The bombshell

Today, an eleven-page document, apparently written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, was released. It is a stunning document, alleging basically that the Holy Father was aware of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abusive activities but promoted McCarrick for a variety of reasons. More than that, it paints McCarrick as a close adviser to Francis on American matters. Indeed, it suggests that McCarrick was the architect of Francis’s high-profile American appointments, such as Blase Cupich’s appointment to Chicago and Joseph Tobin’s appointment to Newark. Some of these allegations were known; for example, Rocco Palmo reported when Tobin was translated from Indianapolis to Newark that McCarrick was behind the move. However, after McCarrick’s meteoric fall, Tobin’s partisans pressured Palmo to recant the reporting. He has refused to do so. However, other allegations are coming to light for the first time.

Viganò’s document implicates a huge number of high-profile churchmen. Three Secretaries of State—Sodano, Bertone, and Parolin—are alleged to have furthered McCarrick’s career, despite warnings in Rome about his misdeeds. Other high prelates are alleged to have known about McCarrick’s crimes. Viganò states that Benedict XVI imposed some sanctions on McCarrick following these warnings, basically ordering him out of public life. However, Viganò’s most serious allegation is that Francis rescinded these sanctions upon his election in 2013. Viganò goes on to claim that McCarrick became—along with Cardinal Maradiaga—a kingmaker in the Curia under Francis and a trusted adviser, especially with respect to the Obama administration. The whole document must be read, and the allegations take one’s breath away.

In a small but explosive bit of Edward Pentin’s coverage of Viganò’s statement, Pentin writes that Benedict XVI was aware of the allegations against McCarrick and recalls (today, presumably) ordering Cardinal Bertone to impose sanctions on McCarrick, but he cannot recall what the nature of those sanctions was. This adds some confirmation to Viganò’s statement, since he alleges that Benedict’s sanctions against McCarrick were common knowledge in the Curia and had been communicated repeatedly to McCarrick and his successor, Donald Cardinal Wuerl. He suggests that Cardinal Bertone and others may have helped McCarrick skirt Benedict’s sanctions by delaying their imposition.

The bottom line is this: Viganò alleges that McCarrick was aided and abetted by prominent churchmen from Pope Francis on down, despite his misconduct with seminarians being documented thoroughly. As a result of the corruption that Viganò details in his letter, Viganò demands that the Pope and high prelates resign over all this. At the very least, one wishes that there would be total transparency on the McCarrick case. Surely someone in Rome has a scanner and could make a PDF of his file at the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Bishops; ideally, this would be posted on the Vatican’s website, so that the Church, if it is interested, can review the documents and come to its own conclusions about the McCarrick affair. But Viganò’s demand that Francis abdicate goes well beyond a Truth and Reconciliation Process for the McCarrick case.

The demand is not quite unprecedented—after all, in the climax to the Investiture Controversy, Kaiser Heinrich IV demanded that Pope Gregory VII resign. But it is hard to think of more recent examples of an archbishop and longtime Vatican bureaucrat and diplomat calling for the abdication of the Roman Pontiff. It is supremely unlikely that Francis will abdicate over this. But it is a sobering reminder of the corruption at the highest levels of the Church. It is rumored that Benedict XVI abdicated when he realized he lacked the strength to reform the Roman Curia. Tonight, anyway, Francis’s pontificate teeters on the edge under the weight of these allegations—allegations that are remarkably similar to what is alleged to have brought down Benedict’s papacy.

No doubt the Pope’s partisans will dredge up Viganò’s misdeeds. He will be presented as the far-right culture warrior who brought Kim Davis to meet the Pope. He will be presented as a longtime malcontent and complainer, whose letter to Benedict about his promotion to the nunciature (engineered by Cardinal Bertone when Viganò started poking his nose into Bertone’s business) touched off the first Vatileaks scandal. He may even be presented as someone who has played his own sorry role in the abuse scandal, as it is alleged by the people who investigated Archbishop John C. Nienstedt that Viganò told them to keep quiet. Of course, this last affair begins to look strange in the light of Viganò’s allegations today.

However, the funny thing is that it’s hard to see how Viganò’s misdeeds make him a liar. He may, in fact, be a culture warrior who has a grudge against Francis for sacking him from the nunciature and withholding the customary red hat. He may, in fact, be a talented Curial bureaucrat who torpedoed his career by asking questions better left unasked. And he may have made bad decisions when confronted with the misdeeds of others, like Nienstedt. But it’s hard to spin this past into the conclusion that Viganò is a fabulist. Indeed, he seems like exactly the sort of character who ends up spilling the beans on everything for a variety of motives, some noble and some less noble.

The ball is now in Francis’s court—not a happy thought from any perspective. The Vatican seems incapable of managing a crisis, and this probably counts as a crisis. The Holy See Press Office has been caught flat footed time and time again. The Barros affair in Chile seriously damaged Francis’s credibility and the narrative was out of control before the Vatican acted. The combination of the McCarrick revelations and the Pennsylvania grand jury report imperiled (and still imperils, frankly) the moral authority of the U.S. hierarchy, but it took quite some time for Francis to respond. And when he did, he blamed clericalism. It will be bitterly ironic if Viganò’s allegations are confirmed, either by individuals with knowledge who are emboldened to come forward or by solid reporting by outside journalists, since there’s no other word for McCarrick’s protection and promotion under Francis than clericalism.

Pointing to noted non-Catholic and bouillabaisse enthusiast Rod Dreher’s coverage of the breaking news, Alan Jacobs seems to think that nothing will come of this. We shall see. We agree with Jacobs that Francis probably will not address this head on, but we already see Francis’s partisans like the anonymous (but allegedly well connected) Twitter account @Pope_news coming out to attack Viganò. We know that Francis is perfectly happy to use intermediaries, like Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., or the bishops of the Buenos Aires pastoral region or any of a whole host of people, to make his arguments for him. How they react to this will be a good sign of how Francis reacts to it. Moreover, it will be harder for prelates like Blase Cupich, Joseph Tobin, and Robert McElroy, to maintain silence if intrepid journalists follow up on Viganò’s allegations and find confirmation. In the meantime, there is little for the rest of us to do—except watch, wait, and pray.


Damian Thompson said that The Letter was worse than anything that ever befell Benedict. Now it looks like Cardinal Müller agrees: The Letter is “a new Vatileaks.” Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a purported signatory of The Letter, refused to confirm whether or not he signed, which, of course, points in one direction. However, according to the Catholic Herald, he told the Corriere della Sera:

“The scandal is that it makes public a private letter of the Pope. This is a new Vatileaks: the Pope’s private documents are private property of the Pope and no one else. No one can publish it, I do not know how that could happen.”

(Emphasis supplied.) We also noted that leaking The Letter to Sandro Magister was a particularly provocative act, since Magister has been persona non grata in the Press Office since he leaked an advance copy (mostly accurate) of Laudato si’.

Of course, we are not quite sure that this is a new Vatileaks. As everyone knows, there was a lot going on with Vatileaks: on one hand, it seems to us that the Sodano-Bertone rivalry (the old-line Secretariat of State crowd, which had gotten its own way under John Paul’s pontificate, against the “outsider” Bertone and his circle) was—at least in its essence—separate from the clique opposed to Benedict from the beginning. We are not sure that there is as much going on here. Really, there is one issue, which has created other issues. So, perhaps Vatileaks II isn’t the right name for lo scandalo della lettera.

Synodleaks, maybe?

Ain’t got time to take a fast train

We have a few takeaways from lo scandalo della lettera, day one:

  • It was the Pope’s own men, for the most part, who objected to the Synod’s procedure (as of October 5). Three heads of dicasteries—CDF, CDW, Economy—and four other papal appointees signed the letter, apparently.
  • Cardinal Dolan‘s signature on the letter, coupled with his interesting comment on his website, shows that the position contra Kasper has some nuance. No one would have lumped Cardinal Dolan in with the conservatives.
  • Africa is not backing down.
  • The Vatican really struggles with media. Banning Sandro Magister from the Press Office (over the Laudato si’ leak) has plainly not limited his influence. More than that, Fr. Rosica and Fr. Spadaro notwithstanding, the Vatican really seems to struggle with new media especially. A few coy statements to favored outlets will not slow down a story as explosive as The Letter.
  • Once again, the Synod is about process. The goal of consensus was going to be hard to achieve after last October. Now, with all the issues with process, it’s unlikely that consensus will be meaningful, even if achieved. No matter who “loses,” and it is passing strange to talk about winners and losers in this context, they’ll be able to blame the process. (The fix was in versus The right-wingers derailed our dialogue.)

To our mind, there is one interesting question. What does Francis do now? When he got The Letter, he intervened personally in the Synod to make it clear that he supported the process as it stood on October 5. But hardly anyone knew about it then. Things have changed.

Thirteen after all

Rorate Caeli reports that there were, after all, thirteen signatories to The Letter. They were, according to Rorate:

  • Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna*
  • Thomas Cardinal Collins, archbishop of Toronto
  • Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston
  • Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York*
  • Willem Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht
  • Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith*
  • Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier, archbishop of Durban*
  • John Cardinal Njue, archbishop of Nairobi
  • George Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy*
  • Norberto Cardinal Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City
  • Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship*
  • Elio Cardinal Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Life*
  • Jorge Cardinal Urosa, archbishop of Caracas

Rorate does not report its source for this new information [SEE EDIT], and, while Sandro Magister has removed the names of the cardinals who disassociated themselves from the letter, he has not updated his blog to reflect the new purported signatories. Obviously, if there is a new round of denials, corrections, or dissociations, we will report it.

We have marked with an asterisk those prelates who are present at the Synod ex officio as dicastery heads (subject to papal appointment) or by special appointment of the Pope. Of the thirteen, we count seven cardinals on this list who are at the Synod essentially as papal nominees.

EDIT: Rorate did apparently report its source: Gerard O’Connell at America. O’Connell said,

America has learned from informed sources that 13 cardinals did indeed sign the letter, including four not named on Magister’s list:  Di Nardo (United States), Njue (Kenya), Rivera (Mexico) and Sgreccia (Italy). The full list of signatories is given below.

(Italics supplied.)

Hidden significance

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, has posted a very interesting statement, one which may explain his presence (so far uncontested) as a signatory of The Letter, notwithstanding his credentials as a moderate. We’re going to quote it in full:

A very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod has been inclusion.  The Church, our spiritual family, welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded.  Among those, I’ve heard the synod fathers and observers comment, are the single, those with same-sex attraction, those divorced, widowed, or recently arrived in a new country, those with disabilities, the aged, the housebound, racial and ethnic minorities.  We in the family of the Church love them, welcome them, and need them.

Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?  I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony–  approach the Church for the sacrament;  Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!  I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.

Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV?   From magazines or newspapers?  From movies?  From Broadway?  From their peers?  Forget it!

They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion.  We cannot let them down!

We think that this comment may well prove significant. It stands the Kasperites’ rhetoric on its head, and does so in terms that are essentially unanswerable.

It is clear that the broad consensus anticipated by Cardinal Kasper (and his supporters) is evaporating quickly.

(HT Damian Thompson.)