Last week, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — the former apostolic nuncio to the United States — published a new open letter, wherein the fugitive churchman welcomes the founding of the “International Movement of Russophiles.” I do not exaggerate when I describe it as the most astounding and bizarre public document created by this deeply troubled man to date. His letter — posted on the website of Italian traditionalist Marco Tosatti and delivered by email to subscribers of Robert Moynihan’s “Inside the Vatican” newsletter on March 16 — is a full-throated endorsement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, laden with new world order conspiracy theories and religious paranoia.

In it, Viganò, a man once lauded as “the best nuncio we’ve had thus far” by John Paul II biographer George Weigel — a man whose grasp on reality has also faded, albeit to a lesser degree — describes Russia as “the last bastion of civilization against barbarism, and gathers around it all those nations that do not intend to submit to the colonization of NATO, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and that heap of foundations that have as their purpose the indoctrination of the masses, the manipulation of information, the creation of ‘colored springs’ to destabilize governments legitimately elected and sow chaos, wars and misery as instrumentum regni.”

Viganò extols Russia as a bulwark against the antichrist and beacon of Christianity to the world. He even refers to Moscow as the “third Rome,” a concept popular with many Russian Orthodox, suggesting that Moscow is the premiere Christian See, following the fall of Rome and Constantinople. Viganò advances a populist pro-Russian vision wherein Putin’s regime is a friend to Christians around the world, including those of us who live in nations with governments that he believes are now controlled by a cabal of evil globalists.

Viganò continues:

The recent pandemic farce – conducted with criminal methods that I have not hesitated to denounce since the beginning of 2020 – has been followed by new emergencies – including the Ukrainian crisis – deliberately provoked with the aim of destroying the social and economic fabric of nations, decimating the world population, concentrating control in the hands of an oligarchy that no one has elected and that has perpetrated a real world coup d’état, for which sooner or later it will be called to answer before the world.

The theorists of this coup have names and faces, starting with George Soros, Klaus Schwab, and Bill Gates. Those who today declare that Russia is an enemy consider Europeans, Americans, Australians and Canadians as enemies and treat them as such, persecuting and impoverishing them. But while World Economic Forum emissaries in Western governments can legislate against the good of their own citizens and hold world leaders in the palm of their hands, regime change that has been successful in other nations has stopped at Russia’s borders. On the other hand, the electoral fraud of 2020 in the United States of America was also indispensable to prevent the confirmation of President Donald Trump, just as in 2013 the deep state and the deep church managed to get Pope Benedict XVI to resign and to elect a person pleasing to the New World Order, the Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

At a time when US Catholic bishops and media outlets are expressing worry over the possibility of a schism in Germany, perhaps it’s time for another public reminder that over two dozen US bishops vouched for Viganò’s character, with a large number praising his “integrity.”

Not a single one has, to my knowledge, publicly retracted his endorsement of the disgraced former nuncio who now proposes that Putin’s Russia is the last defense against “dangerous subversives whose declared purpose is the establishment of an infernal tyranny, in which hatred of God as well as hatred of man created in His image, illness, death, ignorance, poverty, violence, selfishness, and corruption reign supreme.” Viganò describes this as “the kingdom of the Antichrist” saying, “This Leviathan must be identified and combated, with an action that involves all free peoples, first of all by rejecting the programmatic points of the Agenda 2030 and the Great Reset with shared initiatives. We need an Anti-Globalist Alliance that returns to citizens the power that has been taken from them, and to nations the sovereignty eroded and ceded to the Davos lobby.”

Viganò the “Whistleblower”

In August 2018, Viganò published a 7,000-word “testimony” that accused high-ranking Vatican officials, including Pope Francis, of covering up sexual abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He concluded his testimony by calling on Pope Francis to resign. The document was published as the World Meeting of Families was being held in Dublin, presumably so that it would cause as much disruption as possible. When asked about the document on the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters to “read it yourselves carefully and make your own judgment.  I will not say a single word on this.  I believe the memo speaks for itself, and you are capable enough as journalists to draw your own conclusions.”

It should be noted that Viganò’s intervention came only after McCarrick’s crimes had been publicly exposed. By the time Viganò inserted himself into the narrative, McCarrick had already exited the college of cardinals (the first such departure in nearly a century) and was facing the canonical trial that would soon result in his laicization. Despite the sensationalism surrounding the surprise release of Viganò’s testimony, he did not provide documentation or evidence to support his claims.

Following the pope’s suggestion, journalists quickly debunked many of Viganò’s key assertions by comparing his claims to the publicly-available facts. Nevertheless, numerous US bishops publicly vouched for Viganò’s personal integrity, with many stating that they found his accusations credible. In the months and years that followed, Viganò’s unsubstantiated claims were defended by many Catholic media outlets, including ostensibly professional organizations like First Things, Catholic News Agency, EWTN, and the National Catholic Register.

Notably, some US bishops were not quick to support Archbishop Viganò’s testimony. Some, including Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington, Joseph Tobin of Newark, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, questioned the accuracy of Vigano’s accusations and noted the strong bias against the pope.

For example, the official statement from Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark decried the factual errors and the obvious ideological slant in the manifesto:

The Archdiocese of Newark and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. express shock, sadness and consternation at the wide-ranging array of allegations published by the former apostolic nuncio to the United States of America, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, which cannot be understood as contributing to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse.

The factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology of the “testimony” serve to strengthen our conviction to move ahead resolutely in protecting the young and vulnerable from any sort of abuse, while guaranteeing a safe and respectful environment where all are welcome and breaking down the structures and cultures that enable abuse.

Together with Pope Francis, we are confident that scrutiny of the claims of the former nuncio will help to establish the truth.

The Newark statement raises an important and crucial point: Viganò’s testimony wasn’t about sexual abuse. It wasn’t even about McCarrick. It wasn’t even (really) about Pope Francis. It was about revenge and about Carlo Maria Viganò’s ego. Following his return from the United States, he was effectively retired from official service to the Church. It was clear that he would never be made a cardinal as he had long hoped. His clerical career was over. And as the McCarrick Report would later make clear, during his career Viganò was just as complicit in the Church’s inaction towards McCarrick’s as anyone else, if not more. But when the allegations of McCarrick’s sexual abuse against a minor were made public in June 2018, Viganò seized a chance to become a power player once again. By publishing his testimony, Viganò and his enablers in the media exploited the sexual abuse crisis for their own ends. They got what they wanted: Viganò’s stature rose and his enablers launched an effective attack on the pope. Nevermind the serious damage they did to the Church and to the truth.

It should be noted that although the original testimony was taken seriously by many — admittedly, it may have been the least unhinged of his writings over the past five years — it was not free of conspiratorial language. For example, he suggested that under Pope Francis, McCarrick “had become the kingmaker for appointments in the Curia and the United States, and the most listened to advisor in the Vatican for relations with the Obama administration.” Later, he decried the widespread infiltration of “homosexual networks” that “act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.” He named many bishops, without evidence, of being part of this alleged network.

Since the publication of his letter, Archbishop Viganò’s rhetoric has become increasingly extreme. He has continued to speak out on a range of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the US presidential election, embracing the ideology and terminology of the QAnon phenomenon. Most of his former backers have quietly stepped away from publicly supporting him, with some — including Weigel and Pillar editor JD Flynnsuggesting an absurd “two Viganòs” theory, which claims that the once “serious” prelate has been replaced by a screwball ghostwriter. Viganò has forcefully denied this.

Viganò’s episcopal supporters

Back in 2020, following the release of the McCarrick report, The Tablet’s Christopher Lamb asked whether any of Viganò’s supporters among the bishops would make public statements retracting their support of the now-disgraced and clearly unbalanced former nuncio. This was met with silence.

Now, nearly two and a half years later, I repeat this question in light of his unhinged and dangerous views on world affairs and his advocacy for a regime that unjustly invaded another country and is responsible for the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions.

(The following excerpts are taken from the statements of some of these bishops. Note that I did not simply highlight statements regarding the seriousness of the charges or the need to investigate his claims, but those that went further, vouching for Viganò’s character or expressing the belief that his unsubstantiated accusations were credible.)

The Wanderer spoke to Cardinal Raymond Burke, reporting,

“We ought to take very seriously all that he has said,” as Vigano affirms that he has evidence. “To do otherwise is to be negligent.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt” that he did this for the good of the Church.
Cardinal Burke described the embattled former nuncio as “a person of the greatest integrity” and pointed to the number of U.S. bishops who have issued statements on Vigano’s behalf.
He called the ad hominem attacks on Vigano “completely inappropriate.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island said, “The allegations lodged by Archbishop Viganò involving Pope Francis are substantive, and need to be investigated in a prompt and just manner.” The “present impasse in the Church, unfolding on an international level, has caused confusion and division among the faithful.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said that Viganò “has revealed a set of facts and circumstances that are deeply troubling as they relate to the awareness, actions and inactions at the very highest levels of the Church.” Regarding Francis’s response, he said, “Frankly, but with all due respect, that response is not adequate.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix wrote, “I have always known and respected him as a man of truthfulness, faith and integrity … I ask that Archbishop Viganò’s testimony be taken seriously by all.”

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane: “The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination.” In a March 2019 interview with the Inlander, Daly expressed strong support for Viganò’s character, saying, “I think Viganò is a man of integrity. … To the ones [Viganò] spoke about, look at the way, they never address what he said. They just try to destroy him personally. I find that very troubling. I look at those guys who focus on what he raised, and not the person of Archbishop Viganò.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City wrote, “I have the deepest respect for Archbishop Viganó and his personal integrity.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange wrote, “Noting that the former second in command in the Apostolic Nunciature, Msgr. Jean Francois Lantheaume, has stated that Archbishop Viganò told ‘the truth,’ I would add that I see Archbishop Viganò as a man of integrity, having known him for many years.”

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote: “In my interactions with Archbishop Vigano I have found him to be a man of deep faith and integrity.”

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput’s spokesman relayed his endorsement of Viganò’s integrity: “A spokesperson for Archbishop Chaput said he believes Archbishop Viganò’s service as nuncio had been ‘marked by integrity to the church.’”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City wrote, “In my experience of Archbishop Vigano during his tenure as apostolic nuncio, he was a man of integrity.”

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone waxed on at length about Viganò’s character: “I can attest that he is a man who served his mission with selfless dedication, who fulfilled well the Petrine mission entrusted to him by the Holy Father to ‘strengthen his brothers in the faith,’ and who would do so at great personal sacrifice and with absolutely no consideration given to furthering his “career” – all of which speaks to his integrity and sincere love of the Church. Moreover, while having no privileged information about the Archbishop McCarrick situation, from information I do have about a very few of the other statements Archbishop Viganò makes, I can confirm that they are true. His statements, therefore, must be taken seriously. To dismiss them lightly would continue a culture of denial and obfuscation.”

Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Wichita, Kansas wrote of Viganò: “I always thought highly of his leadership and regarded him as someone whom the Church could be proud of in her service. … The allegations of such a respected bishop in the Church … demands such an investigation.”

Tulsa’s Bishop David Konderla remarked, “I count myself blessed that it was Archbishop Viganò who called me to tell me that I was appointed the fourth bishop of Tulsa. The allegations he details mark a good place to begin the investigations that must happen in order for us to restore holiness and accountability.”

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, was (of course) the most enthusiastic of the bishops who supported Viganò, ordering the priests of his diocese “to include this notice in the masses on August 26, and post it on their websites and other social media immediately.” He asserted, “Let us be clear that they are still allegations but as your shepherd I find them to be credible.”

Bishop Ralph Walker Nickless of Sioux City wrote, “I believe Archbishop Viganó and, at the same time, we need more information.”

There are more of these, but you get the hint. It should be noted that journalists immediately began discrediting Viganò and were debunking his central claims nearly as quickly as the bishops were able to make their official statements. But outlets like EWTN and bishops such as these continued to promote Viganò’s false charges until it became too embarrassing.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, was vindicated in maintaining silence because the errors in the testimony and Viganò’s lack of integrity (and sanity) were both revealed in due time.

Many of the bishops’ statements have been taken down quietly from the diocesan websites, but with no apologies to the pope or statements of regret for vouching for the “integrity” of an unhinged madman. There’s a certain irony in vouching for someone’s integrity, but then lacking the integrity to admit that one’s judgment was wrong. Those of us who stand with the Holy Father and care about justice will not forget.

Will any of these bishops ever muster the decency to apologize to the pope?

(Sources for quotes include: Faithful Shepherds and links provided there, The Wanderer, diocesan websites, LifeSiteNews.)

Updated March 21, 2023 to add Bishop Thomas Daly’s statements about Viganò in his interview with The Inlander. — ML

Image: Archbishop Viganò (cropped). Saint Joseph DSC_0022; via Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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