The pope's heavy-hitting point man at the Eucharistic Congress


Cardinal Marc Ouellet enjoys a lofty standing in the Vatican and ran the last congress, writes PADDY AGNEW

THE MAN who will represent Pope Benedict XVI at next week’s International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin realises all too well that this is a difficult moment for the Catholic Church in Ireland, battered both by the fallout of the sex abuse crisis and the State’s ongoing process of secularisation. Despite that, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet believes the congress will show the Irish church is back on the right track for “renewal”.

Cardinal Ouellet, who turns 68 today, is often seen as a Holy See heavy hitter, so much so that he is regularly included on lists of possible successors to the 85-year-old pope. The former archbishop of Quebec heads the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican’s human resources department.

He has been chosen as the pope’s point man on the congress not only because of his lofty Vatican standing but also because he ran the last Eucharistic Congress, four years ago in Quebec. Vatican observers rate Ouellet as a solid “Ratzinger”, in harmony with the pope.

In a Roman Curia dominated by Italian cardinals, he is a very different figure. Fluent in French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian, he also has missionary experience and is seen as squeaky clean.

He says the congress is an international, universal church event, intended to promote awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the church. As such, it has to reflect more than exclusively Irish issues, however urgent and painful they may be.

In relation to the most painful of those issues, the sex abuse crisis, Cardinal Ouellet was unsure whether he would be meeting abuse survivors while in Dublin, saying it was a delicate, sensitive issue.

Recently, the Italian bishops’ conference affirmed that a bishop had no legal obligation to report a paedophile priest to police. But is there not a “moral” obligation?

“Regarding sexual abuse of children, the main concern of the church is the protection of children. For this reason, full co-operation between church and civil authorities is a moral obligation when concerning the protection of minors. This co-operation has to be developed according to the laws of each individual country.”

Asked about an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey published earlier this week which showed only 4 per cent of Irish Catholics intend to attend the congress, he is not discouraged. That seems to him “a substantial number” and the event still offers a “good occasion for the revival of the faith”, he says.

It has been speculated that the cardinal might use his visit to “mend fences” after the Taoiseach’s outspoken criticism of the Vatican in the Dáil last summer and the closure of Ireland’s residential embassy to the Holy See. While he expects to meet senior Government figures and diplomats, he says his mandate concerns only the celebration of the congress.

Likewise, the question of reform of the church here is extraneous to the congress. The cardinal adds he is “looking forward to meeting with bishops and the faithful and listening to their suggestions and ideas”.

As head of the Congregation for Bishops, what does he make of the fact that almost half of Irish priests are members of the Association of Catholic Priests, an organisation whose most prominent members regularly call for discussion of sensitive church teachings such as the ordination of women, priestly celibacy, homosexuality and the denial of the Eucharist to divorcees?

“The issues you mention regard church teachings not at the local level but at the universal level, and these teachings are clear,” he says. “Certainly the local bishop must explain them to those who raise questions about them, even if they are priests.”

Said like a solid Ratzinger man.