Make no mistake, we are living through a historic moment in the Church’s life.
I was deeply disturbed when I read the 11-page letter of the former Nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, in which he accuses Pope Francis and dozens of cardinals and bishops of having knowledge of the credible accusations and settlements resulting from the sexual abuses perpetrated by Theodore McCarrick.
Please read the entire letter if you have not.
If Abp. Vigano’s accusations against the pope and the cardinals he names are true, the proper response from the universal Church is outrage and the only responsible thing for the pope and guilty cardinals to do is resign.
I think the next steps here are simple: the claims made in the letter must be thoroughly investigated both by the secular and Catholic press and by competent ecclesiastical authorities (if, ahem, any have the fortitude to do so).
Already Bishop Joseph Strickland has instructed his priests this Sunday to read a letter from him saying he believes Abp. Vigano’s allegations are “credible” and calls for a “thorough investigation” into them. More bishops need to come forward and demand a full investigation into the facts and say what they know out loud, in public.
There is now a coordinated counter-effort underfoot to discredit Abp. Vigano and his accusations, both by progressive Catholics and the mainstream media (led, of course, by the New York Times). They are attempting to discredit the letter primarily by attacking Abp. Vigano.
Other, more objective people are asking legitimate questions that leave room for doubt when it comes to some of the specific timelines and facts that Abp. Vigano asserts.
Before I go any further, one important point: I don’t care who turns out to be guilty. Now, of course, I will be devastated to find out that bishops, cardinals, popes etc. that I thought were good men turn out to be fallen men, terrible men, evil men.
But no one is above the law of God.
Even if it turns out Pope Benedict is guilty, I will and must accept that truth.
Journalists, in particular Catholic journalists, have a responsibility to pursue this story wherever it leads, in an unbiased manner. Again, history will judge them by their deeds. And not reporting what you know to be true can be a sin of omission as well.
So, as a commentator, here are my reasons for believing Abp. Vigano’s accusations are credible:
- Abp. Vigano would have to be a mad man to fabricate all of this — maybe he is. But he is either crazy or telling the truth. Either the bulk of what he said is true, and he has to know that investigations will corroborate what he says, or he has to know investigations will contradict what he alleges, and if that turns out to be the case then … what’s the point? This will be the end of his career and he will rightfully be punished.
- Critics have asked, “Why did Abp. Vigano wait now to come forward?” Well, obviously, the crisis is now. Pope Francis’ statement in reaction to the twin stories of McCarrick’s abuse and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report has been to say nothing about the particular guilt of bishops. The pope has kept Cdl. Wuerl in his position, and has reportedly said he plans no further particular actions in response to the current crisis. It’s business as usual at the Vatican. If Abp. Vigano was waiting to see if Rome would act, he must have concluded it wouldn’t without someone speaking out as he has chosen to do.
- Critics point out that Abp. Vigano may be guilty or complicit in the cover up of abuse. That may be true too! Unfortunately the people with the most knowledge of the cover up and system of corruption are most likely part of it, to some degree. This doesn’t mean they should stay silent. Quite the opposite! Still, Abp. Vigano’s statement would carry more weight if he would have also pointed the finger at himself – but who knows, he could be innocent. Again, him releasing this letter puts more attention on himself and his past actions. If he has something to hide, it counts in favor of the letter’s authenticity that he would nevertheless publish it despite the fact that he may be implicated and face punishment himself as a direct consequence.
- His explanation provides the simplest explanation for how McCarrick, despite his widespread deviant, predatory behavior and multiple settlements, continued to have a public life in the Church — up to and including frequent encounters with seminarians (he was allowed to retire to a seminary, for heaven’s sake!). Simply put, it’s extremely unlikely that no one knew this whole time, and that ultimately the cover up was not only extended to the Vatican but emanated from it.
- Pope Francis’ non-denial denial statement on the flight back from Ireland almost confirms the veracity of some of Abp. Vigano’s accusations for the simple fact that if it was all or mostly untrue, why not just say that?
- The most valid criticism of Abp. Vigano’s letter is that it is well-known and well-documented that McCarrick continued to enjoy a public life in the church after the claimed sanctions of Pope Benedict were issued – up to and including Abp. Vigano concelebrating Mass with (among others) McCarrick and McCarrick greeting Pope Benedict at his last audience after he had announced his attention to resign. However, Abp. Vigano’s letter clearly states that Pope Benedict’s top lieutenants, including Cdls. Levada, Sodano and Bertone were part of the cover-up, and were not only filtering the information they passed on to him, but actively undermining him in other ways. Second, it’s no surprise that McCarrick would flout the sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict if he felt he had adequate protection from the cabal. Third, it would be no surprise if Abp. Vigano, aware of what was going on but outranked and with no place to go, would smile and go along with the lie everyone else at the time was living. Finally, the appearance of McCarrick in Rome might have been for Pope Benedict yet another reminder that his sentences were being flouted and he was no longer capable of holding his office. We just won’t know for sure until every avenue is pursued.
- Today Monsignor Jean-Francois Lantheaume, the former first counsellor at the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C., told CNA that the former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, told “the truth” in his letter, but “that’s all” he’ll say. The pressure these men must be under is incredible.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, we must continue praying and fasting for our Church.
And if you are a bishop, what you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, is something you will have to account for before the face of God.
Because only the truth will set us free.
May Jesus have mercy on us all.