When Archbishop Carlo Viganò published his “testimony” last August accusing Pope Francis and many other high-ranking church officials of a sex-abuse cover-up, Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo had kind words for him. “I know him personally. I know him as a man of great integrity, honest to the core,” he told CBS News. “He’s worked for three different popes, and [was] sent to a Vatican position, a diplomatic position as big as the United States, which means he’s a trusted man.”
Figueiredo was speaking in his role as a Vatican-based CBS News consultant, commenting on what he said was “like an earthquake for the church”—charges from the former papal nuncio to the United States that prelates covered up long-standing accusations that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually harassed and abused seminarians. As for the pope, he said, “Let’s be clear, if the Holy Father knew about Cardinal McCarrick on the twenty-third of June , as Archbishop Viganò claims, and did nothing about it, then it’s serious, as the pope himself has said.” He was referring to Viganò’s assertion that he told Francis about McCarrick’s offenses at the outset of his papacy—which the pope says he does not remember.
The monsignor was in a very tricky position, for he was a quiet facilitator for McCarrick in the Vatican, pressed into the service of the retired cardinal-archbishop’s energetic efforts to slide past whatever low-decibel disciplinary restrictions Pope Benedict XVI had imposed in 2008 for McCarrick’s sexual misdeeds.
Figueiredo made that public by voluntarily releasing excerpts from his correspondence with McCarrick on May 28, which coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination—by McCarrick, then the archbishop of Newark. He served as McCarrick’s personal secretary from September 1994 to June 1995 and, he relates, “also assisted him in a secretarial capacity during his many visits to Rome in my nineteen years of ministry there.”
The newly released excerpts of correspondence don’t shed any light on what Pope Francis knew or did not know, but Figueiredo refers to the pope warmly in a preamble on his website, thanking him for his “efforts to address the scourge of abuse” and pledging his “unswerving affection, loyalty and support.” Part of his work in Rome had been to help Francis pursue the church’s pro-immigrant agenda.
What we do learn is that around August 2008, Pope Benedict took an action that McCarrick understood as a requirement that he change his residence and also clear his future public appearances with the Holy See or its nuncio in Washington. Figueiredo quotes from an August 25, 2008 letter McCarrick wrote to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, that refers to these restrictions: “In summary, in the future I will make no commitments to accept any public appearances or talks without the express permission of the Apostolic Nuncio or the Holy See itself.”
The correspondence indicates that Pope Benedict’s decision about McCarrick was contained in a letter Sambi had handed to McCarrick three days earlier; it was written by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. That letter has not been made public but, Figueiredo suggests, it should be in archives both at the Congregation for Bishops and at the papal nunciature in Washington, and possibly the Archdiocese of Washington.
An “open letter” to Viganò that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the current prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, issued last October, apparently referred to the same letter. “After re-examining the archives, I can ascertain that there are no corresponding documents signed by either Pope, neither is there a note of an audience with my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, giving Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick an obligatory mandate of silence and to retire to a private life, carrying canonical penalties,” Ouellet wrote. “The reason being that at that time, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged guilt.”
He continued: “Hence, the position of the Congregation was inspired by prudence, and my predecessor’s letters, as well as mine, reiterated through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi, and then also through you [Viganò], urging a discreet style of life, of prayer and penance for his own good and that of the Church.”
If Figueiredo is right, the admonition to McCarrick in 2008 was more specific than Cardinal Ouellet has indicated. But there are still a lot of pieces missing from this puzzle. Figueirido has released excerpts of certain correspondence, but not the complete letters or emails. And the correspondence he has reflects mainly what McCarrick was willing to let him know.