The True, the False and the Blurry in Archbishop
By Nicolas Seneze
September 3, 2018
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano at the annual autumn meeting of the United States Catholic Bishops' Conference in November 2015 in Baltimore. (Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP)
The former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, last month accused Pope Francis of covering up for American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of sexual abuse, sparking a media war between the pope's supporters and adversaries.
“Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick that are similar to those now imposed by Pope Francis,” Archbishop Vigano wrote in his explosive 11-page testimony last month.
It appears highly probable that Benedict XVI did indeed sanction Cardinal McCarrick for having had homosexual relations with several young adults (seminarians over whom he exercised authority as a bishop).
These sanctions were imposed “at the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009,” according to Vatican specialist Andrea Tornielli, or “in 2009 or 2010,” according to Archbishop Vigano.
They consisted in “prohibiting (McCarrick from) celebrating Mass in public, from taking part in public meetings and giving lectures and traveling as well as an obligation to devote himself to a life of prayer and penitence,” Vigano claimed.
According to Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, the instructions given by Pope Benedict “were essentially that McCarrick needed to ‘keep a low profile.’”
There was “no formal decree”, rather it was “essentially a private request,” Pentin wrote, quoting a source close to Benedict.
Was the sanction applied?
Nevertheless, despite the sanction, Cardinal McCarrick continued to appear in public, including in the presence of Benedict XVI.
In January 2012, he took part in the ad limina visit of the U.S. bishops. He was received in audience by the pope and concelebrated with him the next day at the tomb of St. Peter.
In April that year, he was again received in audience along with leaders of the Papal Foundation of which he is a co-founder and which contributes greatly to Vatican finances.
During this visit, the group presented Benedict with a birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday.”
Meanwhile, McCarrick also attended Pope Benedict’s final general audience on Feb. 27. The same afternoon he took part in the cardinals’ farewell to the retiring pope. Benedict warmly greeted him on this occasion.
Archbishop Vigano, who says that when he left for Washington he had been instructed by the Congregation for Bishops to apply the sanctions, thus appears to have been rather neglectful in doing so.
Vigano also attended a gala dinner honoring Cardinal McCarrick on May 2, 2012, welcoming him as a man “beloved of all of us.”
On May 10, 2013, the former nuncio also concelebrated with McCarrick prior to the annual dinner of the Catholic University of America.
“I was not yet in a position to impose sanctions, particularly because the measures taken against McCarrick were of a private nature,” Archbishop Vigano explained on Aug. 31.
He added that perhaps the private nature of the sanctions was based “on the fact that McCarrick was already retired.”
Nevertheless, the fact is that Vigano was not obliged to participate in these events.
What did Francis know about the sanctions?
Archbishop Vigano said that during a private audience on June 23, 2013 he told Pope Francis that the Congregation for Bishops had “a thick file” on Cardinal McCarrick.
“He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to retire to a life of prayer and penitence,” the archbishop added.
It is difficult to know whether Pope Francis was informed of this. However, since Benedict XVI did not provide a document setting out the sanctions against the former archbishop of Washington, there was no easy way for Pope Francis to re-impose sanctions that had previously not been applied.
Moreover, the new pope perhaps mistrusted Vigano, who already had a reputation for being difficult.
According to the Il Sismografo website, a whole section of the report on the Vatileaks affair, which was requested by Pope Benedict and transmitted under seal to his successor, deals precisely with Archbishop Vigano and certain lies contained in his letters to Benedict XVI.
Moreover, Francis quickly and heavily sanctioned Cardinal McCarrick this summer once the accusations on sexual abuse of children emerged. The latter was suspended in June prior to being forced to resign from the College of Cardinals in July.
Was Cardinal McCarrick an adviser to Pope Francis?
In his testimony, Archbishop Vigano describes Cardinal McCarrick as “the kingmaker for appointments to the Curia and to the United States” and “the most listened to adviser at the Vatican concerning relations with the Obama administration” as well as “a trusted adviser” for Pope Francis.
While Cardinal McCarrick did in fact visit Rome several times under the pontificate of Francis, there is nothing to indicate that he became a close adviser of the pope, particular on American issues.
Instead, Pope Francis chose Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to represent North America in the C9. Indeed, O’Malley appears to have been one of the most influential advisers to the pope since his election.
Questioned about the existence of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican in his book “Final Conversations” in 2016, Benedict XVI recognized “the existence of a group that we dissolved.”
“Four or five people at the most,” he said.
In July 2013, Pope Francis also insisted on distinguishing “the fact of being ‘gay’” from the fact of being a lobby.”
Clearly, no one denies that there are homosexuals at the Vatican, but Archbishop Vigano has exaggerated their impact.
The former nuncio also seems to associate the gay lobby with anyone in the church seeking to have an attitude of openness and hospitality to homosexuals.
Archbishop Vigano even goes as far as linking homosexuality and pedophilia, rejecting Pope Francis’ approach, which views sexual abuse as the deep cause of abuses of power.