2 May 2012, during Benedict XVI’s Pontificate: Archbishop Viganò at an event in New York at which Cardinal McCarrick received an award / La Stampa

“I believe that the Viganò press release speaks for itself and you have the professional maturity to draw conclusions. With these words to journalists on the return flight from Dublin, Francis invited them to read the 11-page dossier dropped by the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who asked for the Pope’s resignation, accusing him of having covered up the 83-year-old Cardinal Emeritus of Washington Theodore McCarrick, who had had homosexual relations with adult seminarians and priests.

It is therefore necessary to read the text carefully, analyze it and separate the facts reported from opinions and interpretations. And especially from omissions.  

The anti-Bergoglio operation  

The well-publicised decision of a Vatican diplomat to violate his oath of fidelity to the Pope and his professional secrecy represents yet another attack against Francis. It was carried out in an organized way by the same circles that a year ago tried to achieve a sort of doctrinal impeachment after the publication of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia – an attempt which failed.

Viganò is well connected to conservative circles overseas and in the Vatican. This is not simply the outburst of a churchman tired of the rotten things he has seen around him, but a long and carefully planned operation to get the Pope to resign.

This is demonstrated by the timing and the involvement of the same international media network that for years has been propagating — often using anonymous sources — the demands of those who would like to overturn the result of the 2013 conclave. This is attested by the same testimonies written in the various blogs by the journalists who published the Viganò dossier. They are always in the forefront in defending the traditional family, but they dropped their bombshell on the very day on which Francis concluded the international meeting of families with a large Mass.  

The complaint of 2000  

First of all, assuming that what Viganò said is true, let’s go through the facts.

On 22 November 2000, a Dominican priest, Fr Boniface Ramsey, wrote to the apostolic nuncio to the US, Gabriel Montalvo, and informed him that he had heard rumors that McCarrick had “shared his bed with seminarians”. A day earlier, on November 21, John Paul II had appointed McCarrick Archbishop of Washington. Viganò said that the nuncio’s report to the Secretariat of State, then led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was not followed up.

It should be noted that the first complaint that arrived in the nunciature and was sent to the Vatican occurred immediately after the appointment in Washington. One may, however, wonder, if these rumours about McCarrick were so widespread and insistent, why wasn’t he prevented from being appointed as auxiliary of New York (in 1977, at the end of the pontificate of Paul VI), from being appointed as bishop of Metuchen (in 1981, at the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II), then from being transferred to the Archdiocese of Newark (in 1986, again with Pope Wojtyla) and finally from being promoted to Washington (2000) and from becoming Cardinal (2001). 

It’s all Sodano’s fault  

The year following his promotion to Washington, Wojtyla added McCarrick to the College of Cardinals. In his dossier Viganò blames the nomination — without any evidence – on Sodano, explaining that the Pope at the time was already sick and almost incapable of understanding and governing the Church. Anyone who has knowledge of Vatican things knows that this is not true, at least it was not true in the year 2000: John Paul II would live for another five years.

We know that at that time, in the narrow Wojtylian entourage that controlled the nominations, there were the Pope’s special secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz (a name that Viganò omitted) and the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, then Prefect of Bishops, Giovanni Battista Re (whom Viganò mentions to clear his name). Was that first report, without complainants taking responsibility themselves, perhaps not reliable? Or was McCarrick’s power — also financial — able to open Vatican doors that should have remained closed?

Doubts can be raised about the appointment to Washington, but why did no one think to investigate before he was made a cardinal in the following year? Why did the nuncio not insist, if he was so sure of the abuses committed against seminarians and priests (always of legal age), asking John Paul II for an audience?  

Benedict XVI’s sanctions  

New complaints arrived in 2006, when the Pope was Benedict, and the Secretary of State was Tarcisio Bertone. This time, a former priest and abuser of children, Gregory Littleton, enters the scene. He gave the nuncio to the US (at that moment Monsignor Pietro Sambi) a document in which he says that he, too, was sexually harassed by McCarrick (as always, when he was over 18). Viganò prepared a note for his superiors, who did not respond.

It is worth remembering that at that moment McCarrick had already retired. The new Pope, Benedict XVI, on 16 May 2006 accepted his resignation which had been duly presented the previous year, on 7 July 2005, when the prelate turned 75. If the rumours and complaints were so widespread and known, why wasn’t McCarrick dismissed immediately, at the age of 75?

In 2008, new accusations on McCarrick’s improper behaviour started circulating and again. Viganò writes that he sent another note to his superiors. This time something seems to have moved, though at the not-so-rapid pace of the Vatican bureaucracy. In fact, Benedict XVI intervened against the cardinal who was by now an emeritus. He was given a sanctioning order.

Viganò cannot be precise about the date of this sanction: at that time, he had left his post in the Secretariat of State, where he coordinated the work of the nunciatures’ staff, and had been appointed Secretary of the Governorate.

Therefore, if Viganò is telling the truth — and we must assume that he is — “in 2009 or in 2010”, Benedict XVI intervened and presumably ordered McCarrick to retreat from public life to a life of prayer and no longer to live in the Neo-Catechumenal seminary, Redemptoris Mater, that he had opened in Washington.  

Mysterious restrictions  

Benedict’s order did not become public and was transmitted by word of mouth from the Holy See to the nuncio in Washington (Sambi) so that he would communicate it to the person concerned. Was it indulgence for a cardinal who was by now old and retired and whom one wanted to spare the shame of a public sanction?

Or was the evidence not considered sufficient by Benedict XVI, who, if he is at the origin of the sanction, must obviously have been adequately warned of what McCarrick had committed? Pope Ratzinger therefore knew but thought it was sufficient to recommend to the already retired cardinal that he remain quietly on the sidelines.

It is worth remembering: no one has ever spoken, let alone denounced, about child abuse. We are talking about harassment of people of full age, which — given that it is the bishop who invites his seminarians or priests to bed — are actually an abuse. There is no such thing as a situation of equality in such a relationship; not only is it sexual abuse, it is an abuse of clerical power. (Although no one has ever said that “Uncle Tedˮ,as McCarrick called himself, used forms of violence or threats to invite seminarians close to the priesthood and young priests to sleep with him.) We could ask: if these serious facts were so evident, why not impose an exemplary and public sanction on the cardinal, asking him to live withdrawn in penance?  

Why is nobody watching?  

So, some doubt about the real content of the sanctions is more than legitimate, especially in the light of what happened after that.

The Viganò dossier suggests that in the last three or four years of Ratzinger’s pontificate McCarrick lived as a hermit or a cloistered monk and that only after the election of Francis was his cage opened. Once again, we must stick to the documented facts, and that is not the case at all. The reality is different, documented and documentable. At everyone’s fingertips, just a click on the web away.

During Ratzinger’s last years of pontificate, McCarrick did not change his way of life. It is true that he left the seminary where he had been living, but he celebrated ordinations of deacons and priests alongside important cardinals of the Roman Curia who were close collaborators of Pope Ratzinger; he gave lectures. On 16 January 2012, he participated together with other US bishops in an audience with Benedict XVI in the Vatican and his name was listed among the participants in the bulletin of the Holy See’s Press Office. On 16 April 2012, he met Benedict again at the audience of the Papal Foundation and celebrated the Pontiff’s birthday together with all those present. He travelled and returned to Rome in February 2013 to bid farewell to the Pope who had resigned and shook his hand with a smile (all immortalized by the cameras of Vatican TV).  

Viganò beside McCarrick  

And even Viganò himself — in the meantime removed from the Vatican by a decision of Benedict XVI who had promoted him nuncio to Washington — did not appear at all worried about the situation. His participation in public events together with the harassing cardinal is documented, such as concelebrations in the United States or  an award to McCarrick (on 2 May 2012, at the Pierre Hotel, in Manhattan). At the ceremony Viganò appears anything but indignant or embarrassed to be photographed alongside the old cardinal harasser. Why, now that he had the power to reach Benedict XVI directly as his representative in one of the most important diplomatic seats in the world, did Nuncio Viganò not rise up, why did he not act, why did he not ask for an audience, why did he not enforce the restrictive provisions?  

Francis’ involvement   

The current Pope, the only real target of the entire operation, enters the scene in June 2013, a few months after his election. Let’s remember: McCarrick, over 80 now, did not take part in the conclave, is a retired but hyperactive cardinal. He continues to travel around the world, to give lectures, to preside over celebrations.

Viganò goes to an audience with Francis. It was the Pope who asked him a question about McCarrick and Viganò reminded him that the cardinal “corrupted generations of seminarians and priests” and that in the Vatican there is a dossier that attests to this. Let is be noted: it is not Viganò who expresses his worries about the cardinal. It is the Pope who asks for his opinion. The nuncio does not say that he has given Bergoglio a note on the matter nor that he has asked him to intervene. Today, outraged, Viganò writes about the sanctions of Benedict XVI that no one knows about, but — if they exist — he as nuncio does not seem to have acted to enforce such measures.

McCarrick Adviser?  

Viganò then writes that the old cardinal would become, in the early years of Francis’ pontificate, his counsellor, especially for American appointments. He does not give, at least until this moment, any evidence. Instead he argues — and here too there is no reason not to believe him — that in that first meeting of June 2013 the new Pope said: “The bishops in the United States must not be ideologized, they must be pastors”. Since later on McCarrick made a similar statement when speaking with a monsignor of the nunciature (who then reported it to Viganò), Viganò deduced that McCarrick was behind Bergoglio’s attitude towards the US Church. This is a very weak deduction.

It is in fact much simpler and more plausible to hypothesize that on his own initiative Francis — who knew the American Church — had repeated to various people that bishops “ must not be ideologized” but must be “pastors”. Moreover, let it be understood that this is one of the insistent points of his Magisterium about the episcopate – just read the Pope’s speeches to discover that he thought that way well before the 2013 conclave.  

The denial of the former ambassador  

An interesting confutation of Viganò’s theory came a couple of days ago from the former American ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, who had been nominated in May 2009. He said he was stunned to read Viganò’s testimony on Francis’ words on American bishops because “I immediately recalled my first meeting with Msgr. Sambi (Pope Benedict’s representative) at his residency in Washington DC”. He said that “we needed American bishops who were less political and more pastoral, not culture warriors”. So, already under Pope Ratzinger instructions had arrived at the apostolic nunciature in the US to appoint bishop pastors and not “culture warriors”. Evidently the question of the excessive affinity of the US episcopate with certain political positions and a certain unilateral interest only in some ethical questions was already felt as problematic at the end of Ratzinger’s pontificate.  

The new complaint  

Four and a half years go by and in 2018, for the first time, the news of an abuse of a minor committed 50 years earlier by McCarrick, then a young priest, reaches the Vatican. The complaint had never been made before, nor had anyone — according to Viganò’s report — ever talked before about the possible abuse of minors involving McCarrick.

A regular canonical procedure was quickly opened by the diocese of New York, with the transmission of the documents to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There were also new reports, made known by the diocese of Newark, concerning two settlements with compensation for damages that McCarrick has paid, relating to allegations of harassment made by seminarians of age at the time of the events.

With a decision that had no precedent in the recent history of the Church, Francis not only ordered McCarrick to silence and a withdrawn life (that silence and a withdrawn life that had not been imposed on him before or if it had been imposed on him no one had ensured that he complied with this orders) but also removed his cardinal’s cap. The cardinal emeritus of Washington was no longer a cardinal. 

Distorted facts and logics  

Not only should we ask ourselves if what Viganò says is true (as the media repeat like a mantra, asking loudly for Francis’ resignation). One should also wonder whether the sequence described by Viganò, his considerations, his omissions, his interpretations are reasonable and really lead to attributing some responsibility to the reigning Pontiff.

In any case, the bare facts are these, assuming that every detail told by the former nuncio is true.

There was a holy Pope whose entourage (much less holy) promoted and made cardinal a homosexual bishop who abused his power to sleep with seminarians. It is not clear how much information about this had reached the ear of John Paul II, who was perfectly capable of understanding and deciding and who certainly understood the importance of the appointment of the Archbishop of Washington.

Another Pope, Benedict, may have ordered this cardinal to live withdrawn but was unable to enforce his orders. But he never flinched even when he saw him arrive at the Vatican on several occasions. His nuncio to the US (Viganò) did not have any problem about having photos taken next to him, about concelebrating with him, about having dinner with him, or about giving speeches in his presence.

And finally, there is a Pope, Francis, who stripped the cardinal – notwithstanding his age and years in retirement – from his status as a cardinal after having reduced him to silence and forbidding him from celebrating in public.

And yet it is the head of Francis that the indignant former nuncio is demanding — probably only because Francis had “dared” to appoint in the United States some bishops who are less conservative than those appointed in the days when it was cardinals like Bernard Law who were advising on American appointments.

The bias of his document is evident to anyone who reflects on the succession of events, without the need to drag up information that tends to discredit the figure of Viganò. 

Andrea Tornielli is the editor of Vatican Insider at La Stampa. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.