More than two weeks after the release of the sensational “Testimony” of former US apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in which he calls for the resignation of Pope Francis, the Church finds itself in a period of intense polarization that’s difficult to assess.

First, if you haven’t read it, I wholeheartedly recommend Greg Daly’s recent piece in the Irish Catholic, in which he heroically attempts to parse out what we know and what we don’t know about the controversy.  

Viganò makes three key charges against Francis: (1) that Pope Benedict imposed secret canonical sanctions (similar to those publicly imposed on him now) on Archbishop McCarrick in 2009-2010, and that Pope Francis was made aware of these sanctions in 2013; (2) that the Holy Father lifted or set aside the canonical sanctions in 2013; and (3) that he then made McCarrick a trusted advisor, especially in the area of episcopal selections (singling out the appointments of Cardinals Blase Cupich and Joseph Tobin, as well as Bishop Robert McElroy, as examples of appointments that McCarrick recommended).

Charges 1 and 2, in particular, have come under a great deal of scrutiny. According to Viganò’s document, “The cardinal [McCarrick] was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”

This has not been verified by any documentary proof, and the public behavior of Viganò and Benedict toward McCarrick during the period in question does not lend any credence to the claim that McCarrick was restricted in his ministry. McCarrick continued to travel and continued to make public appearances at events such as ordinations. Video taken during this period includes warm greetings between McCarrick and the former nuncio, as well as between McCarrick and Benedict.

Numerous journalists have made note of these public appearances, which I will not rehash here, but you can read Michael O’Loughlin’s report in America magazine and Cindy Wooden’s piece for CNS. Blogger “Catholic in Brooklyn” chronicles how the original assertion from Archbishop Viganò that “canonical sanctions” were placed against then-Cardinal McCarrick has been downgraded to a verbal suggestion that he “keep a low profile.”

So where do things stand?

It’s still unclear what, precisely, Benedict imposed upon McCarrick (if anything), and to what degree Francis relied on him as an advisor. Benedict isn’t talking (and claims he can’t remember), and Francis isn’t talking for now – and if/when he does, will be accused of lying by those who have already decided he’s guilty.

As of this writing, the “C9” Council of Cardinals has announced that the Vatican is preparing necessary clarifications in response to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations.

I believe this is a positive development. The Vatican should speak sooner rather than later to head off some of the sensationalism that’s taken hold in certain corners of Catholicism. But my prediction is that it will not be believed by his critics if and when he does.

Thus far, Francis has largely kept silent on the Viganò letter, with a few possible allusions in various addresses and homilies. I don’t know if silence was Francis’s best course of action, but taking this route hasn’t hindered his vindication all that much.

Francis’s accusers have suggested that his silence is either an indication of his guilt or passive aggression. First, it’s not passive aggression if he believes accusations don’t warrant a response. Secondly, Francis knows that whatever he says, his critics will still insist he’s guilty. It’s clear he finds the accusations ludicrous. When Francis is silent in the face of criticism, he’s telling us that he’s not letting certain things slow him down, for good or ill. Whether it’s the dubia or Viganò’s testimony, not responding is his signal that he does not place much value on the accusations.

Professional journalists have done their work and established quite clearly that Archbishop Viganò’s charge – that McCarrick was under canonical sanctions and Francis actively lifted or ignored them – was (at best) a huge exaggeration or (worse) a giant whopper. There were no canonical sanctions.

That being the case, it’s not entirely clear what we are trying to get to the bottom of, anymore. How cozy Francis was to McCarrick? How many rumors he knew, and when? Whether there is something in an archive somewhere that documents that someone gave a verbal suggestion to McCarrick to lay low – and then for concrete proof that Francis knew about it?

It’s likely that we will never know the truth with complete certainty. With regards to answers that will confirm Viganò’s testimony, I doubt we will see much. I am skeptical that opening up the files (such as they are) will reveal all that much more than what is already known.

What we might find is a paper trail that fills in some of the missing details about how Cardinal McCarrick rose to prominence. For example, CNS recently unearthed proof that the Vatican was informed of allegations against Archbishop McCarrick in 2000. We must remember, however, that Ramsey himself didn’t substantiate the accusations, he just brought the rumors to the attention of the Vatican and the nunciature. Despite the seriousness of the allegations, for whatever reason, no thorough investigation was made at the time. How McCarrick avoided discipline or sanctions at every turn remains a mystery. And all of this happened long before Francis became pope.

Meanwhile, Francis’s critics will keep turning their wheels and demanding answers about… something. In these circles, Viganò will continue to be lauded as a brave and honorable man. They don’t want answers, they want to take down a pope.

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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Polarized over the pope, Viganò style

12 Responses

  1. Anne Lastman says:

    Hello Mike, my question to those who would wish to bring down the Pope is this
    If you bring down Pope Francis then elect a new pope, then we will have 3 living Peters. Does that sound and look right? Was the original Peter part of triplets? Did Jesus appoint one Peter and two runners up?
    Much more serious did the Holy Spirit make a mistake when he influenced the conclave Cardinals to elect Francis?
    Those who seek to have this pope dismissed should remember the words of Jesus “all sins can be forgiven but sins against the Holy Spirit will not”.

  2. Pat says:

    Pope Francis has not remained silent. He has not denied the accusations, although is should seem obvious he would know whether they are true or not. He has not remained silent… he has slandered Bishop Vigano and his associates, this morning likening them to the devil, the accuser of the apocalypse.

    Is it believable that the man who started his papacy with the lay of the gays attitude, and the labeling of everyone Pharisees would rehabilitate a man like Cardinal McCarrick. a man who he might have thought was being “as generous” as he could be in response to call to holiness? (AL style)Unfortunately, yes. Is it likely that even if it is proven that that is exactly what he did, any of his admirers will change their minds? or will they just come to the conclusion that he did the right thing? Unfortunately, I think we know the answer to that too.

    • jong says:

      Before you twisted the homily of Pope Francis
      Ask yourself the this one simple question?
      Is the Holy Spirit the one who inspired Arch.Vigano’s testimony or satan?
      Now, how can you answer this?
      Very simple, Pope Francis said let’s examine the testimony.
      What is the nature & content of Vigano’s testimony?
      The testimony contained narration of event but the heart of the testimony is the accusation to his brother prelates and dragging the names of the Vicar of Christ without a proof.
      Will the Holy Spirit inspire a clergy to accuse his brethren much more the Vicar of Christ?
      The nature of the testimony is accusatory.
      Who is the accuser in the bible?

      • bryan says:

        Paul admonished the bishops of the early Church. Was he the accuser?

      • jong says:

        Pope Francis again in his recent homily…said the Great Accuser is somehow unchained.
        The Great Accuser is roaming around Bishops to uncover their sins., satan is no respecter of persons
        sins of the past even confessed sins satan will unearth that to destroy the character of a person.

        In contrast, God is the opposite, why?
        In one apparition, the Bishop told the seer to ask God what is his greatest sin.
        The seer did what the Bishop had told, and then reported “God said, I don’t remember”
        So you see, when God forgives He forgets, while the devils will always bring the memoirs of our past sins.

        About St.Paul admonishing Bishops, did St.Paul act in goodwill? Yes!
        Can we say the same with Arch.Vigano, did he acted on goodwill or with bad intentions subjecting
        his brother prelates & Vicar of Christ to public trial & opinion.
        let’s ponder it..

      • Finbar Boyle says:

        You make good points Jong Thanks

  3. Denise V Gallegos says:

    Anyone who has tried to converse with a narcissist or bully knows that you cannot have a normal conversation with them. They will twist your words and throw them back at you. They want you to engage with them so they can bring you down with their hate. Pope Francis was wise not to engage with his haters.

    Silence is appropriate when you want to resign yourself to the Holy Spirit and wait for his guidance. Pope Francis took the humble and wise road. He knows who he is really accountable to – his Lord and the Holy Spirit – not hateful bishops and demanding women pope haters (I’m a women so I can say that).

    It has always been obvious to me that Pope Francis is very close to the Holy Spirit. He is doing the work that Jesus gave him to do regardless of who gets bent out of shape.

  4. Yae says:

    Thank you for a fine piece, Mike. You just affirmed what I have thought ever since Papa Francis decided to remain silent on the accusations made by Archbishop Vigano. I have read with much interest how some of his assertions have been picked apart so as to put much in question. Time will tell if he really is telling the truth. Like you say, we may never really truly know the truth especially since Benedict has also chosen to remain silent and I am sure some of the critics of the Holy Father were banking on his backing Vigano.

    If indeed, our Holy Father was informed by Vigano regarding McCarrick, let’s hope Vigano spoke honestly and let Papa Francis know “that someone or Benedict gave a verbal suggestion to McCarrick to lay low and not a formal sanction.”

    Until proven otherwise, I give the benefit of doubt to our Holy Father and not to the crowd who has made plain as day what they want, his resignation regardless of whether he is innocent or not. Their minds are already closed and made up.

  5. Finbar Boyle says:

    Does anyone know if Carlo Maria Viganò is related to Dario Edoardo Viganò the former director of Vatican TV?

  6. Lisa says:

    I have interpreted the silence surrounding Archbishop Vigano’s accusations, as well as his silence in answering Cardinal Burke and others as a lesson to all of us. We must learn to step back,and review the information before us before we speak and possibly slander someone. This is the Pope’s style. He does not talk about conversations he has had with others either. A great lesson for all of us!!It is a lesson in respect for others, kindness and restraint. I think, when in doubt, follow the kindness and avoid the big egos. This past week has certainly shown me who to follow. Thanks Mike for offering some insight.

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