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Answering Vigano’s Critics

Pope Francis backers are trying to dismiss the ex-nuncio's explosive charges. Here's why they're wrong
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It has been only two days since Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano published his damning indictment of Pope Francis and some senior cardinals in the Catholic hierarchy. Below, in boldface, I offer defenses offered by Francis supporters, and reasons why these claims don’t hold up.

“Vigano’s statement is nothing but politics, and should therefore be dismissed.”

It is undoubtedly the case that Vigano is playing church politics with his statement. In fact, Vigano did himself no favors by framing his charges in terms that align with the civil war inside the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the truth or falsity of these claims does not stand or fall based on Vigano’s motives. Whistleblowers are rarely disinterested parties. One must separate Vigano’s motives from the substance of the claims themselves. This morning, a former nunciature official in Washington confirmed to Catholic News Agency that “Vigano said the truth.”

One of the first truths I learned in covering the abuse scandal in the early 2000s is that the left-right framework is fairly useless as a guide to understanding matters. Conservative prelates like Cardinal Law covered up, as did liberal prelates like Archbishop Rembert Weakland (who used church money to pay off his gay lover). If you decide that the only bad guys are those on the other side, you commit yourself to believing all manner of lies to maintain that fiction.

Michael Sean Winters, the Pasionaria of the US Catholic left, throws everything he has at Vigano in an ad hominem attempt to discredit him. This is crude, Trump-worthy obfuscation by a partisan who would stand by Francis even if the pontiff rogered a seminarian on Fifth Avenue while whistling “On Eagle’s Wings.” Nevertheless, there is one nugget of information worth pursuing here: “But why does Vigano fail to mention the key role played by Cardinal Stanislaus Dsiwisz (sic) in protecting McCarrick?” Dziwisz was John Paul II’s private secretary. I had not heard that he protected McCarrick, but if there’s merit to the charge, then it needs to be investigated without fear or favor. Recognizing the inherent political nature of Vigano’s allegations requires us to consider what Vigano may be leaving out for political reasons. But it by no means discredits the claims made in the document.

“Vigano can’t be believed because as Washington nuncio, he ordered a cover-up of an investigation into the alleged secret gay life of Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul.”

Yes, he did this. Shame on him. This makes Vigano a hypocrite, but not a liar.

“Vigano says that Benedict XVI put Cardinal McCarrick on a secret disciplinary plan around 2009 or 2010. If that’s true, then why was McCarrick seen in public ministry at that time?”

Because McCarrick defied the pope’s order. One main theme of the Vigano statement is that these curial cardinals and their allies (Wuerl, McCarrick, et al.) are laws unto themselves. In 2005, shortly after becoming Pope, Benedict reportedly pointed to the entrance to his office and told a visitor, “My authority ends at that door.” In one sense this is false. The Catholic Church officially teaches that the Pope has universal authority over the governance of the Church. Benedict was talking about de facto authority. He was talking about how he was, in reality, a figurehead. His 2013 resignation was said to have come about after he realized how thoroughly the pro-gay lobby within the Roman curia had seized the reigns of power.

What this scandal reveals (among other things) is a core crisis in governance of the Catholic Church. Five years ago, Jose Gomez, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, publicly rebuked his predecessor, Cardinal Mahony, for his unspeakable behavior in the child sex abuse scandal, and restricted his public ministry. Mahony, one of the lavender mafiosi, is still out and about. These are lawless men.

Back in 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the CDF, sent a letter to US bishops saying that they are to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians. Right or wrong, that was the order from Rome. But Cardinal McCarrick, who was in charge of communicating that directive to the American bishops, lied about it, and misled the American bishops. He faced no sanctions from Rome for having done so.

Though his was an improvement on his predecessor’s, Pope Benedict’s governing style was weak. It is a matter of speculation as to whether that was a matter of recognizing painful realities (“My authority ends at that door”), or whether it was a case of personal weakness — in particular, a fear of giving public scandal by challenging prelates publicly.

The point is, McCarrick’s public activities during which time he was supposed to be restricted from public ministry do not put the lie to the claim that Benedict restricted him. They may only testify to the fact that McCarrick was defiant.

Benedict should speak on the record to clarify this matter. Admirers of Benedict XVI — including me — should not be afraid to concede that he does not come out of this affair looking great.

“We shouldn’t believe Vigano because he’s obviously pursuing a personal vendetta.”

It is undeniable that Vigano has personal motive to strike out at his enemies within the Curia. Benedict XVI had put Vigano in charge of governing the Vatican, including cleaning up the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank. When Vigano started uncovering corruption and making a stink about it, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the No. 2 figure in Benedict’s Vatican, had Vigano removed and exiled to Washington, against his will. Benedict accepted this decision (the Guardian‘s Paul Vallely tells that story here). Bertone is an archvillain in the Vigano statement of the weekend. There can be no question that Vigano is striking back at him — but again, motive is beside the point. Are the allegations true? 

“Vigano calls on the Pope to resign. He’s pursuing a coup to advance his own career in the Vatican. Who can believe him?”

Vigano is 77 years old, and retired. His career is over. Whatever he stands to gain from this statement, career advancement is not among them.

“Unless Vigano produces evidence to back up his claims, I’m going to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt.”

From 1998 to 2009, Vigano was in charge of the Vatican office overseeing all the Vatican nunciatures (embassies) around the world. From 2011 to 2016, he ran the Washington nunciature. He claimed in his statement:

All the memos, letters and other documentation mentioned here are available at the Secretariat of State of the Holy See or at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Vatican or the DC nunciature to release those documents. Still, keep in mind that Vigano was a senior Vatican diplomat who was in a position to have all this knowledge, and to see the documents. His extraordinary claims in the statement over the weekend ought to be investigated, but to say you won’t credit him until and unless he hands over documents is defense not from a position of strength, but from weakness. If he had been a low-level functionary, such a stance would be more plausible. But he was at the heart of the Vatican’s office that dealt with such matters.

Besides, if these Vigano claims were false, it would have been very easy for Pope Francis to have denied them. Instead, on the papal plane back from Dublin yesterday, he issued a weird statement claiming that he wouldn’t have a single word to say about it, and calling on reporters to read Vigano’s document and to exercise their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

Again: if the allegations are false, you say, “They’re false.” But that’s not what the Pope said. At all. If the Pope thinks he can ignore Vigano as he has ignored the dubia cardinals, he is gravely mistaken.

In fact, all of these prelates named by Vigano should respond to his extremely serious charges. When charges as explosive as these are leveled by a man who was in Vigano’s senior position within the Vatican apparatus, they cannot be ignored. Silence speaks volumes.