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The Hypocrisy Of Pope Francis’s Silence

The pope has repeatedly pushed for transparency -- but now he has cast a veil of silence over the culture of cover up

Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis, writes that the pontiff’s silence on the Vigano testimony is a sign of his holiness. Excerpt:

Yet rather than answer NBC’s Anna Matranga’s question on the plane asking if these claims were true, Francis said the document spoke for itself and that journalists had enough ‘professional maturity’ to reach their own conclusions. Later, he said, ‘maybe I will say some more.’

Some commentators saw this as a ‘stalling tactic’; others said Francis was refusing to play ‘a game that’s 2,000 years old’, in other words, to be drawn into the thickets and weeds of ecclesiastical intrigue. One commentary observed that rather than ‘accusing others and blameshifting,’ Francis ‘simply, in a very calm and dignified way, stimulated an objective and dispassionate investigation from third parties and entrusted himself to whatever the outcome may be, for he doesn’t fear truth, but rather is confident that truth will vindicate him.’

Bergoglio’s 1990 essay, ‘Silence and Word’, suggests a deeper spiritual purpose to his silence, one drawn from a meditation on the Passion in the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises. There St Ignatius describes how in the Passion, God ‘goes into hiding’, concealing, as it were, his divinity.

This is a very different kind of silence from, say, the silence of complicity or the silence of inaction faced with evidence of evil, as we have seen too often in the case of sexual abuse of minors.

The purpose of Christ’s self-emptying silence — his meekness faced with ferocious hostility — is to create space for God to act. This kind of silence involves a deliberate choice not to respond with an intellectual or reasoned self-defence, which in a context of confusion, of claims and counter-claims and half-truths, simply fuels the cycle of hysterical accusation and counter-accusation. It is a spiritual strategy to force the spirits behind the attack to reveal themselves.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Christopher Ruddy, a professor at Catholic University in DC, points out that it’s the same way that the Legionaries of Christ in 2004 regarded the silence of their founder, Marcial Maciel, in the face of serious and credible accusations that he was an abuser. From the document:

1. Fr. Marcial Maciel has received during his life a great number of accusations. In the last few years, some of these were presented to the Holy See so that a canonical process would be opened.

2. Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way.

Maciel, of course, was guilty as hell.

This doesn’t make Francis guilty of the accusations Vigano makes against him. But you really have to be a hardcore drinker of the Bergoglian Kool-Aid to accept the line that the pontiff’s silence makes him Christ-like. In 2015, Francis told 165 cardinals gathered in Rome that he wants “absolute transparency” in the running of the Roman Curia, which is notoriously corrupt. As recently as this past summer, Francis was still banging the gong for “transparency.” 

In his “Letter To The People Of God,” a response to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Pope Francis wrote:

 Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.  Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.  Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.  The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.


I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.  We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

And yet, when Francis and a number of cardinals, in the Roman curia and elsewhere, were accused with great specificity of indifference to and covering up Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians, the pope who only two weeks ago said that “no effort must be spared” to end the culture of cover up … falls silent.

He could speak directly to Vigano’s charges. He refuses to talk. His silence perpetuates a culture of cover up.

He could order the accused cardinals to address Vigano’s charges. He refuses to, and they have said nothing. His refusal perpetuates a culture of cover up.

He could order all the documents having to do with McCarrick to be released for journalists to examine. He has not done that. This refusal perpetuates a culture of cover up.

Of course the puppy-like willingness of Francis’s defenders to accept his silence also enables a culture of cover up. Folks like Austen Ivereigh an James Martin, SJ, have been strong voices in the past for reform on sex abuse, but now, when their man and others in the Vatican stand accused by a former high-ranking curial figure of covering up a gay cardinal’s abuse, they turn themselves into left-wing Bill Donohues (the reactionary ultramontanist who runs the Catholic League).

You don’t have to believe that Archbishop Vigano wrote his testimony from pure motives, or buy his lavender mafia theory, to recognize that he makes specific charges against Francis and other cardinals mentioned by name, related to covering up for Ted McCarrick. Vigano is not some disgruntled low-level official. He is a high-level curial figure, and as the papal nuncio to the US, was in a position to know about McCarrick and the way Rome dealt with him. Vigano’s accusations may be wrong, but they cannot be dismissed. The idea that Francis’s silence in the face of these damning allegations is a sign of his holiness is the kind of thing you’d have to be a numbskull to believe. And Austen Ivereigh is not remotely a numbskull.

It is sadly apparent that for some of these people, cleaning up sexual abuse and related corruption in the Roman Catholic Church is not as important as protecting the advancement of homosexuality and other progressive priorities.They are no better than the right-wing defenders of the status quo that their tribe has long criticized. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”




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