On Sunday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, called for the resignation of Pope Francis in an 11-page statement published by several conservative Catholic media outlets. In the 7,000-plus word screed, Viganò claimed Pope Francis knew since 2013 that American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick “was a serial predator” and “a corrupt man” whom the Pope “covered for … to the bitter end.”
In July, Cardinal McCarrick , who was archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2006, was removed from public ministry after a U.S. church investigation found an allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy to be “credible and substantiated”. Though he maintains his innocence, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, the first cardinal to do so over sexual abuse allegations. Since then, several other accusers, including former seminary students, have come forward with their own abuse allegations against McCarrick.
Viganò released his statement as Pope Francis concluded a two-day visit to Ireland where he asked for forgiveness for “the failure of ecclesiastical authorities … to adequately address these repugnant crimes … [which remain] a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”
According to Viganò, those failures are Pope Francis’s cross to bear, and he “must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance … be the first to set a good example to Cardinals and Bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”
Viganò’s statement claimed that he informed Pope Francis of McCarrick’s alleged abuses in June 2013, just a few months after being chosen to replace Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Catholic Church.
“Holy Father, I don’t know if you know Cardinal McCarrick, but if you ask the Congregation for Bishops there is a dossier this thick about him,” Viganò recalled telling Pope Francis. “He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.”
Since at least 2000, the Holy See — the central government of the Catholic Church — had been informed of several abuse allegations against McCarrick, who retired as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2006, when he reached the standard age of 75. According to Viganò, in 2009 or 2010, Pope Benedict XVI sanctioned McCarrick to no longer celebrate mass or travel on behalf of the church. In his statement, Viganò wrote that Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, the former first counsellor at the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C., had told him that McCarrick’s reaction to the sanctions was “stormy.”
Viganò has accused Pope Francis of lifting restrictions on McCarrick shortly after Viganò informed him of the Cardinal’s alleged abuses, allowing him to travel on missions and appointing him as a Vatican intermediary in the US-Cuba talks in 2014. Viganò claimed he reached out to several Vatican officials in the spring of 2014 to find out if the restrictions were still being enforced and received no reply.
According to the New York Times, while Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia vouched for Viganò’s integrity, and Monsignor Lantheaume issued a brief statement saying Viganò had “told the truth,” other Church leaders have disputed his claim that McCarrick was sanctioned. The Times reports that there is no public record of the sanctions, nor is there evidence that McCarrick was ever adhering to any restrictions.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, an ally of Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Chicago, told the Times that he was not informed of any sanctions against McCarrick. Cupich, like Pope Francis, is one of several other members of the Catholic clergy that Viganò insisted must resign. But according to Cupich, as the Vatican’s ambassador (known as a “nuncio”) to the U.S., it would have been Viganò’s responsibility to inform the American bishops of any restrictions on McCarrick.
“How can you have secret restrictions? What does that mean?” Cardinal Cupich said to the Times. “Why didn’t he tell us this? Why didn’t he enforce it?”
Viganò has claimed that he did discuss the restrictions with McCarrick’s replacement as Archbishop in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl; Wuerl has since denied having any knowledge of the alleged sanctions.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, declined to confirm or deny Viganò’s allegations during a news conference on Sunday aboard the papal plane on its return to Rome.
“I will not say a single word about this,” Pope Francis said. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalistic ability to make your conclusions. It’s an act of trust.”
Pope Francis was perhaps referring to the fact that Viganò devoted much of the statement to waxing on about the “homosexual current” within the Vatican, a reflection of his conservative belief that gay people are to blame for the child sexual abuse crisis.
“These homosexual networks,” Viganò wrote, “which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire church.”
Viganò is aligned with a traditional, conservative faction of the Catholic Church that has been resistant to Pope Francis’s more modern, liberal approach to the papacy. There’s personal beef too; in 2016, following his trip to the U.S., Pope Francis removed Viganò from his position as nuncio, reportedly because Viganò had “almost ruined” the trip by orchestrating papal facetime for Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Not long after that, a criminal investigation revealed that, in 2014, Viganò had allegedly tried to squash a church inquiry into “homosexual behavior” by Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John C. Nienstedt.
Whatever the truth may be about who knew what and when, “the sexual abuse crisis is not about whether a bishop is a liberal or a conservative,” survivor Peter Isely told the Times, “it is about protecting children.”
“This is infighting between curia factions that are exploiting the abuse crisis and victims of clergy sexual abuse as leverage in the struggle for church power,” Isely said.