Rorate Caeli

OP-ED - "The McCarrick Affair: The Pope knew. Here is why he must resign."

by Aldo Maria Valli
August 26, 2018

[Rorate note: journalist Aldo Maria Valli is probably the best-known Vaticanist in Italy, since for many years he commented on the papacy in the main Italian television network RAI1, and also for RAI 3.]

“Bishops and priests, abusing their authority, have committed horrendous crimes to the detriment of their faithful, minors, innocent victims, and young men eager to offer their lives to the Church, or by their silence have not prevented that such crimes continue to be perpetrated.”

Writing these words is an Archbishop, former Apostolic Nuncio of the United States from 2011 to 2016.   Now retired, he has decided to open his heart and tell all he came to know about the sequence of events regarding  sexual abuses in the Church. A testimony which concludes with a hard and peremptory ‘invitation’: Pope Francis should step down.  Because also he knew, but covered up. 

The author of this affidavit, as La Verita reports today, is Monsignor Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who, before being sent as Nuncio to the United States, was in charge of the Governorate of  Vatican City State, and before that Nuncio in Nigeria, Delegate for the Pontifical Representatives of the Secretary of State of the Holy See and Member of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia. 

“To restore the beauty of holiness to the face of the Bride of Christ, which is terribly disfigured by so many abominable crimes”. This is the motive for the Monsignor’s decision to speak out.  “If we truly want to free the Church from the fetid swamp into which she has fallen, we must have the courage to tear down the culture of secrecy and publicly confess the truths we have kept hidden. We must tear down the conspiracy of silence with which bishops and priests have protected themselves at the expense of their faithful, a conspiracy of silence which in the eyes of the world risks making the Church look like a sect, a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar than that which prevails in the mafia.”

And the  facts follow the words, that is the news.  Documented, described in detail. The tone is grief-laden, but the style dry.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the case of Cardinal McCarrick. When he saw that the entire hierarchy of the Church were taken aback when faced with the wicked deeds committed by “Uncle Ted” which have emerged in plain evidence over the last few months and so much so that there were a flood of “I didn’t know[s]”,  Monsignor Viganò started writing. An indictment which begins way back, before Francis’ pontificate, and reaches the present day.

“But now that the corruption has reached the very top of the Church’s hierarchy, my conscience dictates that I reveal those truths regarding the heart-breaking case of the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, which I came to know in the course of the duties entrusted to me by St. John Paul II, as Delegate for Pontifical Representations, from 1998 to 2009, and by Pope Benedict XVI, as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, from October 19, 2011 until end of May 2016.”

Viganò reports that two former Nuncios of the United States, now both dead, prematurely, that is Gabriel Montalvo (in service from 1998 to 2005) and Pietro Sambi (who covered the office from 2005 to 2011), “ did not fail to inform the Holy See immediately, as soon as they learned of Archbishop McCarrick’s gravely immoral behaviour with seminarians and priests.” But no-one did anything.

In particular, Viganò reveals that “the Nuncio Sambi  transmitted to the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, an Indictment Memorandum against McCarrick by the priest Gregory Littleton of the diocese of Charlotte, who was reduced to the lay state for a violation of minors, together with two documents from the same Littleton, in which he recounted his tragic story of sexual abuse by the then-Archbishop of Newark and several other priests and seminarians. The Nuncio added that Littleton had already forwarded his Memorandum to about twenty people, including civil and ecclesiastical judicial authorities, police and lawyers, in June 2006, and that it was therefore very likely that the news would soon be made public. He therefore called for a prompt intervention by the Holy See”.

As Delegate for Pontifical Representations, in 2006, Viganò writes a memo on the Littleton case and sends it to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Substitute Leonardo Sandri. He states that the behaviour attributed to Mc Carrick is of such gravity and wickedness as to provoke bewilderment, but the accusations are accurate and there is mention also of sacrilegious celebration of the Eucharist with the same priests involved in the depravations.

Consequently, in his  memo Viganò asks, forcibly, for once, that the ecclesiastical authorities intervene before the civil authorities and before the case breaks out in the press. It would be salutary. But there is no reaction from his superiors. And the memo is never returned to him.   

Viganò doesn’t give up  and returns to the office in 2008.  Richard Sipe , psychotherapist and expert in the sexual behaviour of priests and their superiors, that same year, writes a letter to Benedict XVI wherein the title says it all: “Your Holiness, I Have the Evidence . Cardinal McCarrick Is a Homosexual, Please Act.” The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, and the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone are immediately informed about it.  Moreover, Viganò delivers a memo in this regard to the new Substitute Fernando Filoni.  And  while he’s at he attaches the memo of two years before, again underlining the gravity of the situation. But the reaction of the hierarchy is always the same: no response.

It is thanks to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re , the then Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops that Viganò came to know that Pope Benedict XVI , upon knowledge  of Sipe’s denunciation, had ordered McCarrick to leave the seminary where he resided and prohibited him celebrating Mass publicly, participating in meetings, giving conferences and travelling, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.

It is the the Nuncio Sambi who communicates these measures to McCarrick, during a stormy meeting.  Then, when Viganò becomes the Nuncio of the United States, it is precisely he who  reminds McCarrick of the the Pope’s orders, who then merely mutters a confused reply attempting ineptly to minimize [everything].

But how did McCarrick manage to become what he became (Archbishop of Washington,  and Cardinal, after being Archbishop of Newark) seeing his behaviour  was what it was?

If you ask this to Monsignor  Viganò, he lays the responsibility  of McCarrick’s career on Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State from 1991 to 2006 and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his successor. But Viganò involves also the present Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. When in fact it is clear to everyone that McCarrick does not obey Benedict’s  orders and instead travels the world, Viganò also writes to Parloin asking if the sanctions are still valid , but his question remains answers – as usual - unanswered.

Others who certainly knew, but kept silent, were, writes Viganò:  Cardinal Levada, Cardinal Sandri, Monsignor Becciu (now a cardinal) and Cardinals Lajolo and Mamberti.  In other words – everybody at the top.

No less devastating, according to Viganò’s revelations, is the picture in the United States.  Also there everyone knew, starting with Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in Washington, but no-one did a thing.  And today Wuerl’s declarations, where he says he knew nothing “are absolutely laughable”.

Regarding  Cardinal Kevin Farrell, actual Prefect of the Vatican Ministry for the Laity, Family and Life, who, in turn, said he had never heard anything about Cardinal McCarrick’s abuses, Viganò writes: “Given his tenure in Washington, Dallas and now Rome, I think no one can honestly believe him”.      

Lastly of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Head of the Vatican Commission for The Protection of Minors, Viganò states: “I would simply say that his latest statements on the McCarrick case are disconcerting, and have totally obscured his transparency and credibility.”  
At this point, however, the drama of Monsignor Viganò’s affidavit rises further in tone, as he implicates Pope Francis directly.  

It is 2013, in the month of June. There is a meeting in Rome of the Nuncios from all over the world and also Monsignor Viganò is present. Stirred by the prospect of his first encounter with the new Pontiff, the Archbishop goes to Casa Santa Marta, the residence chosen by Bergoglio instead of the Apostolic Palace,  and who does he find there? No other than a relaxed and smiling Cardinal McCarrick wearing the red-trimmed cassock and he greets Viganò letting him know in mocking tone: “The Pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I’m going to China.”

Viganò notes: “At the time I knew nothing of his long friendship with Cardinal Bergoglio and of the important part he had played in his recent election, as McCarrick himself would later reveal in a lecture at Villanova University and in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. Nor had I ever thought of the fact that he had participated in the preliminary meetings of the recent conclave, and of the role he had been able to have as a cardinal elector in the 2005 conclave. Therefore I did not immediately grasp the meaning of the encrypted message that McCarrick had communicated to me, but that would become clear to me in the days immediately following.”

The first eagerly awaited meeting of Viganò with the Pope has something of the surreal about it and leaves the poor Nuncio speechless. But the worst is yet to come.

It is Sunday, June 23rd 2013. The Pope receives Viganò before the Angelus. He makes some statements that sound somewhat enigmatic to the Archbishop, then point-blank he asks him: “What is Cardinal McCarrick like?”  To which the Nuncio replies: “Holy Father, I don’t know if you know Cardinal McCarrick, but if you ask the Congregation for Bishops there is a dossier this thick about him. He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.” The Pope’s reaction? None at all. Actually, Bergoglio immediately changes the subject. Well, then wonders a bewildered Viganò , why did he ask me that question?

He understood upon his return to Washington. He learns that between the Pope and McCarrick there is a close relationship. The question the Pope asked the Nuncio was thus a trap. The fact is that according to Monsignor Viganò’s account, since June 23rd 2013 at least, Pope Francis has known about the McCarrick case.

At this point Viganò comments: “Pope Francis has repeatedly asked for total transparency in the Church and for bishops and faithful to act with parrhesia. The faithful throughout the world also demand this of him in an exemplary manner.  He must honestly state when he first learned about the crimes committed by McCarrick, who abused his authority with seminarians and priests. 

 In any case, the Pope learned about it from me on June 23, 2013 and continued to cover for him. He did not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him and made him his trusted counsellor along with Cardinal Maradiaga. The latter [Maradiaga] is so confident of the Pope’s protection that he can dismiss as “gossip” the heartfelt appeals of dozens of his seminarians, who found the courage to write to him after one of them tried to commit suicide over homosexual abuse in the seminary.”

So Francis knew. He has known for a while, at least five years. “He has known since June 23rd 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator. But “despite knowing  he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end; indeed, he made McCarrick’s advice his own, which was certainly not inspired by sound intentions and for love of the Church. It was only when he was forced by the report of the abuse of a minor, again on the basis of media attention, that he took action [regarding McCarrick] to save his image in the media.”

 “Now – continues Viganò -  in the United States a chorus of voices is rising especially from the lay faithful and has recently been joined by several bishops and priests, asking that all those who, by their silence, covered up McCarrick’s criminal behavior, or who used him to advance their career or promote their intentions, ambitions and power in the Church, should resign. 

But this will not be enough to heal the situation of extremely grave immoral behaviour by the clergy, bishops and priests. A time of conversion and penance must be proclaimed. The virtue of chastity must be recovered in the clergy and in seminaries. Corruption in the misuse of the Church’s resources and of the offerings of the faithful must be fought against. The seriousness of homosexual behaviour must be denounced.”

“I implore everyone, especially Bishops, to speak up in order to defeat this conspiracy of silence that is so widespread, and to report the cases of abuse they know about to the media and civil authorities. 

 Let us heed the most powerful message that St. John Paul II left us as an inheritance: Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!”

At the Angelus on August 12th Francis said that “Everyone is guilty of the good that he could have done but didn’t do...if we don’t oppose evil, we feed it tacitly. It is necessary to intervene where evil is spreading; as evil spreads where  bold Christians are lacking in opposing it with good.”

If this is true, and it is, how much graver is the responsibility of the Pope, the Supreme Pastor!  Yet, sustains Viganò, in the case of McCarrick, the Supreme Pastor “not only did not oppose evil but associated himself in doing evil with someone he knew to be deeply corrupt. He followed the advice of someone he knew well to be a pervert, thus multiplying exponentially with his supreme authority the evil done by McCarrick. And how many other evil pastors is Francis still continuing to prop up in their active destruction of the Church! 

Francis is abdicating the mandate which Christ gave to Peter to confirm the brethren. Indeed, by his action he has divided them, led them into error, and encouraged the wolves to continue to tear apart the sheep of Christ’s flock. “

Pope Francis then: “must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”

This is the stipulation, peremptory, in no uncertain terms: resignation. The only action that can aid recovery.

The situation is dramatic, but Monsignor Viganò invites us not to lose hope.  

Even “in disorientation and sadness” he says, let us think of the many priests and bishops who fulfil their duties and we must not lose faith in the Lord. Rather, it is precisely at these moments that “the grace of the Lord reveals itself abundantly and makes His endless mercy available to all; but this is conceded only to those who are truly repentant and propose sincerely to mend their ways. This is the most fitting time  for the Church  to confess its sins, to convert and do penance. Let us all pray for the Church and the Pope, remembering how many times he has asked us to pray for him.”  
 Quotations from Monsignor Viganò taken from the original English version here:

Translation of Aldo Maria Valli’s  article:  Contributor Francesa Romana