Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Just when you think the wheels have come completely off the ongoing Catholic sexual abuse story, it goes to the next level.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, is the author of an 11-page document that is rocking the Roman Catholic world. You may remember him as the official who was ejected from his Washington, D.C. post in 2016 by Pope Francis after he arranged a meeting between the pope and Kim Davis, a former municipal clerk in Kentucky who was fired for refusing to sign marriage licenses to gay couples.

When word got out that Francis had secretly met with her during his September 2015, U.S. visit that year, the Vatican furiously backpedaled on whether Francis backed religious-liberty claims by Davis, and many U.S. bishops. Viganò was eventually removed.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Viganò waited for an opportune time to strike back. It arrived on June 20, when former Washington Cardinal McCarrick, a Vatican favorite and a Francis confidante, was exposed for being a serial sexual predator. Viganò’s letter was released two months later.

The document is very detailed; it mentions dates and names (which can be easily verified or disproved) and, Viganò assures, all the documents backing him up are at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature office on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.

Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, tweeted that the document implicates 17 cardinals (I counted 23), two popes, four archbishops and three bishops.

As tmatt pointed out yesterday, different media are reading this different ways. Still, others at the Times attacked the messenger, portraying it as yet another battle between church liberals and conservatives. 

DUBLIN — On the final day of Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland, as he issued wrenching apologies for clerical sex abuse scandals, a former top Vatican diplomat claimed in a letter published on Sunday that the pope himself had joined top Vatican officials in covering up the abuses and called for his resignation.
The letter, a bombshell written by Carlo Maria Viganò, the former top Vatican diplomat in the United States and a staunch critic of the pope’s, seemed timed to do more than simply derail Francis’ uphill efforts to win back the Irish faithful, who have turned away from the church in large numbers.
Its unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks amounted to an extraordinary public declaration of war against Francis’ papacy at perhaps its most vulnerable moment, intended to unseat a pope whose predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.

“Unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks?” That is a very definitive statement.

Where has this reporter been in the past few months? Those of us who’ve been following this stuff know these accusations line up with what a lot of us have been suspecting for a long time.  

Mr. Viganò claimed that the Vatican hierarchy was complicit in covering up accusations that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and that Pope Francis knew about the abuses by the now-disgraced American prelate years before they became public. Yet, the letter contended, Francis did not punish the cardinal, but instead empowered him to help choose powerful American bishops…
The 7,000-word attack on Francis’ allies in the Vatican, published early Sunday Dublin time by several conservative Catholic outlets antagonistic to the pope, represented a steep escalation in the longstanding, and increasingly caustic, rivalries within the church. ...
The willingness of the pope and his allies to reach out to gay Catholics has infuriated conservatives, many of whom, like Archbishop Viganò, blame homosexuals for the sex abuse crisis. The pope has argued that the abuse is a symptom of a culture of privilege and imperviousness among priests who value the church’s traditions over its parishioners.

Homosexuality alone? Hardly. As GetReligion has been stressing, this is a story with at least three crucial levels of moral and doctrinal conflict.

Back to the Times. So this is just an inter-church rivalry by “conservative Catholic outlets?” You think Viganò did this for fun? He’s fallen on his sword.

But this appears to be the prevailing opinion at the NYT, judging from staff writer Elizabeth Dias’ tweets on Viganò. The majority of those leaving comments politely tell her off.

Viganò has been criticized for leaking the document Saturday night to the National Catholic Register and other conservative media. This is news? People leak stuff to sympathetic media all the time. Liberals leak to liberal media. Conservatives leak to conservatives.

The Washington Post offered more balanced fare and did a service for other media by actually contacting Viganò to confirm he wrote the letter. Some excerpts from the triple-bylined piece:

The accusations sent a shock wave across the reeling Roman Catholic Church, but the letter offered no proof of its claims, and Viganò on Sunday told The Washington Post that he wouldn’t comment further, beyond confirming that he was the letter’s author...
Jason Berry, who has written several investigative books about the Vatican, said he believes this is the first time a pope has been accused from within.
“From within the Vatican hierarchy, from within the Roman Curia, I don’t think anyone has ever publicly accused a pope of covering up for a sex abuser,” Berry said. “That’s why this is such a big deal.” …
Viganò wrote that the measures, taken “in 2009 or 2010,” banned McCarrick from traveling, holding Mass or participating in public meetings.
Yet McCarrick appears to have done essentially the opposite. He regularly appeared as a speaker and celebrant at church functions and represented the church in prominent foreign diplomatic efforts in places such as China and Iran. A video from 2013 shows Benedict warmly greeting McCarrick in Rome, at the pope’s resignation (and the subsequent election of the new pope), where McCarrick gave round-the-clock television interviews and stayed at a seminary.

It wasn’t clear, the Post added, why the Vatican wouldn’t monitor McCarrick’s flouting of Benedict’s orders in some way. But then again:

... When the archdiocese of New York last year began its investigation into an altar boy’s allegation against McCar­rick -- the first accusation involving a youth -- the Vatican ambassador Archbishop Christophe Pierre told McCarrick to be less public while the probe was underway, a person familiar with McCar­rick said Sunday. McCar­rick nonetheless still appeared in public as he wished, the person said, including attending an ordination ceremony in May in his cardinal’s garb.

I find it interesting that neither the Post nor the Times furnished a link to the document. Feel free to download all 11 pages of it yourself here

On Sunday, reporters were calling all over the world to get responses to the document from those named in it. The NBC affiliate in Chicago has this response from Cardinal Blaise Cupich; Lifesite News has this from Cardinal Raymond Burke; the Catholic News Agency has this from Monsignor ­ Jean-François Lantheaume and the Charlotte Observer notes that a former North Carolina priest, Gregory Littleton, is named as the other seminarian who got a settlement because of McCarrick's abuse.  

(Unlike other reporters, I've been mentioning Littleton's name all summer here at GetReligion. To date, he has not responded to reporters' queries. He may not have any choice about it now). 

I thought America magazine did the best initial factchecking on the letter by questioning certain parts of it that don’t add up but crediting other parts for blowing the cover on behind-the-scenes Vatican infighting. 

Meanwhile, Pope Francis is refusing to comment, according to Catholic News Service.

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM DUBLIN (CNS) — Pope Francis said Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s long document calling on him to resign is written in a way that people should be able to draw their own conclusions.
“I read the statement this morning and, sincerely, I must say this to you and anyone interested: Read that statement attentively and make your own judgment,” he told reporters Aug. 26. “I think the statement speaks for itself, and you have a sufficient journalistic ability to make a conclusion.”
Speaking to reporters traveling back to Rome with him from Dublin, the pope said his lack of comment was “an act of faith” in people reading the document. “Maybe when a bit of time has passed, I’ll talk about it.”

Seriously? When “a bit of time has passed?” You don’t have that luxury, Francis. Why didn’t you just deny the letter’s allegations? Perhaps Rome is waiting to see if Archbishop Vigano has copies of crucial documents.

Through some internet searches, I came up with this commentary from the director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit who reports on Facebook portions of a conversation he had Sunday with a Vatican insider. It explains why Viganò had access to secret communications from nunciatures from around the world and adds, “In the words of the Curial official I spoke with this afternoon, what Viganò has reported ‘makes the Borgia popes look like saints.’ ”

Let’s sum up three crucial accusations in this letter:

1. Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s repeated assertions that he didn’t know the charges against McCarrick are an utter lie, as Viganò told him more than once.

2. No matter how one spins the three-level sexual abuse crisis, “homosexual networks” are a major part of this story.

3. Francis has known about McCarrick’s predilections since at least June 23, 2013, when Viganò told him about it.

My hunch: Viganò would have never pulled this stunt if he didn't have hard evidence. I suspect he’s been copying a lot of documents recently and planting them in the right places if he should, say, die suddenly.

These guys in Rome; they don’t play around, do they?

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