(CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

As we wait for the Vatican to disclose the results of the internal investigations of the Theodore McCarrick case, journalists are already busy helping us understand it—and not only here in the United States. A book published earlier this month by two veteran Italian journalists, Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente, casts new light on the McCarrick story and the events of this past summer. Il giorno del giudizio (The Day of Judgment) offers important context and history for the events that have unfolded since the Holy See announced in June that it had removed Theodore McCarrick from public ministry. Some of this context was known already but had been forgotten in the rush of new information. But the book also offers new information from inside sources at the Vatican.

Tornielli and Valente give considerable attention to the part of the story Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony barely touched on—the role played by Pope John Paul II and his personal secretary, Msgr. Stanisław Dziwisz, who was appointed archbishop of Kraków a few weeks after John Paul II’s 2005 death as a reward for his service to the pope. (His resignation was accepted by Francis in December 2016). “Don Stanislao” (for those in the know) had great influence on the most important episcopal appointments, including McCarrick’s. While he was ordinary of Metuchen and then of Newark, McCarrick was able to funnel a huge amount of money to Rome for the pope’s various causes, and some of this ended up, secretly, with the Polish anti-Communist movement. Msgr. Dziwisz would not have forgotten these fundraising favors.

Tornielli and Valente also provide evidence that John Paul II was not as ill during the rise of McCarrick as Viganò’s testimony suggests. McCarrick’s four promotions (Metuchen, Newark, Washington, and finally the college of cardinals) all took place during John Paul II’s pontificate, and the last one in 2001 when John Paul II was still well enough to undertake difficult international trips. In that year alone, he traveled to Armenia and Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Greece, Syria, and Malta. During John Paul II’s pontificate, there were several cases of high-ranking prelates removed for committing sexual abuses: Francisco Josè Cox of the Schönstatt movement in Chile (quietly transferred to Germany in 2002); Juliusz Paetz, the archbishop of Poznan, Poland (removed in 2002, in a case with striking similarities to McCarrick’s); and Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna in 1995. Cox will soon return to Chile to face justice. Paetz’s only punishment has been his forced retirement. Groër died in 2003. At his funeral Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne (appointed by JPII), described him as a kind of martyr who had suffered unjust punishment—a testimonial that will go down in history as one of the most troubling moments in the church’s dealing with the plague of sexual abuses. (Cardinal Meisner himself died in 2017, one year after cosigning the infamous “dubia” against Pope Francis. Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, Georg Gänswein, delivered a personal message from the “pope emeritus” at Meisner’s funeral.) When in 1998 the Austrian bishops (including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn) dared to complain to Rome about the influence the disgraced Cardinal Groër still enjoyed in the Curia, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Sodano, rebuked them on behalf of John Paul II.

Tornielli and Valente’s book also provides new details about the rise of McCarrick. Vatican sources told them that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York objected strongly to John Paul II’s idea of rewarding McCarrick and the diocese of Newark with a stop during his papal visit to the United States in 1995, by which time rumors had already begun circulating about McCarrick. But according to Tornielli and Valente, Dziwisz was able to intercept these objections before they reached the pope. In an October 1999 letter to Gabriel Montalvo, who was then the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Cardinal O’Connor expressed his concerns about the possible promotion of McCarrick to the archdiocese of Washington D.C. because of what he had heard about McCarrick’s harassment of seminarians. To no apparent effect: in November 2000 McCarrick was appointed archbishop of the nation’s capital by a John Paul II still quite able to make decisions on episcopal sees. Just a few weeks later, in February 2001, McCarrick was also made a cardinal.

Rome is particularly worried about what might happen at the next conclave.

Tornielli and Valente report that it was in 2007—not 2009, as Viganò has claimed—that Pope Benedict XVI issued his “instructions” to McCarrick, who replied with a letter to the cardinal prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. In his reply, McCarrick refused to accept the instructions from the Vatican that he move into either a monastery or a retirement home; and he had the audacity to propose four alternatives: a residence for retired priests, a parish in D.C., an apartment in the Vatican (which he would pay for himself), or a Catholic university somewhere in the United States. McCarrick’s situation became easier when Nuncio Pietro Sambi died unexpectedly in July 2011 and was succeeded by Carlo Maria Viganò, who proved less eager to enforce Benedict XVI’s instructions to McCarrick.

When Francis was elected pope, Viganò quickly discovered that he was not in step with the new pontificate. Another Roman source, a former diplomat who worked with Viganò, told Tornielli and Valente that the nuncio had tried to arrange for Robert Barron to be appointed archbishop of Chicago. Barron was rector of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary and had been designated by the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George. But in September 2014, shortly after George’s resignation was accepted, Pope Francis appointed Blase Cupich as Chicago’s new archbishop. The same source told Tornielli and Valente that, contrary to what Viganò suggests in his testimony, Cupich was indeed on the list of candidates sent to Rome (he was third) and had the support of other U.S. bishops.

One year later, when Pope Francis visited the United States, Viganò arranged for him to meet with Kim Davis—against the advice of Archbishop Kurtz, who was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The book provides a timeline of that day and of the days and weeks that followed, when it became clear that Viganò had ambushed Pope Francis, as well as the leadership of the USCCB. A few months later, Viganò, having turned seventy-five, had to offer his resignation. Pope Francis quickly accepted the offer.


Today, the Vatican and parts of the Catholic Church in the United States seem to be looking at each other in disbelief, and Il giorno del giudizio provides further evidence of this estrangement. Tornielli and Valente both have many years of experience covering the Vatican and the global church (including the Eastern churches and the Chinese church). Their book conveys the attitude within the Vatican about what is happening on this side of the Atlantic. Through Tornielli and Valente, we hear what Rome has to say about these extraordinary past six months. The chapter dedicated to “the American schism” is a short history of the astonishing aftermath of the publication of Viganò’s testimony on August 26. Two dozen U.S. bishops sided publicly with the former Vatican diplomat who was trying to force Pope Francis to resign. Most of the other bishops were silent, and the leadership of the national bishops’ conference waited weeks before signaling the U.S. episcopate’s continued support for the bishop of Rome. What happened at the USCCB meeting in Baltimore two weeks ago has to be seen in this context. The authors write about the “genetic mutation” of U.S. Catholicism that has taken place over the past decade, as the neoconservative celebration of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI has given way, in many of the same quarters, to a more traditionalist rejection of the current pope. Rome is particularly worried about what might happen at the next conclave, given that conservative groups in this country have announced their intention to gather information that could be used against possible candidates for the papacy—beginning with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Most of those who covered for McCarrick or ignored warnings about him are already dead or retired. The information presented in this book, along with whatever emerges from the Vatican’s own investigation, will be useful for the tribunal of history, but probably never for a court of law, either secular or ecclesiastical. But Il giorno del giudizio is definitely a post mortem on Operation Viganò. Once the radicalized ecclesiastical opposition to Pope Francis saw that they had failed to impeach him for the purported heresy of Amoris laetitia, they tried another kind of attack: character assassination. Both maneuvers emerged from conservative circles within the U.S. church—a minority of bishops, clergy, and lay Catholics active in the media. What looks to many American Catholics like a simple quest for the truth about McCarrick and his enablers looks to Rome like an effort by influential U.S. Catholics to depose Pope Francis by blaming him for things that happened under his predecessors.

Massimo Faggioli is professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. His most recent book is The Oxford Handbook of Vatican II, co-edited with Catherine Clifford (Oxford UP). Follow him on Twitter @MassimoFaggioli.

Also by this author

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

© 2024 Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five. Site by Deck Fifty.