Responding to Pope Francis’ request that journalists do their job regarding allegations that he covered up for a sexually abusive Cardinal, the mainstream press has spent the entire week investigating the Holy Father’s accuser as opposed to the accusation.
Ever since Archbishop Viganó, the former Nuncio from the Vatican to the United States, unleashed his explosive 11-page letter to the world accusing Pope Francis of lifting sanctions implemented by Pope Benedict XVI on the allegedly abusive Cardinal McCarrick, The New York Times and several other mainstream news outlets have painted Viganó as a bigoted conservative Catholic with a political vendetta against the Pope. No matter the spin, the question remains: are the allegations true? Here are some of the key facts:
1.) Sanctions of some kind were put in place against Cardinal McCarrick. Though the exact details of the sanctions remain unknown, a source close to Pope Emeritus Benedict did confirm to the National Catholic Register that Cardinal McCarrick had been censured by Pope Benedict as McCarrick’s alleged abuse of seminarians became known. For reasons not yet fully understood, Pope Benedict issued “no formal decree, just a private request,” according to the source, who noted that it was important to be “very careful and prudent with McCarrick.”
“It was known that McCarrick was a homosexual; that was an open secret; all were very aware of that,” the source told NCR reporter Edward Pentin. “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.”
2.) Pope Benedict had issued private sanctions once before. As noted by Philip Lawler of First Things, Pope Benedict had previously issued private sanctions against Father Marcial Maciel of the Legionaries of Christ, so his actions were not exactly without precedent. “Learning that Maciel had led a scandalous double life, Benedict ordered him to a private life of penance; only later did the Vatican acknowledge the full extent of Maciel’s perfidy,” writes Lawler.
At that point in time, no evidence existed that McCarrick had abused minors. One could make the argument that Benedict exercised poor judgment by privately sanctioning McCarrick to avoid public scandal, but he did take action, or at the very least, severely lowered his stature. More on that in a moment.
3.) Cardinal McCarrick regularly disobeyed his sanctions. The mainstream Catholic press has worked tirelessly to discredit Viganó’s testimony by pointing to the fact that 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. However, as Archbishop Viganò and the source close to Benedict have asserted, McCarrick openly defied the sanctions placed upon him. This explains why the Cardinal would appear at various functions in D.C. and other corners of the Church throughout that time period. Keep in mind, McCarrick was a man of immense prestige and influence; it is entirely conceivable that after being told to “keep a low profile,” as the source close to Benedict claims, the Cardinal went about his business with virtually no pushback. Viganó also asserted that McCarrick’s powerful friends in Rome, such as Cardinal Sodano, saw to it that such sanctions were not strictly enforced.
If there is perhaps one Achilles heel to Viganó’s testimony on this, it is the video of him attending the Pontifical Mission Societies gala in 2012, six months after the supposed sanctions were allegedly known to him, in which he expressly honored McCarrick in a speech, even going as far to say that the Cardinal was “very much loved by us all.” See below:
In his defense, Viganó has stated he was strictly following protocol as Nuncio, which gave him no authority to enforce the sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick. Such actions were in the jurisdiction of D.C. Cardinal Wuerl, whom Viganó says undermined Pope Benedict’s order.
“I was just at the beginning of my mission and no one knew about the measure,” the former Nuncio told NCR. “Wuerl and McCarrick knew, because I’d already told McCarrick repeatedly about this measure taken by Pope Benedict, but I couldn’t make the slightest impression that I had something against the cardinal in public.”
“So as usual on these occasions, I made an appreciation, everybody loves you and so on, but this doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t prove anything,” he said.
4.) Cardinal McCarrick was sidelined by Pope Benedict and elevated by Pope Francis. Regardless of whether or not the sanctions against McCarrick were properly enforced, the record shows that Pope Benedict had severely limited the disgraced Cardinal’s influence in Rome only to have his influence resurrected under Pope Francis. In fact, both the National Catholic Reporter and The Washington Post published a glowing piece that celebrated McCarrick’s rise in the age of Pope Francis.
“McCarrick is one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI,” the piece emphatically stated. “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 … [McCarrick] was sort of spinning his wheels under Benedict. Then Francis was elected, and everything changed.”
At one point, the article even highlighted a joke that supposedly took place between Pope Francis and McCarrick about how 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 article also 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,” said 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.
The Catholic Herald also noted that McCarrick enjoyed more freedom in the United States under Pope Francis. “As one of Rod Dreher’s correspondents has noted, from 2001-06 McCarrick attended each ‘Cardinals Dinner’ hosted by the Catholic University of America,” they report. “Then in 2007-12 he abruptly stopped. But in 2013, after Francis became Pope, McCarrick became a regular attendee once more. That roughly matches Viganò’s story.”
Add to the fact that “everybody knew” about McCarrick’s behavior toward seminarians, as the source close to Pope Benedict claims, then it becomes difficult to imagine that Pope Francis did not know the truth of McCarrick’s character upon elevating him. Viganò claims he informed Francis of a dossier “this thick” detailing the Cardinal’s deviant lifestyle, but that exchange remains unsubstantiated as of now — his word against the Pope’s.
5.) Not only did Pope Francis elevate McCarrick, he made him a close adviser. In his letter, Viganó alleges that Cardinal McCarrick aided the Pontiff in two key bishop appointments: Blase Cupich to Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin to Newark as well as several others. In fact, the former Nuncio says that 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.” According to the Catholic Herald, the facts “broadly” support Viganó’s claim. From their report:
The well-connected Vatican journalist Rocco Palmo, of Whispers in the Loggia, wrote in 2016 that “Francis is said to revere [McCarrick] as ‘a hero’ of his.’ Palmo has also corroborated the idea of McCarrick as kingmaker, reporting that
“In mid-Sept 2016, Card McCarrick wrote a letter to the Pope … seeking the appointment of Joe Tobin to Newark; 2 sources w/direct knowledge of it told Whispers shortly thereafter. To that point in the process, Tobin’s name hadn’t figured …”
Palmo has stood by his reporting despite what he calls “thuggish and almost unbelievable” attempts to make him renounce it.
Another Vatican journalist, Sandro Magister, reported at the time of Cupich’s appointment as Archbishop of Chicago: “The appointment of Cupich is thought to have been recommended to the Pope with particular enthusiasm by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga and above all by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington.”
6.) Pope Francis has a history of treating abusive prelates with kid gloves at best or elevating them at worst. Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review thoroughly explored this troubling behavior:
There was the case of “Don Mercedes,” an Italian priest who sexually assaulted minors in the confessional. Francis rehabilitated him under the advice of his cardinal advisers, until reporters exposed it and he was cast out.
Then there was the saga in Chile, where Francis lashed out at victims’ groups before finally authorizing a proper investigation of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, whom he had appointed, over protests, in 2015.
Francis’s close adviser Cardinal Maradiaga is under pressure for tolerating a culture of sexual harassment at a seminary in Honduras.
Francis also invited to the Synod on the Family the liberal lion and notorious figure Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who had tried to silence a person he knew with moral certainty was the victim of sexual abuse by his priest-uncle. Later found to be negligent generally on the matter of clerical abuse, Danneels was thought to favor the election of Bergoglio to the papacy.
The record of Francis’s pontificate is such that it is easier than it should be to credit the accusation that he would knowingly rehabilitate a progressive but morally dissolute cardinal and grant him greater influence in the Church.
7.) One witness has gone on the record to publicly support Viganó. Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, the former first counsellor at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C., said flatly that Viganò “said the truth” in his letter. Several high-ranking prelates have also testified to Viganó’s respectable character. The head of the U.S. Bishops Conference has also issued no defense of Pope Francis and even called for an open investigation.
Pope Francis has chosen to remain silent.
In conclusion, Viganó’s testimony certainly holds up to scrutiny, no matter how much his enemies seek to impugn his motives or criticize his past handling of sex abuse cases, which he has already addressed. Regardless, no conclusive evidence has been presented beyond testimony and witnesses. For the public to know the truth, the former Nuncio made clear in his letter that the proof of those sanctions can be found “in the archives in the nunciature in Washington.”
Without those documents, the evidence still remains circumstantial.