The Canadian who heads up the Vatican’s department for bishops has issued a blistering rebuke to the Italian archbishop who demanded that Pope Francis resign because he had covered up the sordid past of the former Archbishop of Washington DC, ex-Cardinal Ted McCarrick.

In August Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former high-ranking diplomat and administrator in the Vatican, released an open letter alleging that the Pope was complicit in protecting McCarrick, a homosexual who used his rank to abuse seminarians and priests. McCarrick’s secrets became public after he was accused of abusing a minor 40 years ago in New York. “Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them,” he concluded.

Up to now, the Vatican had not responded directed to Viganò, although his accusations have been reported widely in the religious and secular media.

Finally, over the weekend, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, released an open letter to Viganò vigorously rebutting his “monstrous accusation”.

“Your current position appears incomprehensible and extremely deplorable,” writes Ouellet. “I … consider it to be aberrant that you should profit by the horrible scandal of the sexual abuse of minors in the United States to inflict such an unprecedented and unmerited blow on the moral authority of your Superior, the Supreme Pontiff.”

Ouellet says that he has reviewed documents in his own Vatican department. Armed with these records and personal recollections, he responds to some of Viganò’s allegations.

Viganò said that he had a brief meeting with the Pope on 23 June 2013, not long after his election in March, and informed him about McCarrick’s sordid past. Therefore, he concludes, “the Pope knew from me how perverse and evil McCarrick was” — and he did nothing.

But this is understandable, comments Ouellet. Apart from the vast number of people he was meeting at that time, the Pope could not be expected to take a deep interest in “an 82-year-old Archbishop Emeritus who had been without an appointment for seven years”.

Ouellet also says that McCarrick had not been sanctioned by Benedict XVI. This contradicts a key premise in Viganò’s version of events, for Viganò claims that Francis had effectively lifted the sanctions imposed by his predecessor. Instead, says Ouellet, after reviewing the dossier, McCarrick had only been told “to obey certain conditions and restrictions due to the rumours surrounding his past behaviour”. At the time, there was no proof of his double life.

Viganò also painted McCarrick as a “trusted counsellor” to Pope Francis who had great influence in the appointment of American bishops. Ouellet flatly denies this: “I have never heard Pope Francis allude to this self-styled advisor during his pontificate regarding nominations in America”.

Ouellet acknowledges that McCarrick’s rise to become the Archbishop of Washington and a Cardinal is astonishing and needs to be investigated. But he criticises Viganò for smearing many Cardinals and members of the Curia as shameless liars and supporters of what Viganò called a “pro-gay ideology”. “Should not the ministers of truth be the first to avoid calumny and defamation themselves?”

Ouellet does not pull his punches. He concludes by praising the Pope as a deeply prayerful and compassionate pastor. And he questions Viganò’s good faith in promoting his attack on Francis: “Reading how you concluded your last message, apparently very spiritual, mocking and casting doubt on his faith, seemed to me to be really too sarcastic, even blasphemous!”

“I therefore conclude that the accusation is a political manoeuvre without any real foundation to be able to incriminate the Pope, and I repeat that it is deeply wounding the Church’s communion.”

Pope Francis also announced over the weekend an investigation into how McCarrick managed to rise so high in the Catholic hierarchy without being detected or denounced as an abuser. A Vatican press release repeated a promise he made in 2015: “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead”. It added: “Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.”

Will Ouellet’s version of the crisis sparked by Viganò’s letter change the Archbishop’s story? Anything is possible but it seems unlikely. In a second letter released late in September, Viganò expressed his “great esteem and affection” for Cardinal Ouellet, but scoffed that he had “surrendered” to the new Pope’s gay-friendly policies. Pigs will fly before he accepts the Canadian’s reply to his bombshell claims.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.