'How America wanted to change the pope.'

By Nicolas Senèze
La Croix International
August 14, 2019

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò during the March for Life in San Francisco in January 2015.
Photo by Alex Washburn

How the ambitious and intriguing apostolic nuncio in Washington, Carlo Maria Viganò, develops his grievances against Pope Francis VatiLeaks

The man who accuses the pope is not unknown. Those who follow the Vatican closely remember that his name appeared at the very beginning of the "VatiLeaks" affair, those leaks of documents from Benedict XVI's own office and published in the media.

The scandal began on Jan. 25, 2012 when a letter from Archbishop Viganò to Benedict XVI appeared on the set of La7'sGliIntoccabili ("The Untouchables"), presented by journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

The archbishop, then Secretary General of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, urged Benedict XVI not to appoint him to the prestigious position of nuncio in Washington. "In other circumstances, this appointment would have been a cause for joy and a sign of great esteem and trust for me but, in the current context, it will be perceived by everyone as a verdict condemning my work and therefore as a punishment," he wrote. (1)

At the age of 70, the archbishop already has a distinguished career as a diplomat in the service of the Holy See.

Originally from the city of Varese in the northern Italian region of Lombardy (northern Italy), this son of a prominent family of steel industrialists worked in Iraq, the United Kingdom and the Secretariat of State in the Vatican, before being appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe in 1989 in Strasbourg and then apostolic nuncio in Nigeria in 1992. He was ordained bishop by John Paul II himself.

In 1998, he received a new promotion as delegate for pontifical representations at the Secretariat of State, a position that, as we have seen, gave him control over the Vatican's diplomatic network throughout the world.

All correspondence between the nuncios and the Vatican then passes through him. Finally, in 2009, he was appointed Secretary General of the Vatican City State.

In this administrative function, and under the responsibility of Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State, he is zealously working to get the small state's finances under control. As a proponent of sound management, he clarifies the accounts, demands transparency and pushes for drastic savings.

The documents used by Nuzzi in his book Sua Santità show that he is reducing the budget for the maintenance of the Vatican gardens by 850,000 euros and increasing the budget for the Christmas crèche in St Peter's Square from 550,000 euros in 2009 to 300,000 euros in 2010.

He can lay claim to being a contributor to the recovery of the Vatican's accounts, from a deficit of nearly 8 million euros in 2009 to a surplus of 21 million euros in 2010.

According to Nuzzi, Viganò is facing the actions of Marco Simeon, a businessman with a strong presence in the Vatican and a protégé of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict XVI's Secretary of State.

Following the broadcast of Gli Intoccabili, Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See's Press Room, nevertheless applauded Viganò's action.

His activity in the Governatorate of the Vatican City State "certainly had very positive aspects, contributing to a management characterized by the search for administrative rigor, savings and the recovery of a generally difficult economic situation," he acknowledges. "These results, obtained during Cardinal Lajolo's presidency, are clear and are not denied by anyone."

But Benedict XVI's spokesman also invites us to evaluate these figures "in a more appropriate way," taking into account in particular "the evolution of the markets and the criteria according to which investments have been made in recent years," as well as "other important factors, such as the very remarkable results of the activity of the Vatican Museums, with an increased number of visitors and an extension of opening hours."

In short, Viganò has certainly done a good job, but he cannot take all the credit for the results on his own.

What was not said at the time was that Viganò was seen by his subordinates as a leader who wanted to control everything and who was a melancholy figure. In his letter to Benedict XVI, he was outraged that he was accused "of having created a negative climate within the Governatorate, making relations between the General Secretariat and the heads of service more and more difficult, to the point of making my transfer necessary."

"His anger is memorable," reports Chilean journalist Luis Badilla, administrator of the Il Sismografo website, according to whom, "his collaborators still remember his shouting in the corridors." (2)

"He was not clear," sums up a priest who met him at the Secretariat of State.

Ambitious and intriguing, Viganò would not have resisted the temptation to promote one of his nephews within the Curia either and would even, according to Il Giornale, have tried to get his hands on the Vatican security services. (3)

The VatiLeaks documents also highlight his growing disagreement with Cardinal Bertone. As Nicolas Diat points out in his reference book on this case, Benedict XVI's powerful Secretary of State is the real target of these leaks designed to destabilize him, while Viganò, for a time suspected of being the instigator, appears rather like a collateral victim. (4)

"Since the beginning of 2011, relations between Cardinal Bertone and Archbishop Viganò had become very difficult," says Diat.

The Secretary of State did not necessarily disagree with Viganò's analyses but the latter is shady and does not like to be held accountable, while Cardinal Bertone is quite authoritarian.

In addition, the Secretary of State is all the more troubled by Viganò's attempts at independence and reform plans because the Governatorate is already slipping away from him because of the proximity between its president, Cardinal Lajolo, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Dean of the College of Cardinals, the latter, who had been Bertone's predecessor as "number two" of the Catholic Church and had done everything possible to make this succession difficult, remains very present in the curial apparatus where he has many relays.

In a real underground war, Cardinal Bertone tried, for his part, to place his own men, sometimes clumsily.

It is in this context that the succession of Cardinal Lajolo at the head of the Governatorate is organized. Indeed, on January 3, 2010, he celebrated his 75th birthday, the retirement age, and Viganò hopes to replace him in this position, the incumbent of which is normally promised to the Cardinal Purple. But his bad character prompted him to reject his candidacy.

At that time, according to the Marco Tosatti, who later helped him to shape his "testimony" against Pope Francis, it was then proposed to him to abandon the idea of the Governatorate and become responsible for the Prefecture for Economic Affairs, the body that manages the finances of the Holy See and whose holder was also generally promoted to Cardinal. (5)

He is to succeed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, whom Benedict XVI has just asked to supervise the reform of the Legionaries of Christ. But Viganò refused. "Finally, he was offered the Washington nunciature and, still, resisted, believing that his departure from the Governatorate would risk wiping out the efforts made for better management.

Inheritance disputes and accounts in Switzerland

In the letter sent to Benedict XVI on July 7, 2011, Viganò further justifies his desire to remain in Rome by the poor health of his older brother, whom he wishes to continue to care for.

"I am also anxious that, unfortunately having to personally care for one of my brothers, a priest and older than me, who has been seriously affected by a vascular accident that is gradually weakening him, including from the mental point of view, I must leave precisely at the moment when I saw the possibility of solving this family problem that concerns me so much in a few months," he tells the pope.

"What he wrote to the pope is false," Father Lorenzo Viganò told Corriere della Sera in 2013, while acknowledging that he had suffered a serious stroke in 1996. (6)

"When Carlo Mario wrote his letter to the pope in July 2011, not only was he not 'personally' taking care of me but our relations had already been interrupted for a long time, at the beginning of 2009, following tensions between us because of our heritage, which even led to a civil action that I brought against him in 2010 before the Milan court," he continues.

A Jesuit and biblical scholar residing in Chicago at the time, the archbishop's brother revealed a dark dispute over their heritage, against a backdrop of fiscal exile. After their father's death in 1961, the eight children of the Viganò family decided to manage the inheritance in joint ownership, several tens of millions of euros, as confirmed by Emiliano Fittipaldi in his book Avarizia. (7)

"After the death of my brother Giorgio, who properly administered the Viganò estate, I discovered that Carlo Maria had sold our jointly owned properties and had left me only the crumbs," Viganò told Il Giornale. "My brother stole several million euros from me. Operating an old power of attorney, he made the rain and the sunshine." (8)

A sister of theirs, Rosanna, also accuses the archbishop of cheating her. At the end of 2012, she even went so far as to attack him in court in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.

According to her, she paid him 900 million lire (nearly 500,000 euros) to buy an apartment for 430,000 Swiss francs. The property was registered in the name of Bishop Viganò who, benefiting from Vatican citizenship, was exempt from taxes. In 2012, however, he reportedly decided to sell the apartment without notifying his sister or paying her any money.

In a report quoted by Emiliano Fittipaldi in Avarizia, Rosanna Viganò explains what happened to Swiss judicial hearing in 2013.

"Carlo Maria Viganò became Secretary of the Nunciature in Baghdad around 1973. From that moment on, he was in possession of a diplomatic passport. In Italy, it was the time of the Red Brigades.

That's when we decided to transfer our assets to Switzerland. In the presence of my mother, I gave my money to Carlo Maria. He put it in a used old towel and deposited it in an account at Credit Suisse in Lugano.

I gave him about 500 million lire, then I gave him two successive tranches of 200 million lire each. In total, nearly 900 million lire. Carlo Maria told me that my money would be put in an account called Cioppi, the nickname he gave my daughter. The receipts remained at the bank, as agreed with our brothers.

I know that Carlo Maria also put money into a UBS account. It was the [same] money, or part of it, [that was] transferred by our brothers from Banco Ambrosiano to the Gotthard Bank."

According to Rosanna's lawyer, Viganò thus made extensive use of his diplomatic status to transfer "considerable sums" to UBS and Crédit suisse de Lugano accounts.

Finally, in 2014, the conflict between brother and sister resulted in a settlement in which the he paid her 180,000 Swiss francs (160,000 euros); Rosanna claims she gave it to a Tanzanian hospital where her daughter was a volunteer.

Father Lorenzo Viganò, meanwhile, also sued his brother. If the rest of the siblings, with the exception of Rosanna, believed that the Jesuit had been "manipulated" by his entourage, the case ends in October 2018, when Archbishop Viganò is ordered by a court to pay his brother 1.8 million euros.

According to the court, cited by the Italian agency ANSA (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata), the archbishop's solitary management of the common heritage of properties worth 20.5 million euros and 7 million in cash gave Bishop Viganò "a net profit of 3.649 million euros," while "4.8 million euros" was also paid to him. For his part, his brother received "only" 1.7 million euros. (9)

Archbishop Viganò is therefore a rich man at this time. Very rich, especially for a Vatican prelate where salaries rarely exceed 2,000 euros per month. Emiliano Fittipaldi also reports that his name had been mentioned in another financial case that had embarrassed the Vatican.

In 2010, after a report from the Financial Information Unit of the Bank of Italy, the Rome Public Prosecutor's Office blocked 23 million euros that the Institute for Religious Works (IOR, the "Vatican Bank") had deposited in a Credito Valtellinese account.

In particular, the investigation had made it possible to thwart the malpractice of two senior IOR officials, sentenced by the Vatican courts in early 2018 for recycling funds. In November 2014, the Italian courts finally released the money, after the IOR communicated the names of the clients benefiting from this account.

It then appeared that nearly 3.8 million euros had been allocated to Archbishop Viganò. A sum that was intended for charities, including a monastery in Burundi, as he explained to Emiliano Fittipaldi.

Nuncio in Washington

At the time, Archbishop Viganò had already been an apostolic nuncio in the United States for a long time. Tired of confrontations at home, he finally accepts this position, which takes him away from the Vatican, the center of power. Yet it is far from being an outpost.

The Washington nunciature is one of the most prestigious positions in pontifical diplomacy, since the incumbent is often later created cardinal, as happened to Cardinals Pio Laghi and Agostino Cacciavillan; this would undoubtedly have been the case for Archbishop Pietro Sambi if he had not died early.

Moreover, in the United States, Bishop Viganò does not totally sever ties with the financial issues he dealt with in the Governatorate.

The United States is one of the Vatican's main providers of funds: one third of the contributions to St. Peter's, the pope's main charity resource, come from the United States, while the country's dioceses and religious congregations contribute 28 per cent of the voluntary payment that each religious institution makes annually to the Holy See.

This gives American Catholicism considerable weight in the Vatican, explaining the strong presence of the United States at the 2013 Conclave, with 11 cardinal voters, the largest number after Italy.

During his term in the United States nunciature, Archbishop Viganò also distinguished himself by his proximity to conservative circles, whose figures he promoted on the cardinal seats, such as Charles Chaput in Philadelphia and Salvatore Cordileone in San Francisco.

Encouraged by Cardinals Justin Rigali and Raymond Burke, who have the ear of Benedict XVI, these bishops are leading the struggle against Barack Obama's policy, which they focus mainly on the fight against abortion - excluding, as we will see, any other considerations.

But with the election of Francis, things change. The new pope supports more social profiles, even if they are not necessarily less pro-life.

Their unforgivable fault, in the eyes of Viganò and his supporters in the American Church and the Roman Curia, is unique: they are a little less conservative and a little less cultural warriors than their predecessors," say the journalists Tornielli and Valente.

"They defend the nascent life and fight against euthanasia but do not reduce the defence of life to battles only on the embryonic and terminal phases, recalling that there are also 70 or 80 other years between the two. And so they also fight against racism, for the rights of immigrants and their families, for the poor, for the homeless and unemployed, for the victims of the economic crisis caused by the idolatry of money." (10)

The most obvious example of the gap that has widened between Francis and his envoy to the United States is given during the pope's trip to the United States in September 2015, one of the objectives of which is to calm tensions between the Church and the Obama administration.

One evening, at the end of a dinner at the nunciature, Viganò met privately with the pope to ask him if he would agree to meet "in complete confidentiality and without the presence of the media" Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk who had made herself known a few weeks earlier for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

This was a gesture for which she even served five days in prison at the beginning of the month, transforming her into the muse of evangelical conservative circles, despite her three divorces and four Catholic marriages.

"The pope immediately appeared in favor of such an initiative but he added that the meeting could have political implications and said: "I don't understand these things; it would be nice if you listened to Cardinal Parolin's opinion," says Viganò.

However, when he arrives at the hotel where the Secretary of State is staying, the politician has already retired to his room. The nuncio therefore explains his request to Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Sostituto of the Secretariat of State, who was in favor, and to Archbishop Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, who asked him to check whether there were still proceedings under way against Davis.

Viganò therefore called the nunciature's legal consultant, who assured him that there were no longer any procedural obstacles: "Archbishop Gallagher had shown himself unconditionally in favor of the pope receiving Davis," the nuncio continued, pointing out that the next day he had informed the pope of the positive opinion of his two main collaborators who had in the meantime spoken to Cardinal Parolin about their meeting: "The pope then accepted."

The nuncio therefore organizes Kim Davis' visit to the nunciature, all the more easily, he explains, since she is already in Washington. She promises not to talk to the media about the meeting before the pope's return to Rome.

On the afternoon of Sep. 24, just before leaving Washington for New York, the pope met her and her husband in a nunciature salon. "He kissed her with affection, thanked her for her courage and invited her to persevere," says Viganò. "Davis was very moved and started crying."

The announcement of this meeting, once the pope is on his way back to Rome, will bring to the forefront the political polarizations that Francis had precisely managed to avoid during his trip, cancelling out part of the benefit of his trip to Cuba and the U.S. that had hitherto been considered largely successful.

"I didn't know who this woman was. [The nuncio] brought it to me to greet her and, of course, they made a lot of publicity about it. I was horrified and sent this nuncio back," the pope reportedly told Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of sexual abuse,who discussed the case with him in 2018. "The pope felt betrayed and felt that he had not been sufficiently informed by the nuncio," confirm Tornielli and Valente. (11)

At the beginning of October, Viganò was summoned to the Vatican. "You must come to Rome immediately, because the pope is furious with you," Cardinal Parolin tells him in a telephone interview. According to Viganò, however, during the nearly one-hour interview that Francis gave him on the evening of Oct. 9, the pope was "very affectionate and paternal."

"He immediately apologized for the inconvenience caused by bringing me to Rome and kept thanking me for the way I had organized his visit to the United States and for the incredible welcome he received in America," he says. "To my great surprise, during this long meeting, the pope did not mention the audience with Davis even once!"

After the audience, Viganò even had the luxury of calling Cardinal Parolin: "The pope was so good to me," he told him, "No words of reproach, just congratulations for the success of his visit to the United States."

The Secretary of State replied: "That's impossible, he was furious with you!"

Viganò's version is clearly contradicted by Father Federico Lombardi, then Director of the Holy See's Press Room, and by Father Thomas Rosica, who often advises him on the English language. They met the nuncio the day after the papal meeting, in his Vatican apartment.

According to the notes that Father Rosica wrote after this meeting, Viganò reportedly told them that "the Holy Father, in his paternal kindness, thanked me for his visit to the United States, but he told me that I had deceived him by introducing him to this lady at the nunciature."

A few months later, on Apr. 12, 2016, the pope accepted Viganò's resignation. As he had reached the retirement age of 75 three months earlier, this was not strictly speaking a punishment. However, given that his resignation was accepted on the same day he was replaced by the Frenchman Christophe Pierre, whose work in Mexico had impressed the pope, it must be said that the candidate for this sensitive position in Vatican diplomacy was found in record time.

Moreover, when he returns to Rome, the ex-nuncio received an unpleasant surprise when he was told he must return the spacious 250 m2 office apartment he occupied rent-free at the former house of Saint Martha, when he was Vatican Secretary General, and that he had managed to keep despite his departure for Washington. (12)

In addition to these vexations, there is an internal investigation into how he handled allegations of sexual abuse against Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis and one of his friends. According to the American press, the nuncio reportedly asked the auxiliary bishops of the diocese to withdraw accusations of abuse against Bishop Nienstedt from their internal investigation.

Although Nienstedt was never finally questioned, he resigned in 2015 following other accusations, this time for his poor management of allegations of abuse of priests in his diocese. As for Viganò, although the Vatican investigation does not call into question his responsibility, all this harassment has deeply hurt and embittered him.

An unoccupied retiree

Now retired in Milan, Viganò moves closer to the most conservative circles in the Church and those most opposed to Pope Francis, especially those who contest his moral teaching developed in the wake of the two Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015.

At the heart of the debate is the possibility raised by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, published in 2016, to allow "in some cases" access to the sacraments of divorced and remarried couples, which some episcopates have since allowed.

In November 2016, four cardinals - the Germans Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner, the American Raymond Burke and the Italian Carlo Caffarra - even write to the pope, asking him to remove their "doubts" (dubia, in Latin) on the subject. They continue to harass him ever since and declare that he would not, despite his many interventions on the subject, formally reply to their request.

On Dec. 31 2017, Viganò signed a virulent text by the Bishops of Kazakhstan, challenging the Amoris laetitia and affirming that "it is not permitted [not lawful] to justify, approve or legitimize, directly or indirectly, divorce and a stable non-conjugal sexual relationship by admitting "remarried divorced persons" to holy communion, since this is a discipline foreign to the whole tradition of the Catholic and apostolic faith."

The bishops went so far as to mention possible "heresies" within Francis' teachings.

In fact, Viganò symbolizes the opposition bloc facing the pope, in the Vatican and elsewhere, in his desire for reform. In his speech to the Curia on Dec. 22 2014, he called into question their 15 "diseases" (13) such as rivalry, vanity, gossiping, slandering.

Far from being a majority in Curia, there are nevertheless enough of these people to put obstacles in the way of reform. (14)

Their reticence is understandable: for years, at the end of the pontificate of John Paul II and under that of Benedict XVI, they literally managed the Church from the Vatican, dictating, sometimes in the smallest details, what they deemed correct conduct to the bishops, not hesitating to lecture and sanction them.

However, the pope's desire for a more synodal Church and a better consideration of local diversities, together with his warnings against the danger of "reducing God's people to small elites," offend those men who have dedicated their lives to a career in the Church, in which the few available places must also be shared with lay people and women.

"The Vatican is not monolithic," notes Marco Politi from La Repubblica. "There is a core group of bishops who are satisfied with the new orientation and who thank the conclave for its choice." (15) Nevertheless, while Francis has had time to organize his "troops," a minority is still able to apply the brakes sufficiently to hinder his proposed reforms.

"I pray for the pope because one day, when the honeymoon is over and the time comes to make decisions, they will wait for him at the wall," French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, an old truck driver from the Curia of John Paul II, told Marco Politi in 2014. (16)

This day arrived on a rainy summer morning, as only the "Emerald Isle" knows how to lay on.

Nevertheless, in this attempted coup d'état that the pope had to face, Archbishop Viganò was only an instrument. He was the "organizer of the faction" but the sponsors of the uprising were elsewhere. particularly in the United States, where he represented the Holy See for five years, but where, in recent years, opposition to Pope Francis has also crystallized.


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