For all of the wrath Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò expressed in his “testimony” over the Vatican’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, there is an enormous gap at the center of the conspiracy he alleges. He wrote that, in December 2006, he forwarded information to his superiors about a legal case involving a priest who had accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him. But Viganò never got a written response from Vatican officials, he complained, and three or four years passed before he heard anything. Finally, he wrote, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, told him that Pope Benedict XVI had “imposed” sanctions on McCarrick that barred him from public ministry.
“I do not know when Pope Benedict took these measures against McCarrick, whether in 2009 or 2010…just as I do not know who was responsible for this incredible delay,” he wrote in his August 25 missive. He added that, in June, 2013, he referred Pope Francis to the Congregation for Bishops and its dossier on McCarrick, whom he said Pope Benedict had “ordered” to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, responded October 7 with an “open letter” to Viganò that fills in some of the gap:
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. The reason being that at that time, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged guilt.
Instead, Ouellet wrote, there was a less formal outcome in which a papal legate urged McCarrick to live a discreet life. Benedict did not “impose” sanctions, as Viganò had urged he do under section 1405 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that only the pope can discipline a cardinal.
If so, that destroys Viganò’s claim that Francis reversed the sanction that Benedict imposed; there was no canonical sanction. The implication of his “testimony” and subsequent follow-up letter was that support for his charges was in the file. But still, Ouellet’s account is unsettling: How could Vatican authorities have failed to substantiate the charges that McCarrick sexually harassed or abused priests and seminarians after the church had agreed to two secret legal settlements of these charges?