Very much tongue-in-cheek, the editors of the well-respected Italian-language church-news site, Il Sismografo, dubbed former Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò the “Savonarola di Varese.” Although parallels with the fifteenth century Dominican are not exact, Viganò has indeed appeared as a self-styled prophet, and expended a good deal of energy denouncing the pope.
His most spectacular denunciation so far has been directed at Pope Francis for “grave, disconcerting, and sinful conduct” in (supposedly) covering up for the crimes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and even seeking advice from him—“someone he knew to be a pervert.” Viganò’s first “testimony” also accused numerous other church leaders of willfully joining in a conspiracy to promote and protect “homosexual networks” among the clergy, a gay conspiracy whose “octopus tentacles” are “strangling the entire church.”
The preaching of this modern-day Savonarola has channeled the justified fury over sexual abuse into a rage against Pope Francis and gay priests—at least among some Catholics in America. Shockingly, even certain American bishops, who ought to know better, immediately announced that they found Viganò’s charges credible.
International reaction among church leaders has run in the opposite direction. The bishops of Europe immediately published a statement of support for Pope Francis. So did the bishops of Latin America. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai went on record saying that all the church in Asia supports Pope Francis. Specific groups, such as the Catalan bishops, also issued statements on his behalf. In Portugal, thirty public figures staged an event in which they read aloud from Francis’s writings and performed music as a witness of solidarity with him.
Francis has steadfastly refused to comment on the Viganò allegations. Some discern a spiritual motivation behind this, believing that Francis is following the model of Jesus. This may be so. Yet I think it has also been a strategically savvy move. For the pope to respond to such hostile personal allegations would lend them additional weight, and lower the prestige of his office. Besides, how do you prove to Viganò that, in reality, there are no “tentacles”? Or demonstrate that you didn’t know something that he thinks you knew? If Francis answered, there would be arguments in rebuttal, additional points for which another response would be demanded. How do you talk someone out of a conspiracy theory?