Less than a week has passed since Archbishop Viganò’s bombshell testimony alleging that Pope Francis participated in covering up for sexually abusive Cardinal McCarrick and many questions remain that have not been answered.
In an 11-page letter released this past Sunday, Archbishop Viganò, former Nuncio from the Vatican to Washington, D.C., alleged that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been sanctioned under Pope Benedict XVI only to have those sanctions removed by Pope Francis upon his ascendancy in 2013. Cardinal McCarrick had an alleged history of sexually abusing male seminarians and, according to Viganò, was ordered by Pope Benedict to refrain from saying Mass or public ministry.
“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,” Archbishop Viganò wrote in his memo.
Pope Francis has chosen to remain silent regarding the allegations while Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, the first counsellor at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. when the sanctions were allegedly handed down to McCarrick, said flatly that Viganò “said the truth” in his letter. No hard evidence beyond testimony and witness have been provided, though Viganò did say the proof of him being informed of those sanctions can be found “in the archives in the nunciature in Washington.”
Since the letter’s release, the mainstream Catholic press has worked tirelessly to discredit the former Nuncio’s claims by pointing out that Cardinal McCarrick enjoyed a robust public life in the waning years of Pope Benedict’s reign, which makes little sense if he had sanctions placed upon him. Viganò countered the criticism, however, by noting that McCarrick openly defied the sanctions placed upon him, which would explain why he made regular public appearances in the D.C. archdiocese and other corners of the Catholic Church.
Speaking with Edward Pentin of National Catholic Register, a “reliable source” close to Pope Benedict who wished to remain anonymous confirmed that the pope did place sanctions upon Cardinal McCarrick (the details of which were disclosed privately) and the disgraced prelate regularly disobeyed them. From the report:
The source said the allegations of abuse of seminarians by McCarrick, now 88, were “certainly something known” to Benedict. And, he said, “Certainly, it was known that McCarrick was a homosexual, that was an open secret, all were very aware of that.” (However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that Church authorities either in the Vatican or in the U.S. were aware of any allegations of sexual abuse of minors by McCarrick until long after Benedict had resigned as Pope.)
But, as mentioned in the Register’s initial report on the testimony on Aug. 25, the Pope Emeritus was “unable to remember very well” how the matter was handled, according to the source. As far as Benedict could recall, the source said the instruction was essentially that McCarrick should keep a “low profile.” There was “no formal decree, just a private request.”
The source also noted that, after he had retired as Archbishop of Washington D.C., McCarrick continued to be “very able” and “influential at high levels — ecclesiastical, cultural and political” and so could ignore the sanctions imposed upon him.
“Effectively, he was able not to hear what he had to hear,” the source said.
Other outlets have pointed to photos of Cardinal McCarrick alongside Pope Benedict in Rome to disprove the Nuncio’s testimony, but the source claims that McCarrick “knew better not to appear here in Rome,” though he would visit on occasion due to his level of influence “even though he had no permission.” McCarrick would make requests for a private papal audience but was denied every time.
Some have claimed that Pope Benedict had McCarrick participate in talks with China during the years of his supposed sanctions to contradict the Nuncio, but the Holy See in China claims he had “absolutely no influence” there for at least the past five years.
The question that now remains is what were the extent of the sanctions placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict and why were they so private? Also, if he broke them so often, why did the pope not place tougher penalties? The source told NCR: “As well as being very active, the media and public opinion didn’t speak any more about McCarrick, and sometimes it’s better if something is sleeping to let it sleep,” noting that it was important to be “very careful and prudent with McCarrick.”
A recent article in LifeSiteNews also showed that proof of the sanctions being lifted against Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Francis was at least hinted at in a June 2014 Washington Post piece headlined, “Globe-trotting Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is almost 84, and working harder than ever.” The article suggested that the Cardinal had been sidelined under Benedict.
“McCarrick is one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI,” the Post piece states. “But now Francis is pope, and prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper (another old friend of McCarrick’s) and McCarrick himself are back in the mix, and busier than ever.”
At one point, the article even highlighted a joke that supposedly took place between Pope Francis and McCarrick about how the the devil wasn’t ready for the Cardinal in hell. The bizarre exchange is used as an introduction to “the improbable renaissance that McCarrick (was) enjoying” under Francis.
“I guess the Lord isn’t done with me yet,” he told the pope.
“Or the devil doesn’t have your accommodations ready!” Francis shot back with a laugh.
McCarrick loves to tell that story, because he loves to tell good stories and because he has a sense of humor as keen as the pope’s. But the exchange also says a lot about the improbable renaissance that McCarrick is enjoying as he prepares to celebrate his 84th birthday in July (2014).
The Post article noted that McCarrick had been traveling abroad at a much faster rate following the ascendancy of Pope Francis. “Sometimes McCarrick’s travels abroad are at the behest of the Vatican, sometimes on behalf of Catholic Relief Services,” says the piece. “Occasionally the U.S. State Department asks him to make a trip.”
“But Francis, who has put the Vatican back on the geopolitical stage, knows that when he needs a savvy back channel operator he can turn to McCarrick, as he did for the Armenia trip,” it added.
If that’s not proof enough of his censure under Benedict, the article recounts how McCarrick was “sort of spinning his wheels under Benedict. Then Francis was elected, and everything changed.”