to actions.”
 
He said that “people need to understand that nice words and promises are not enough, while a diffused commitment involving the whole Church and everyone in the Church is much needed.”
 
“After years,” he concluded, Church leaders must “renew our commitment to child protection in the Church.”

 


What is the pontifical secret?


Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, many have called for official Vatican files on the former cardinal to be released. While this may seem like the easiest way of assessing the truth of Viganò’s claims, many of the documents in question could be protected by the “pontifical secret.” But what is that?

The pontifical secret, also sometimes called papal secrecy, is a rule of confidentiality protecting sensitive information regarding the governance of the universal Church. It is similar to the “classified” or “confidential” status common in companies or civil governments.

While the use of the English word “secret” in relation to Church documents and processes is often invoked dramatically, the term is actually taken from the Latin word “secreto,” which simply means “confidential.”

According to the “Secreta continere,” a canonical instruction issued by the Secretariat of State in 1974, those bound by the pontifical secret take an oath at the beginning of their service in the Curia or the diplomatic corps, promising to “in no way, under any pretext, whether of greater good, or of very urgent and very grave reason,” to break the secret.

Materials covered by the pontifical secret include diplomatic communications made between the Vatican’s nunciatures around the world, but also apply to a range of other subjects. These include private dossiers and recommendations on priests and bishops being considered for promotion. Controversially, the secret also covers penal processes concerning major crimes handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, including cases involving the sexual abuse of minors.

The reasons why the secret is applied to different materials depend upon the circumstances. Private communications between what are effectively papal embassies and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State are protected by confidentiality in the same way, and for the same reasons, that other diplomatic correspondence is kept classified. Files pertaining to bishops or prospective bishops are handled in much the same manner as confidential personnel matters are treated in companies or other institutions.

In judicial cases, the secret is meant to protect the privacy of victims, the good name of the accused (at least until they are convicted), and even the confidentiality of the accusers, who might be under the authority of someone under investigation.

Concerning the case of Archbishop McCarrick, Vatican files could conceivably contain materials covering all of these categories. In addition to possible penal processes and the circumstances surrounding his various promotions - including what was known about his behavior at different times - records could also concern any work undertaken by McCarrick as a papal envoy in different places including, for example, China.

As the name “pontifical secret” implies, it is only the pope - or someone empowered by him - who can dispense from it. Those hoping for curial officials to act on their own initiative, even for the supposed good of the Church, are likely to be disappointed. If they were to do so, they could find themselves subjected to disciplinary measures in the same way that any government official might if they were to release classified documents without authorization.

The seriousness of any violation of the secret by curial officials in relation to McCarrick’s case would depend on the nature of the material disclosed.

Fr. Pablo Gefaell Chamochín, a canon lawyer and professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, told CNA that if a person is judged to have acted in violation of pontifical secrecy, he or she could be subjected to punishment.

Pointing to the Secretariat of State’s instruction, Gefaell said, “if the violation of pontifical secrecy becomes known, a penalty proportionate to the wrongdoing and the damage it causes could be inflicted by the competent dicastery.”

Canon law does not establish a specific penalty for a violation of the secret. It would be left to the discretion of the competent Vatican authority to decide what the appropriate punishment would be for a particular violation, Gefaell clarified.

Regarding the potential release of any documents relating to Archbishop McCarrick, potentially held either at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. or at the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, it is Pope Francis alone who could order their effective declassification.

Until the pope decides otherwise, it is unlikely that Vatican officials bound by oath to observe the secret will be making any new documents available.