The feeble centre. The French network of Cardinal Ouellet

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

French, italiano

Catholic “progressive” forces have always had a surprising capacity to initiate within the « reaction » forces opposed to them, the development of intermediary bodies, Centrist, who do all they can to weaken and neutralize this reaction and the dangerousness it represents by countering it, all for the sake of moderation, responsibility, and transaction in regards to efficiency.

To be honest, this phenomenon of a feeble centre relates to Catholic liberal psychology, characterized by a guilty conscience in regards to progress: Middle ground Catholics always want to set themselves apart from “hard-liners”, who by their excesses, they say, give excuses and even explain excesses of Progressives; in addition, they take on parts of the Progressives’ thinking considering that by being on their side they will be able to influence them.

The 2013 Conclave / the Ratzinguerian suicide

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, from Quebec, 77 years old, from the Society of Saint Sulpice, former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, was called to Rome in 2010 at positions of confidence as Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops, and as President of the Commission for Latin America (Marc Ouellet taught at a Colombian seminary), Benedict XVI having always made the fight against Liberation Theology a priority. This responsibilities brought him closer to Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, whose career benefited from the reputation he had of being persecuted by the very progressive Fr. Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

Marc Ouellet, a courageous defender of Life in a country being greatly secularized, Canada,  author of many talks on the reconstruction of catechesis and the respect of traditions, was considered as an authentic Ratzinguerian. He had, though it is true, asked – and this might be seen as contradictory – for pardon as he was about to leave Canada, asking for forgiveness from those he might have offended by his declarations.

Marc Ouellet was not getting along with Angelo scola, the heir apparent of Benedict XVI, who had successively occupied the two most prestigious seats in Italy, Venice and Milan, and was, most of all, the moral leader of the somewhat identitarian Christian Democrat movement, Comunione e Liberazione, founded by Luigi Giussani. During the 2013 Conclave, Cardinal Ouellet thought to represent, in opposition to the Archbishop of Milan, a soft Ratzinguerian continuity, maybe even a bit dull. Nothing actually proves that Scola would have represented a more “staunch” continuity, even if Pope Scola – Benedict XVII, as it was planned – would have lead a true reform of rationalisation and modernisation of the curial machine to give it a greater efficiency.

In fact, the maneuvers orchestrated during the general Congregations in favor of Jorge Bergoglio appeared to be very profitable for those who wanted to end the Ratzinger era. On the way out of the Conclave which had elected Cardinal Bergoglio, rumors  were circulating on the scenario which had unfolded. Ratzinguerians had apparently self-destructed in a duel Scola/Ouellet: Scola, it is said, had only received 33 votes in the first ballot, followed closely by Ouellet, whose supporters were asked to then transfer their vote to Jorge Bergoglio and not to Angelo Scola. Indeed, Cardinal Ouellet – the rumor confirmed by the few sibylline declarations he made – had been informed would been entrusted with the responsibility of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Promise not kept for, though, never in disgrace, Cardinal Ouellet has always remained a secondary figure in the Bergoglian pontificate, including regarding important episcopal nominations over which the Secretary of the Congregation, Mgr Ilson de Jesus Montanari, definitely had more to say. It is true that the interventions of the Cardinal, since his nomination at the head of the Congregation, have always been in the style of: “most of all, let’s keep it quiet, avoid any waves.”

The Balthasarian

If Marc Ouellet considered himself in the past as a theologian favorable to an hermeneutic “of the reform in continuity” and not of “rupture”, he has always been the opposite of a Thomist: indeed, he is an enthusiastic disciple of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, of whom the Bishop of Fribourg-Geneva said politly: “He was perhaps a Christian, but certainly not a Catholic.” He is thus very connected with the French Balthasarian prelates, notably Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who, as Parish priest of Boissy Saint Léger, lead an active and at the same time discreet laboratory of theological reforming ideas. With a similar profile, we find Pascal Rolland, a ma non troppo conservative who succeeded his friend Philippe Barbarin on the seat of Moulins, and then was transferred to the seat of Bellay-Ars to succeed Mgr. Guy Bagnard, Founder of a seminary and a society of priest in strict clergyman suit. Or, we also find Fr. Georges Colomb, former Superior General of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, who had given life again to the seminary of the Foreign Missions before becoming Bishop of La Rochelle. And then also there is, younger of one generation, Dom Jean-Charles Nault, Benedictine Abbot of Saint Wandrille, the most classical of the novus ordo abbeys in the Congregation of Solesmes, where Cardinal Ouellet is like at home, and which now houses Barbarin theological circle fervent admire of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

In 2012, before Amoris Lætitia, then under Benedict XVI, in a book gathering a collection of interviews mostly in the line of reflexions of the Barbarin group, Cardinal Ouellet had open the road in a significant way to a search for a compromise in regards to sacramental care for divorced “remarried”: “People can return to a state of grace before God, he explains, even in the case of an objective limit of a failed marriage, as a new union is formed which might be the right one, but for which it is not possible to establish that the first marriage is nulled”[1].

The influence, secondary in a way, of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops manifested itself in three recent interventions.

One of these, which is positive, is the nomination on 9 March last of Mgr Jean-Philippe Nault, brother of the Abbot of Saint Wandrille, to the diocese of Nice, quite a good man classically minded who was able to ensure a start for new vocations in the diocese of Digne, France, where he was previously Bishop.

The second, less positive, are the Cardinal’s interventions during meetings between Dicasteries when the Motu proprio Traditions custodes was being discussed, as they were surprisingly hostile to the traditional liturgy.

Third, we would have to mention his intervention during the crisis of a teaching traditional congregation, the Dominican Mothers of the Holy Ghost, with their Mother House in Pontcallec, in the diocese of Vannes, Brittany, France. Without going into the many details of a complex affair[2], Cardinal Ouellet, well acquainted with one of the religious of the community, Mother Mary of the Assumption d’Arvieu, asked to be designated by Pope Francis as Apostolic Visitor, assisted by Dom Jean-Charles Nault, and the Reverend Mother Emmanuelle Desjobert, Cistercian Abbess of Saint Mary of Boulaur, a convent in the line of Saint Wandrille (with the Liturgy of Paul VI in Latin, and not the traditional liturgy like in the case of Pontcallec). The canonical visitation has swept away the conclusions of a former visitation, started under Benedict XVI and considered by Marc Ouellet as too favorable to the more traditional side of the community: in concrete terms, the Cardinal has, in a quite violent way, banned permanently from the religious state Mother Marie-Ferréol, has forced others Mothers to leave or be reduced to silence, and has appointed as assistant to the community Fr. Henry Donneaud, a Dominican from the province of Toulouse who is, with Mother d’Arvieu, a member of the editorial board of La Revue thomiste.

Furthermore, Mother d’Arvieu, professor of philosophy, has published her doctoral thesis on Nature et grâce chez Saint Thomas d’Aquin. L’homme capable de Dieu, with a preface by Cardinal Ouellet[3]. Her thesis intends to rehabilitate the theses of Henri de Lubac in regards to the relation between nature and grace, against the tendency to take on the position of Cajetan, main commentator of saint Thomas, considered by Mother Mary of the Assumption as the main structure of the traditionalist approach[4].

Thermostatic conservatism

In November 2020, Cardinal Ouellet founded the Anthropology and Vocations Research Center, with among the scientific comity, Mother d’Arvieu and Fr. Vincent Siret, priest of the John Mary Vianney Society, rector of the French Pontifical Seminary in Rome. This Research Center has organized a symposium, in the Audience Hall of the Vatican, on 17 February 2022, on the topic of priestly vocations (“For a fundamental theology of the priesthood”), a reunion mocked by some who described it as mainly trying to favor episcopal vocations of members of the John Mary Vianney Society. The symposium was opened by Pope Francis who gave a seemingly endless speech in which he was saying no more than: “Celibacy is a gift that the Latin Church maintains.”

In favor of an hermeneutic “of reform in continuity”, as we said in our presentation of Cardinal Ouellet, this is the characteristic of all of the Cardinal’s networks. Reform indeed, but without too much exaggeration in regards to the continuity… that is to say in playing consistently the role of calming down anything and all who could push for a serious reassessment of the conciliar cocoon. They are set to criticize progressivism (we borrow here the parable from an ultra progressive Spanish theologian, who is passed away, José María González Ruiz) like those heating device equipped with thermostat, programmed so it doesn’t go above a certain temperature. In this way, they can give the illusion of strong willed involution. Yet, quickly, one hears the thermostat shutting down the heating device, this tells us they have reached the extent of the conservative program and will not go beyond this point.

Fr. Claude Barthe

[1] http://www.lavie.fr/religion/catholicisme/le-credo-du-cardinal-ouellet-14-06-2012-28455_16.phpActualité et avenir du Concile œcuménique Vatican II (interviews with Fr. Geoffroy de la Tousche), L’Échelle de Jacob, 2012.
[2] See : « Tempête chez les Dominicaines du Saint-Esprit », a report of Jeanne Smits, and as a response : « Note des Dominicaines du Saint-Esprit », in L’Homme nouveau, 7 May 2021. 
[3] Parole et Silence, collection « Bibliothèque de la Revue thomiste », 2020.
[4] A recension particularly critical of this thesis, written by Iacobo Costa, one of the best specialists in thomistic writing, archivist of the Leonine Commission, has been published in the Bulletin d’Histoire des Doctrines médiévales 2021/1 Tome 105, pp. 142-147.