The Vatican’s former top diplomat in the United States has accused Pope Francis of covering up sex abuse by the former Archbishop of Washington DC and has called for his resignation. In words seldom aimed at a Pope since the days of Savonarola, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò denounced “the grave, disconcerting and sinful conduct of Pope Francis”. He “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 wrote in a 7,000 word document posted on Francesco-phobic websites on Sunday.
The “all of them” is substantial portion of the College of Cardinals: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal William Levada, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, Cardinal Edwin Frederick O’Brien, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Plus a good number of Bishops and Archbishops.
The bombshell was timed to embarrass the Pope at the worst possible moment – just as he was ending his trip to Ireland and apologising for abuses by Irish clergy. It made him seem smarmy and two-faced.
The news quickly spread beyond religious media. It was reported on the front page of the New York Times under the headline, “Critic of Pope In Open Revolt Vs. the Vatican”. Catholic were dumbfounded. A high-ranking former member of the Vatican Curia had become a whistle-blower denouncing the Pope as a hypocrite and an enabler of a homosexual clique within the Catholic Church. It could be a ghastly blow to the Pope’s moral authority.
If it’s true.
It isn’t. Momentous claims need momentous proof. But after closer examination Viganò’s allegations crumble. What gives them credibility is their sheer brazenness: how could anyone utter such monstrous slanders unless they were true? It’s an old, old trick. Has everyone forgotten Senator Joe McCarthy?
There is a serious problem in the Church, to be sure. The odious Ted McCarrick’s rise through ecclesiastical ranks despite his reputation among some clergy as a predatory homosexual means that he had allies and enablers. They must be unearthed and punished. But Viganò is creating a social panic among Catholics by pointing the finger at the Pope himself. What proof does he offer?
Nothing in the way of documents or corroborating testimony from other sources. Stripped of the bile and spleen, his argument hinges on a single conversation with Pope Francis in 2013, shortly after his election. What Viganò remembers is this:
the Pope asked me in a deceitful way: “What is Cardinal McCarrick like?” I answered him with complete frankness and, if you want, with great naiveté: “Holy Father, I don’t know if you know Cardinal McCarrick, but if you ask the Congregation for Bishops there is a dossier this thick about him. He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.” The Pope did not make the slightest comment about those very grave words of mine and did not show any expression of surprise on his face, as if he had already known the matter for some time, and he immediately changed the subject.
Since he had told the Holy Father directly, Viganò argues that he must be held responsible for the disaster which followed.
We only have Viganò’s word about this interchange. But, in any case, if the Pope did not comment or change expression, isn’t it possible that he did not hear or understand him? And if this marked the beginning Viganò’s suspicions, why did he tell journalists a few months later that after a long conversation with the Pope he had left the room weeping because he had been heard “like a son”? It doesn’t make sense.
A second piece of evidence offered by Viganò is based on surmise. He claims that the rumours about McCarrick had reached Benedict XVI and that in 2009 or 2010 the then-Pope sentenced him to an enforced retirement of prayer and penance. But after the election of Bergoglio, McCarrick started jet-setting around the world. This Viganò interprets as the Pope’s collusion in McCarrick’s lifestyle. And since many cardinals “must have known”, they too are guilty.
But where is the evidence that Benedict had done this? Viganò was the Apostolic Nuncio after this occurred, but he doesn’t quote the letter with instructions from the former Pope. In fact, notwithstanding the rumours, the only serious investigation into McCarrick’s misdeeds seems to have been this year. And Pope Francis acted immediately, stripping him of his status as a cardinal and ordering him to live in seclusion.
Viganò’s text is full of phrases like “it is absolutely unthinkable” that so-and-so “did not speak to him about it” or did not know. In other words, he does not know and cannot prove it. Even the New York Times commented that his screed is full of “unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks”.
The volume of mud Viganò hurls at his colleagues is extraordinary. If he were living in the United States, he would need very deep pockets and an army of defamation lawyers. Cardinal Wuerl is a shameless liar; Cardinal Cupich is full of “ostentatious arrogance”; the Pope is “deceitful”. This is not an unbiased indictment. It is the volcanic explosion of a septuagenarian King Lear with decades of deep grudges.
In the Italian media Viganò’s fulminations have not taken as seriously as they have in the Anglophone world. The Archbishop is a familiar figure amongst Vaticanistas – as a career bureaucrat in the Curia with a lot of baggage. For him, his appointment as apostolic nuncio to the United States was not a plum job, but a demotion which he protested vigorously. One of his excuses was that he had to stay in Rome to look after his older brother Lorenzo, a Jesuit priest, who was mentally incapacitated after a stroke. But Corriere della Sera reported that Lorenzo repudiated this as a bare-faced lie. Behind their dispute was a bitter family feud about a large inheritance.
In short, 77-year-old Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò is a complex and contradictory man, not an impartial whistleblower whose assertions can be taken as Gospel truth. Momentous claims need momentous proof – and, despite his anger, there’s precious little of that in his remonstrance.
Let one of the Vaticanistas, Fabio Marchese Ragona, have the last word:
… if as Viganò says, Pope Francis is guilty of cover-up (we await news and developments), he is guilty in the same way: Monsignor Carlo Maria has been silent on the matter for five long years, and has not opened his mouth until today. He waited patiently for the scandal to explode in the United States before raging about the Pope and even asking for his resignation. His testimony does not seem to be completely disinterested.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet