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Ave Maria University president apologizes for Cdl. Burke hit but doubles down on Viganò

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AVE MARIA, Florida, August 31, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The embattled president of an acclaimed Catholic university has apologized for impugning Cardinal Raymond Burke while repeating his dismay that a Vatican whistleblower has called for Pope Francis’ resignation.

Pope Francis stands accused by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò of having removed sanctions from the then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and returning him to a place of influence despite knowing of his history of misconduct with seminarians and priest. The pontiff has refused to confirm or deny the allegations.

President Jim Towey of Ave Maria University made two statements earlier this week concerning the ongoing clerical sexual abuse scandal. The first called for reforms that would address the Church’s history of abuse and coverup. The second defended Pope Francis from the criticism of “some conservative members of the hierarchy,” including Cardinal Burke, and from the testimony offered by Archbishop Viganò that the pontiff made a known sex abuser a close advisor and episcopal “kingmaker.”  

Towey’s earlier remarks about Burke and Viganò were not measured: he suggested the Cardinal’s opposition to the “direction” in which Pope Francis is leading the Church was motivated by anger over having been dismissed from high office, that the archbishop had timed his statement to do “maximum damage” to Pope Francis’ “credibility,” and also that the archbishop was “in league” with others.

The university president stated that Ave Maria students support Pope Francis “wholeheartedly” and that criticism of the pontiff should stop.

In response, several fans of Ave Maria University, including alumni, have voiced disappointment with Towey’s dismissal of Viganò’s testimony and critique of Cardinal Burke.

In his third statement, released yesterday, Towey acknowledged that his remarks had “hit some members of the University family with great force.” He apologized for impugning the motives of Cardinal Burke, saying his remark was unmerited. (Towey’s full statement is published below.)

“What was not merited was my gratuitous comment about what might have motivated Cardinal Burke’s conduct. Such speculation was unfair and His Eminence deserved better,” said Towey. “He has been a friend of Ave Maria University since its founding and is renowned for his sincere love of the Church. I will amend my statement on the web site, and I apologize.”

However, Towney did not back down from his unqualified support of Pope Francis and his critique of Archbishop Viganò for accusing Pope Francis of having knowingly returned a cleric notorious for his sexual predation against seminarians and young priests to a position of influence.

“The Archbishop here publicly accused the Pope of ‘grave, disconcerting and sinful conduct’ and called for him to resign,” Towey wrote. “In my view, this conduct crossed the line, and a defense of the Holy Father was merited.”

The president said that he was defending not only Pope Francis but the papacy itself.

“My desire is to defend Peter, not simply Francis,” Towey wrote. “The Chair of St. Peter isn’t a political office. Jesus gave the keys of the Church to Peter and his successors. This divine institution transcends temporal affairs.The Church’s foundation depends on unity between the pope and bishops. While perfect unity is not possible to effect in a world of sinners, all of us in the Church must desire it.”

Towey likened Viganò’s testimony about cronyism, corruption, and cover-up in the highest echelons of Church hierarchy to popular dissenters on sacred doctrine.

“It seems legitimate to question the appropriateness of airing grievances of this nature in a public manner,” he wrote. “[D]o we not scowl when dissenters from Church teaching air their views in the mass media?”

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in its 1990 instruction Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian), issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, raised interesting points,” Towey continued.

“[Ratzinger] cautioned, “the theologian should avoid turning to the ‘mass media,’ but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth (DV, 30).”

Towey said that this seems to apply as well to “public criticisms of the Holy Father and his actions.”  

Sean McMahon, who graduated from Ave Maria University in 2013, appeared on EWTN News Nightly yesterday to criticize Towey’s initial statement. Towey defended those remarks in a segment before McMahon spoke.

“I think it’s very disappointing to hear that President Towey continues to stand by his statement,” said McMahon. “It also shows an ignorance of Church history. One of the greatest doctors of the Church, [St.] Catherine of Siena, openly criticized the Holy Father,” saying he should leave Avignon and return to Rome.

“There’s been an unfortunate decline in the Catholicity of the university over the last five or so years of President Towey’s tenure, and I think this is once again another example of that,” McMahon opined.

President Towey’s letter to friends of Ave Maria University        

August 30, 2018

Dear Friends of Ave Maria University:

By now you may be aware that I issued two statements to the Ave Maria University community last week: one on the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and a second in defense of Pope Francis.  During my 7+ years as president of your alma mater it has been my practice to share my thoughts with members of the student body, faculty, and administration on the pressing issues of the day, particularly those concerning our Catholic faith.  I know that my words hit some members of the University family with great force.  Be assured of my respect for your approach to the faith and the sincerity of your opinions.

In my August 24th statement I went into great detail on the need for the Church to undertake sweeping reforms to address what our local ordinary, Bishop Frank Dewane, described as a “heinous history of abuse and cover up” within the Church.  The cries of the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and those of their families, have not been honored.

This scandal touches very close to home.  I have a family member who as a high school student was sexually abused by a seminary deacon who, after ordination to the priesthood a year later, went on to sexually abuse other teenagers.  Only when three women went public many years later was he removed from active ministry. Five other victims came forward shortly after he was removed from parish life.  He has never acknowledged his wrongdoing to any of the victims, remains a priest to this day, and receives a monthly pension check for the 22 years he preyed on the vulnerable while wearing a Roman collar.  I intend to continue to press for justice in his case, and as a lay man, to participate in the reform of the Church so that priests like him are held accountable.

I want to make very clear what my August 29th statement intends to do.  My desire is to defend Peter, not simply Francis.  The Chair of St. Peter isn’t a political office.  Jesus gave the keys of the Church to Peter and his successors.  This divine institution transcends temporal affairs. The Church’s foundation depends on unity between the pope and bishops.  While perfect unity is not possible to effect in a world of sinners, all of us in the Church must desire it.

I am quite aware of the painful history of antipopes and curial corruption. I know the difference between fallible persons and the underlying offices that they occupy. People are entitled to their views on Pope Francis and his pontificate.  My concern is with how we express our views and act upon them during this dark controversy. By all accounts Archbishop Viganó has served the Church well over the course of a long and distinguished career.  My concern is with the prudence of the public, coordinated release of his “testimony.” Can one archbishop be prosecutor, judge and jury and call for a resignation of the pope?

Further, it seems legitimate to question the appropriateness of airing grievances of this nature in a public manner—do we not scowl when dissenters from Church teaching air their views in the mass media?  The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in its 1990 instruction Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian), issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, raised interesting points.  He cautioned, “the theologian should avoid turning to the ‘mass media,’ but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth (DV, 30).”

What was said in the context of commentary on magisterial documents seems to apply as well as to the public criticisms of the Holy Father and his actions.  The Archbishop here publicly accused the Pope of “grave, disconcerting and sinful conduct” and called for him to resign.  In my view, this conduct crossed the line, and a defense of the Holy Father was merited.

What was not merited was my gratuitous comment about what might have motivated Cardinal Burke’s conduct.  Such speculation was unfair and His Eminence deserved better.  He has been a friend of Ave Maria University since its founding and is renowned for his sincere love of the Church.  I will amend my statement on the web site, and I apologize.

Church unity is vital today more than ever before.  The Catechism makes clear in 880-883, and 936-937, that the Pope has primacy, and that the unity of the pope and the bishops is the very foundation of the Church.  You and I must work toward that unity and avoid any potential schism that might mortally wound the body of Christ.

The Archbishop McCarrick case raises troubling questions that demand answers.  For the record, I support the initiative within the Church to vigorously examine the evidence. What His Eminence Cardinal DiNardo proposed seems appropriate.

Like you, I love the Catholic Church.  It is home to me, my wife, and our five children and daughter-in-law.  I grew up with the belief that we should love whoever our pope is and give the benefit of the doubt to him whenever it is reasonably possible to do so.  I see no reason why Pope Francis doesn’t deserve this benefit now.  I remain confident he will comment at the appropriate time on what has been published, and also lead the effort the Church needs to protect children and vulnerable adults from clergy sexual abuse, and hold those who perpetrate such acts or cover them up within the hierarchy, accountable.  Let us all pray for him.

As my statements make clear, all the laity have an obligation to contribute to this reform effort, and I pledge to fulfill mine.  The University will be holding a conference January 10-12 on this very matter and I will be in touch with more information at a later date when our plans are finalized, in the event you wish to attend.

Kind regards,
Jim Towey
President

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