As Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the Catholic Church's child abuse scandals in Ireland this weekend, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apolistic Nuncio to the United States, released an 11-page letter accusing him of covering up for American Archbishop and College of Cardinals member Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last July amidst allegations that he had sexually abused children for more than 40 years.
In the letter, Viganò writes that Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, had taken action against McCarrick, banning him from living in seminary, traveling to give lectures, or publicly celebrating Mass. He asked Viganò's opinion of McCarrick, to which he replied that they had "a dossier this thick about him." Viganò then goes on to claim that Francis did nothing to discipline McCarrick, seeking his advice for which Archbishops to appoint to the United States, and ignoring his predecessor's restrictions on the now-disgraced Archbishop. He concludes:
"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."
These words sent earthquakes through the Vatican this weekend, as it is unusual for officials within the Church hierarchy to criticize the Pope in such terms. What's more, if Francis obeyed this stern order, he and Benedict would be the first two popes to consecutively resign in history. But those who want to jump on the anti-Francis bandwagon in the midst of this scandal may want to consider the source, as Viganò is less reliable than he appears.
The Controversy about the Controversy
For starters, if Benedict ever did place sanctions on McCarrick, there is no proof that he obeyed them. Ample documentation exists of him performing Mass and representing the Church as an Ambassador in foreign countries. There is even video of him appearing with the former Pope upon his resignation in 2013. Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich of Chicago, accused in the letter of receiving his appointment with McCarrick's consultation, attacked the validity of Viganò's claims, asking, “How can you have secret restrictions? What does that mean? Why didn’t he tell us this? Why didn’t he enforce it?”
Homophobia the clue?
But more importantly, the letter reflects the schism that has developed within the Catholic Church over Francis's progressivism, with conservative cardinals digging in their heels, opposing his acceptance of homosexuality. Viganò himself is responsible for one of the most disgraceful events in recent papal history. During Francis's 2015 visit to the United States, he met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk whose 15 minutes of fame came when she refused to grant same-sex wedding licenses to gay couples. The move surprised liberals, who had praised him for his progressive stances on gay rights. Later, however, it was revealed that Francis knew almost nothing about Davis before meeting her and that the meeting had been arranged by Viganò, who is strongly anti-gay. The incident was a key factor in his resignation as Nuncio in 2016.
Viganò's letter is tinged with homophobia all throughout, as he claims Francis told him in their initial meeting that U.S. bishops "must not be left wing, and when I say left-wing, I mean homosexual." He accuses his allies of belonging to "the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality," and frames the abuse crisis as revolving around homosexuality, while Francis calls it "a symptom of a culture of privilege and imperviousness."
While it's certainly right to hold the Pope's feet to the fire regarding the abuse scandals, it is difficult to side with conservatives like Viganò, who stand against the steps the Church has made towards liberalism. Francis himself told reporters about the letter, "read that statement attentively and make your own judgment." As more details emerge, it would be wise to heed his words and refrain from aligning with meddlers like Carlo Maria Viganò.