Two important stories broke on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, depending on where you are), and journalists and commentators around the globe have weighed in from all angles.

There’s the story, and then there’s the story of the story.

The first story is the most readily obvious: an 11-page “Testimony,” authored by retired Archbishop and former US Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò, was released on the eve of the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families. The document alleges, among other charges, that in 2009 or 2010, formal (but secret) sanctions against Cardinal McCarrick were issued. It states:

“Pope Benedict had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis: the Cardinal 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.”

Later in the document, he states that he told Pope Francis about the existence of these sanctions in a June 2013 meeting, therefore making Francis an accessory to the cover up:

“The Pope learned about it from me on June 23, 2013 and continued to cover for him. He did not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him and made him his trusted counselor along with Maradiaga.”

Finally, he calls upon Pope Francis to resign:

“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis 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.”

In the “testimony,” he implicates a number of prelates and other officials (which includes himself, if he is speaking the truth) who were complicit in the silence about McCarrick’s crimes and ignored the sanctions.

Francis did not directly respond to the charges, instead asking professional journalists to investigate the accusations and come to their own conclusions. Indeed they have begun to do so. And many of Viganò’s assertions are simply not holding up. For example, Cindy Wooden of CNS reports on a number of instances between 2009 and 2013 where McCarrick appeared in public with either Viganò or Pope Benedict, where they greeted each other warmly and showed no signs of animosity or uncomfortability with each other.

I was an eyewitness to one of his major public appearances during this timeframe, and I alluded to it in a post I wrote over two months ago: McCarrick participated in the October 2011 diaconate ordination at North American College in Rome, which I attended. He concelebrated the ordination Mass alongside the then-prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Levada (who Viganò also alleged to have known about the sanctions) and even served as the main celebrant of the week’s closing Mass at North American College. He was treated as an honored guest, and was his charming, jovial self.

I understand that the counter-argument is that McCarrick “flaunted” the alleged sanctions against him, but it’s hard to imagine that he would be brazen enough to walk straight up to Viganò and even Pope Benedict himself and embrace them in public without fear of consequences. If the charges are true, after such brazen defiance of these sanctions by McCarrick, Viganò and the pope emeritus are both guilty for not taking further action or making these sanctions public.

I am not questioning whether Archbishop Viganò believes his narrative, but common sense and — most importantly — the facts aren’t lining up with his account.


The second news item that broke at the same time time was this: that Archbishop Viganò, in coordination with some Italian journalists and bloggers, English Vatican reporter (for the NC Register) Edward Pentin, Lifesite News writers Diane Montagna and John-Henry Westen, Napa Institute founder Tim Busch, and a number of other avowed papal critics, launched an explosive attack on Pope Francis on the eve of the closing Mass of an extremely sensitive trip to the World Meeting of Families in Ireland.

That the main players in creating and releasing this “testimony” are serious critics of Pope Francis and his papacy cannot be denied. That Viganò and friends have been unable or unwilling to produce documentary evidence of these sanctions or what, precisely, they were leads to further questions.

Critics of Pope Francis (indeed, the opinions on this issue line up perfectly with the division between the Holy Father’s supporters and detractors) insist that questioning the integrity of Viganò, his reliability, or the degree to which his partisan feelings about Francis might have influenced his testimony is a sign of partisan bias. They say that his charges are serious and that they should be the focus, not him or his credibility.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Those who worked with Viganò to produce and promote his “testimony” are not unbiased, nor are their intentions pure. This isn’t a secret: these are the same detractors who have promoted Cardinal Burke and his dubia; they have sponsored or participated in conference after conference after conference dedicated to undermining Francis’s credibility and authority; and they’ve openly defied Francis on Amoris Laetitia, Laudato Si’, and his revision to the Catechism on the death penalty. Any honest observer must acknowledge that they have tried to thwart or undermine the teaching of Pope Francis since the beginning. This does not mean that the allegations are necessarily untrue, but that their veracity must be tested by those who do not have such a clear agenda against Pope Francis.

It is fair to question whether these detractors are truly concerned about justice for the victims of sexual abuse by the clergy, or if they are motivated by their desire to undermine and destroy this papacy. For the sake of the Church, Archbishop Viganò’s claims must be investigated and the truth must be revealed. That said, Viganò’s letter is also a power play that has caused more rifts in an already polarized Church. It almost guarantees that any future investigation will be tainted by the cloud of partisanship and politics. This is unfair to the survivors of sexual abuse and to all the faithful. That said, if the end result of all this is an investigation that brings the truth to light, then some good may come from it.

Anyone who is not taking Viganò’s document with a huge grain of salt is either showing their bias or is unaware of the forces at play. We would do well to wait for professional journalists to test these allegations before accepting them as true. In the meantime, the rest of us have work to do. There are victims that need help, support, love – and a voice. Let’s not take that away from them to score political points.

Image: Cardinal Viganò (third from the right) at the Rome Life Forum. Cardinal Burke is fourth from the right. Lifesite News cofounders John-Henry Westen and Steve Jalsevac are at the far right.

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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.

Yes, the background is relevant: Behind Viganò’s “Testimony”

15 Responses

  1. Denise V Gallegos says:

    Check out a very good post by Mark Shea at Pathos which will shed light on the”testismony”.

  2. David Armitage says:

    Yes, a very good article with good links which highlights what I have only now started to realize. That the big players in Catholic media are very much together in trying, in varying degrees, to undermine Pope Francis. Sadly EWTN has to be included in this group with its ‘papal posse’ triumvirate of papal critics. Mother Angelica must be turning in her grave with what is happening to her creation. The National Catholic Reporter website seems to be genuinely independent of this group. They have used videos from the Catholic News Service which has now gone up in my estimation!

  3. Chris dorf says:

    As of course written several opinion pieces criticizing what date term is the Progressive Church that they call hypocritical they claim will not respond to this accusation. If Cardinal Burke and his group of Catholics and wanted to stir the kettle they sure have. I am having non Catholics come up and yelling about this problem. I’ve had a retired priest to throw up his arms and ask when will all this mudslinging end. To have sexual abuse criticized for ideological ends does not seem ethical.

  4. jong says:

    Your correct, the same known opposition group and people who are now in the front line again to undermine the papacy of Pope Francis.
    It seems, with all they failed attempt their objective of oustering the Pope is still very much alive.
    But the Wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI outwit their agenda.
    Satan & his human cohorts are all noisy and desperate to take over the Chair of Peter at all cost.
    If this ploy won’t work after massive media deceptions, the next step as St.John Paul II predicts is bloody martyrdom for all the faithfuls.
    Satan is armed with the power granted to him in 1884 to destroy the Church, but what satan doesn’t know or he knows but doesn’t care
    is the Seat of Peter is the perfect place for the Woman to appear to crush his ugly & proud head infront of all the demons & evil human cohorts.
    This War, Final Confrontation is already concluded in Fatima.
    In the End My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph, but it will only triumph on the side of all the Clergy & faithfuls loyal to Pope & Church Magisterium.
    Obedience to the Father’s Will in CCC675 will purified the Church and it’s death will emerge a glorious & resurrected Church devoid of disobedient clergy who initiates opposition, rebellion & division.
    We are blessed to have two great Popes, one offering a life of prayer & sacrifices and Pope Francis battling the church enemies upront.
    Stay in the ark.
    God bless

  5. Jonathan Adams says:

    This is a very long post. I actually like Cardinal Burke, but I think he needs to immediately withdraw his calls for Pope Francis’s resignation and apologize (he should also withdraw the Dubia while he’s at it). Trad-minded Catholics should ask themselves if similar accusations where made against Burke or Sarah would they believe them or would they believe that Burke or Sarah (or insert trad clergy) would have willingly aided the abusers. I wouldn’t and if I wouldn’t believe Burke or Sarah would do it, then I absolutely should give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, because he’s the pope and “the First See is judged by no one”.

    I find it bizarre that these same trads that discuss conspiracies about the St. Gallen/Lavender Mafia and the assassination of various trad priests (like Fr. Hardon) do not even consider the possibility that Pope Francis could have been coerced even if they assume the facts of Vigano’s testimony.

    I do not believe Burke is the mastermind behind a plot to remove Francis, but his support for Pope Francis’s resignation will ultimately haunt him (and very likely end his career) if he does not turn back. I personally think he is going to get backstabbed himself, as he is inadvertently supporting such a low standard of proof that even he will be implicated. And if Pope Francis does resign, the fallout will be so bad that trads will consider the fallout from Lefebvre’s consecrations to be less severe.

    Unfortunately, Cardinal Burke and other trad-minded Catholics like him are focused on the pre-Vatican 1 writings of various Saints written during the early Protestant Reformation where various saints and even a pope were anxious about the possibility of a Protestant-sympathetic pope. Thus these saints and other theological writers discussed various ways in which popes could be removed without violating the famous law “the first See is judged by no one” as well as possible situations in which it is licit to resist a pope. Burke and trads that follow him may not be full on “recognize and resisters” from the SSPX perspective (they consider the Ordinary Form part of the Roman Rite for example), but they seem to be drifting closer and closer during this time.

    There are trads that argue that Vatican I and the Syllabus of Errors put the kibosh on resisting a pope’s orders and the possibility of removing one… but for the most part they are sedevacantists, and they make those arguments to “recognize and resisters” in order to convince them that the popes past Pius XII (sometimes John XXIII) could not possibly be valid popes. I do not recommend you visit trad forums, but one can see there how the sedevacantists and “recognize and resisters” seem to reinforce each other in there respective errors.

    The only sedeplentist (that’s what we are: the seat is filled) trad writer that argues that Vatican 1 put the kibosh on the possibility of ever removing a pope or resisting a pope is James Larson (though I cannot recommend his website). His book War Against the Papacy—originally written during the pontificate of St. John Paul II—is very good and he goes through rebutting all of usual traditionalist talking points such as the anathema of Popes Honorious, the correction of John XXII, etc. from a traditionalist perspective, though he may not be everyone’s cup of tea—for example he does not like NFP.

    As a final thought, I admit that I wish the writers on this site where more trad-minded, but I cannot really complain as many trad-minded Catholics, or at least the most vocal, have continually set themselves up to be hostile against most of the hierarchy of the church, even during more “conservative” pontificates. If traditionalism is to gain ground again, then trad-minded Catholics need to show more respect for the authority of the Pope (the Pope as Pope cannot be bound by the statements of Pope Pius V against altering the Roman Rite and he cannot be prevented from giving others permission to modify the Roman Rite; “ambiguous statements” should be interpreted in the Pope’s favor, etc.) and also more respect for the authority of even not-trad-friendly bishops.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Hi Jonathan, thank you for your post. I also doubt Burke is the mastermind, but by courtesy of his red hat is a very important/useful cog in their wheel.

      I tend to agree that Vatican I closed the door on the idea of removing a pope (or even declaring him to be in doctrinal error), and subsequent magisterial documents back this up. I will have to look at Larson’s book.

      Finally, regarding traditionalism, you might be surprised where our writers line up liturgically; while I don’t identify as a traditionalist I know that some of our writers are are trad-minded. Pete Vere, who recently left us, is a self-identified traditionalist (former SSPX) who co-wrote the book “More Catholic than the Pope.”

      Thank you for your reflection.

    • M. says:

      Burke did aide and cover up abuse as a bishop. just saying.

      Link contained within the article.

  6. Chris dorf says:

    … and here is an article that was posted by Robert Moynihan from inside the Vatican

  7. Finbar Boyle says:

    If the “testimony” was a genuine attempt to right a wrong, why wait till such a sensitive time to publish it?

    • Chris dorf says:


    • Yaya says:

      Maximum aim was to embarrass, undermine, catch the Holy Father off guard.

      That’s the impression that all of this has given me.

      I’m praying Papa Francis is cleared if all charges that have been lobbied at him. I am also praying for those who are salivating at the thought that he will buckle under pressure.

      He’s an old school Jesuit, as stubborn as they come. May he endure and bunker down at the foot of The Cross until the end.

      Let us keep his arms raised up towards heaven by our hope, by our prayer much like they did for Moses when he went into battle.

      If guilty as charged (after a fair and detailed investigation) Papa Francis will know what to do.

      In God’s holy hands may all of this be resolved.

  8. bryan says:

    I can’t help but become sick to my stomach over this whole mess, and the blind support of Pope Francis amidst this overwhelming scandal. All the articles I’m reading on this sight (and the comments) regarding the scandal focus on McCarrick, and who knew what.

    Have you not read any of the other news stories related to this? The PA report was disgustingly detailed. That’s just one state out of 50. Rampant abuse and cover ups are going to be dug up across the United States and the world. Just today another report released in Germany (is it going to cast a negative shadow on the German Sheppard?) is far worse than the PA report, and that investigation was “controlled” by the German Bishops. Imagine how bad it could have been if the investigation was truly independent? How many victims and lost souls?

    It’s gone on too long. To think that ANY of the Pope’s in recent years hasn’t known about all this is laughable. No one at the top is doing ANYTHING about it, and we’re all arguing over whether Vigano’s report is accurate or not. SHAME! Who cares what Vigano said, and who knew. We all know what has been going on, and that there are MANY bishops/archbishops/cardinals involved. Pope Francis is the Chair of Peter. If he’s not going to clean up our Church, then he isn’t acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Under great protest from the laity, Franics has finally called for a meeting of the Conference leaders to address the scandal – in FEBRUARY. Seriously? How about before Advent? How about AS SOON AS POSSIBLE??? Sorry folks, but a true shepherd takes responsibility for the entire flock.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      You make a lot of charges here. First of all, I know that it sounds like forever, but to coordinate a meeting of all of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in the world isn’t something that can be pulled off overnight. The pope is meeting with the USCCB leadership this week, so let’s not pretend he’s doing something. He wants to get the world involved.

      Secondly, my piece was specifically about the Viganò letter, what it charges, and what motivated it. Yes, I have read much of the Grand Jury report. I have written on it.

      This website was created in large part to address the polarization surrounding Pope Francis, so I won’t apologize for looking at the Viganò story and analyzing it from that angle.

      • Bryan says:

        First off, I wasn’t commenting specifically towards you Mike. More of a general observation after reading several of the articles and lots of comments on this specific site. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy many of the articles at, but as of late, it seems to be a Francis love fest, while he’s being far too silent and slow moving to react to this wave of disgust and distrust within the Church. What charges aren’t valid? Just read the headlines on any good Catholic news site.

        It’s 2018. He’s the Pope. He certainly can call a meeting quicker than February of 2019. If the CEO of Microsoft (or any multinational billion dollar organization) was unhappy about a serious incident occurring within its ranks, I guarantee the heads of the effected regions would either be on a video meeting or at HQ in person within a week. If it takes the Bishops until February to clear up time in their calendars to deal with this crisis swiftly, then perhaps there IS a bit of a clericalism/self importance issue.

        Here we go again today with another Bishop (WV) in the headlines. At least he’s manning up and stepping down. Time for any of his guilty or complacent brothers to follow suit. Let’s get some true holy men to replace them. I nominate Fr. Patrick Lewis!

      • Mike Lewis says:

        I think my own reading of Francis (and that of this site, generally) is to give the most charitable reading of his actions, within reason.

        Yes, February does seem unreasonably far off, but having worked for the Church, and having had to wait on the Vatican for approval for various things, I know that things happen at a glacial pace. My point is that it’s not great, but it’s likely not deliberately stalling, either.

        Yes – I agree that it would be much less frustrating if he would just come out and fix stuff quickly. I just don’t assign nefarious motives to him.

        And PS – I think Fr Patrick would un-nominate himself if that happened 😉

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