August 27, 2018
By Isaac Chotiner
How church rifts may have inspired the latest accusations against Pope Francis.
Carlo Maria Viganò, who was once the Catholic Church’s chief diplomat in the United States, wrote a letter this past weekend stating that Pope Francis and other Vatican officials were involved in covering up sexual abuse committed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. Not only did Viganò’s letter arrive in the midst of an already sensitive trip the pope was making to Ireland—which has seen its share of sexual abuse scandals—but it also represented another shot in the long war between Pope Francis and more conservative elements in the church, including Viganò himself. (Viganò, who has cast blame on gay people for the sex abuse crisis, has previously battled with Francis: He lost his job in 2016 amid anger over his handling of the pope’s trip to the United States, which included—thanks to Viganò—a meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.)
Viganò’s specific claim is that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, punished McCarrick by refusing to allow him certain privileges and that Francis later reversed Benedict’s decision. In response, allies of Pope Francis have pointed out that that McCarrick’s supposed punishment by Benedict has not been proved, and McCarrick continued to do things like give homilies. The pope himself, departing Ireland, stated, “I will not say a single word on this. I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have the sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions.”
To talk about what all this means for Francis and the future of the church, I spoke by phone with Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and a contributor to Commonweal magazine. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed how Francis’ approach to the sexual abuse crisis is and isn’t distinct from Benedict’s, whether we should view the latest developments through the prism of a church culture war, and what the pope should do to respond.
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