The summer of 2018 has been a long and trying one for the Catholic faithful. It began with allegations that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was guilty of sexual misconduct with seminarians and of sexual abuse of at least one minor. Then came the Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailing seventy years of sexual abuse in six dioceses and cover-up by bishops. Capping things off was the release of an eleven-page “testimony” from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, leveling sweeping charges against U.S. and Vatican church officials, including Pope Francis, for mishandling the claims against McCarrick. At the end of the letter, Viganò calls on Francis “to set a good example” and resign.
Viganò’s letter is a subjective account of recent church history full of unverifiable claims; its petty and self-righteous tone is that of someone out to settle personal scores. He points to the supposedly malign influence of the Jesuits, from Robert Drinan to James Martin. He rages against “homosexual currents” in the church. Perhaps more persuasively, he provides a detailed account of his and others’ attempts to inform John Paul II and Benedict XVI about McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and young priests. But the most explosive claims are that Benedict had “sanctioned” McCarrick, barring him from public ministry—and that Francis, who supposedly knew of McCarrick’s misconduct, lifted those sanctions and turned to him for advice on the appointment of several U.S. bishops and cardinals.
Within days of the letter’s release, these last accusations began to fall apart. Viganò contended that Benedict had imposed “canonical sanctions” on McCarrick preventing him from celebrating Mass in public, traveling, or participating in public meetings. But journalists uncovered ample evidence that from 2009 or 2010, when Viganò claims such sanctions were imposed (he cannot remember the exact year), until Benedict’s resignation in 2013, McCarrick continued to do all these things and more, maintaining a robust public profile that included television appearances, trips to an array of countries, and participation in ordinations. He was photographed being greeted warmly by Benedict at the Vatican. At a 2012 gala dinner honoring McCarrick, Viganò himself lauded the former cardinal as being “loved by us all.”
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