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