Following the election of US Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), a media debate over his status as a “pro-Francis” or “anti-Francis” bishop has erupted. Many voices have spoken out for and against this selection by the USCCB. Many of Francis’s critics downplayed Broglio’s record, saying that there was nothing in his background to suggest that he opposes Pope Francis. The pope’s supporters, however, argued that the vote sent a strong signal that the US bishops show little regard for the priorities and initiatives of Pope Francis.
Many of the objections to the election of Archbishop Broglio involve his statements and activities as archbishop of the US Military Archdiocese. For example, Nate Tinner-Williams of Black Catholic Messenger, who reported live from the meeting, noted Broglio’s record on a range of issues, describing them as a “laundry list of actions in contradiction to Pope Francis and the Vatican in recent years.” These included Broglio’s support for exemptions from Covid-19 vaccine mandates and his support for the claim that homosexuality is a root cause of the clerical abuse crisis.
Michael Sean Winters, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, went further back into Broglio’s history, describing Broglio’s connection to his “mentor and patron,” the late Cardinal Angelo Sodano. From 1990-2001, Broglio served as private secretary to Cardinal Sodano, who was the Vatican’s Secretary of State, a post often referred to as the second-most powerful position in the Vatican. Of Broglio, Winters writes, “He is the one bishop in the United States with long-standing tensions with the pope, tensions that goes back to Broglio’s work with Sodano, who famously tried to shut down the Latin American bishops’ conference CELAM and who protected the monstrous pedophile Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.”
Cardinal Sodano, whom many point to as the model of Vatican corruption during the second half of John Paul II’s papacy, served as Secretary of State from 1990-2006, and continued to wield power as Dean of the College of Cardinals until he was pressured to step down in 2019 at the age of 92. Following his death in May of this year, Jason Horowitz wrote in his New York Times obituary of the cardinal that Sodano used his influence “within the Vatican hierarchy, including to block investigations of sexually abusive priests and to further his conservative and anticommunist vision of a church that put protection of the institution above all else.” Horowitz notes that after the Italian prelate’s priestly ordination, “his career and connections would become deeply rooted in South America, where he worked in the church’s diplomatic corps as a young priest.”
Sodano was named papal nuncio to Chile in 1977, where Horowitz writes that “he navigated, and critics say grew exceedingly close to, the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.” It was also during his time in Chile that he built relationships with two now-notorious priest-abusers: the Mexican Maciel and Fernando Karadima, a charismatic Chilean priest who abused countless boys and young men including Juan Carlos Cruz, who is now an advocate for abuse victims/survivors and serves on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Sodano is known for having blocked many investigations of clerics who were later exposed as abusers during his tenure as Secretary of State. One notable case was revealed in 2010, when Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn accused Sodano of helping to cover up the crimes of his predecessor in Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer. According to Philip Pullella’s Reuters report, “Schoenborn told the journalists that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who then headed the Vatican’s doctrinal department and is now pope, wanted a full scale investigation of Groer in 1995 but was blocked by Sodano, according to Kathpress.” If Cardinal Schoenborn’s accusation is true, that means the coverup occurred in the middle of Broglio’s tenure as Sodano’s private secretary.
During his press conference last week, Broglio was asked about his involvement with Cardinal Sodano in light of the Maciel case. He responded:
“I think I would say two things about that. First, that hindsight is always 20-20. So many things that we’ve learned now, perhaps, certainly weren’t known then, and my own experience, working in Cardinal Sodano’s office, the main question would have been about [Father Maciel], and I think at that point, he had everyone fairly well-buffaloed because there were so many vocations.” He added, “I had actually left the office by the time the great accusations came up.”
America’s Kevin Clarke noted that the Archbishop’s memory of the timeline isn’t entirely accurate, pointing out that the charges against Maciel “initially came to light in a major report in 1997 by the Hartford Courant, which detailed accusations against him by eight former Legion seminarians, children at the time of their abuse.” Perhaps Archbishop Broglio was “well-buffaloed” by Maciel at the time, but he was still Sodano’s secretary for four years after the story became public. Additionally, journalist Jason Berry wrote in a 2013 New York Times article that Sodano “pressured Cardinal Ratzinger to abort a case filed in 1998 by several men accusing the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, of abusing them as seminarians.”
These associations in themselves are noteworthy, and they certainly lead to questions about Broglio’s rise in the Catholic hierarchy. Is it fair, however, to describe him as “anti-Francis”?
Certainly nothing in Archbishop Broglio’s record suggests he’s a “pro-Francis” bishop. To my knowledge, he’s never publicly expressed support for the pope in response to any of the frequent attacks and false accusations against him. For the most part, he seems to be ignoring Pope Francis as much as possible, with an occasional act of subtle subversion (such as the 2021 vaccine statement and a 2020 “clarification” of the pope’s words in the documentary Francisco). This is par for the course in the US episcopate, where some two dozen bishops offered statements of support for Archbishop Viganò’s accusations against the pope, and not a single one has retracted or apologized since they were proven to be false.
Declining to speculate on whether he and the US bishops represent a direction contrary to that of Pope Francis, Broglio’s response was circumspect and ambiguous:
“As far as I know, I’m certainly in communion with Pope Francis, as part of a universal Church. We’re brother bishops, we certainly know each other. I’m not aware that this necessarily indicates some dissonance with Pope Francis.”
When asked by OSV News whether he had anything to add to his earlier response to the charge that he’s “anti-Francis,” he replied, “I think Pope Francis would be surprised by that. I’m sure he’s certainly seen this in the summary that they give him every morning, and I’m sure he’s as perplexed as I am. But I think I’m going to have a chance to see him in 10 days and hopefully we can laugh about this.”
The lack of substance in these responses is unhelpful, but Archbishop Broglio is correct about one thing – they do know each other. In fact, their history goes back decades, and is connected to Broglio’s ties to the power brokers of the Church in Argentina in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It’s no secret that Cardinal Sodano did not have warm feelings about Pope Francis, and it is well-documented that Sodano worked in the 1990s to block then-bishop Bergoglio from being named coadjutor archbishop of Buenos Aires, putting him in line to succeed Cardinal Quarracino, the archbishop who rescued him from obscurity in 1992 when Bergoglio was named an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. In his biography of the pope, The Great Reformer, Austen Ivereigh explains:
In early 1996, Quarracino had begun to suffer from cardiovascular problems, presiding over Corpus Christi in July that year in a wheelchair. Because of his ill health, he knew that the following year, when he turned seventy-five, his resignation was likely to be accepted. Quarracino’s secret plan was to name Bergoglio as his coadjutor archbishop with right of succession, meaning that when the cardinal died or stood down, Bergoglio would become archbishop of Buenos Aires without any need for a formal nomination from Rome, which could be blocked by the government.
At the time, the recommendations of the Argentine bishops could potentially be vetoed by the president or obstructed within the Vatican by various power-players. Certain figures did not want to see Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Who were they? Ivereigh continues:
Quarracino faced strong opposition to his plan from a powerful aide to President Menem, Esteban “Cacho” Caselli, known also as “the bishop” because of his close ties to the highest levels of the Vatican. Caselli was the link between the Vatican and [then-Argentine President Carlos] Menem, securing Argentine financial and political support for Rome in exchange for political influence. Much to their annoyance, Caselli had persuaded the Vatican in the mid-1990s to soften John Paul II’s criticisms of the social situation in Argentina when he addressed its bishops on their visit to Rome.
Caselli had ties above all to two men: the all-powerful secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, sometimes described as the “vice-pope”; and the Argentine diplomat who would be his number two, or sostituto, from 2000, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri. Sandri and Caselli were tied by a number of bonds—including membership of a chivalric order, the Knights of Malta—to Héctor Aguer, one of the Buenos Aires auxiliaries. It was Aguer whom they wanted to succeed Quarracino.
Quarracino’s bid for Bergoglio to succeed him brought him up against this powerful nexus. When the cardinal flew to Rome to persuade the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops to name Bergoglio as coadjutor, he found himself blocked.
Cardinal Quarracino decided to go over their heads and directly to the pope, who signed off on Bergoglio’s appointment as coadjutor. But before that, Quarracino’s plan was blocked by the “powerful nexus” of the Italian Cardinal Sodano and two Argentines: Esteban Caselli (a layman nicknamed “el Obispo” or “the bishop” due to his behind-the-scenes influence over the Argentine Church), and Archbishop Leonardo Sandri.
Caselli is an intriguing character, having served as Argentina’s ambassador to the Holy See in the late 90s, as well as in the Italian senate (thanks to his dual citizenship). His friendship with Sodano and other high-ranking Church officials provided him with great power in episcopal appointments in Argentina. According to a 2011 report in La Stampa, “During the course of the past decade, as Caselli’s circle of friendships in the Vatican expanded, a number of Argentinean bishops were appointed, disregarding or contradicting the suggestions and evaluations made by the Argentinean Catholic Church.”
Ivereigh, in a 2017 article for Crux, writes how to this same trio, along with the then-nuncio to Argentina, Archbishop Adriano Bernardini, were “involved in an unsuccessful plot in 2008 to remove Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and replace him with a chaplain to the Knights, the Bishop of Zárate-Campana, Oscar Sarlinga.”
But how does Archbishop Broglio fit into this nexus? His proximity to Cardinal Sodano is well established. Ivereigh does not mention Broglio in his biography, but priest-secretaries for powerful cardinals typically keep themselves out of the headlines. That said, Broglio does make an appearance in Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué’s 2014 biography, Pope Francis: Life and Revolution, on the tennis court:
Caselli often plays tennis with the private secretary of the number-two man at the Holy See, Monsignor Timothy Broglio, nicknamed “Timbroglio” (which means roughly “I cheat you” in Italian). Broglio, later Archbishop for the U.S. Armed Forces, is awarded the Great Cross of the Order of San Martín Libertador and the Order of Mayo by the republic of Argentina. Even when he is no longer Ambassador, Caselli keeps up direct relations with Monsignor Maurizio Bravi, official of the second section of the Secretariat of State, which deals mainly with Argentina and is in close touch with Leonardo Sandri, at the time the third-ranking person in the Vatican structure as Substitute of the Secretariat of State.
The nature of Archbishop Broglio’s relationship with the Holy Father remains unclear, but the signs seem to indicate that theirs is not a warm friendship. This could be due to a number of factors, and it’s possible that the two men simply don’t see eye to eye on certain issues. The information available only leads to more questions. Time will tell what all of this means for the relationship between the US Church and the Successor of Peter.
 Ivereigh, Austen. The Great Reformer (p. 230). Henry Holt and Co. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid, p. 230-231.
 Piqué, Elisabetta. Pope Francis: Life and Revolution: A Biography of Jorge Bergoglio (pp. 128-129). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.