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Today In The Catholic Scandal

A roundup of today's breaking news and commentary

The news is happening so fast and furious in the Catholic scandal that I can’t keep up. Here’s the view from here at midday.

1. Marco Tosatti comes forward as Vigano’s ghostwriter.

The conservative Vatican journalist says that Archbishop Vigano approached him weeks ago with the allegations that became the basis of the Vigano testimony. Tosatti explains to the AP how the document came about. Excerpts:

Tosatti, a longtime correspondent for Italian daily La Stampa but who now writes largely for more conservative blogs, said after their initial meeting a few weeks ago, Vigano wasn’t prepared to go public.

But Tosatti said he called him after the Pennsylvania grand jury report published Aug. 15 alleged some 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses abused more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years, and that a sequence of bishops had covered it up.

Tosatti said he told Vigano: “I think that if you want to say something, now is the moment, because everything is going upside-down in the United States. He said ‘OK.’”

The two then met at Tosatti’s Rome apartment.

“He had prepared some kind of a draft of a document and he sat here by my side,” Tosatti told the AP from behind his desk, pointing to the wooden chair to his right. “I told him that we had to work on it really because it was not in a journalistic style.”

Tosatti said he persuaded Vigano to cut claims that couldn’t be substantiated or documented “because it had to be absolutely water-proof.” They worked for three hours.

Tosatti said he was well aware of the implications of the document and what it took for a Holy See diplomat to reveal secrets he had kept for years.

“They are brought up to die silent,” Tosatti said of Holy See diplomats. “So what he was doing, what he was going to do, was something absolutely against his nature.”

But he said Vigano felt compelled to publish out of a sense of duty to the Catholic Church and to clear his conscience.

“He enjoys a good health but 77 is an age where you start preparing yourself … he couldn’t have a clear conscience unless he spoke,” Tosatti said.

Fascinating. Vigano is a man who is preparing to meet his Maker, and is clearing his conscience.

I see that on social media, some Francis backers are treating this like it’s a big, compromising deal. It’s not — not remotely. Do people think that politicians actually write their own speeches? That rarely happens. Nor does the Pope. I’ve ghostwritten before, and it’s a perfectly normal practice for people who have something to say, and want to say it as effectively as possible. I collaborated with the actor Wendell Pierce on his memoir. Every word in it is Wendell’s, based on many hours of interviews with him. I had the time and the expertise to weave it together into a narrative, every sentence of which he approved, and even improved as we went along.

Tosatti explains why Vigano needed help from a journalist: because he did not write it in journalistic style, and because he was preparing to make allegations that couldn’t be substantiated. Knowing that Vigano worked with a professional journalist adds credibility to this testimony, because as Tosatti said, he edited out claims that couldn’t be backed up.

Of course now other journalists need to set out to verify those claims independently.

(Side note: the AP’s Nicole Winfield continues to let her ideological biases into her reporting. She characterizes the National Catholic Register as “ultraconservative” — as if it were some far-right fringe publication. It’s totally center-right in the Catholic journalism world. That “ultraconservative” designation says more about Winfield’s biases than it does about the Register‘s. Keep that in mind as you read her reporting in the future.)

2. McCarrick whistleblower Father Boniface Ramsey reacts to the Vigano testimony.

Here’s an odd Register interview with the Dominican priest who has for years — until recently, behind the scenes — tried to warn the Vatican and anybody who would listen about McCarrick’s sexual corruption. Excerpts:

His story begins Thanksgiving week in 2000. “I wrote a letter to [the then-apostolic nuncio] Archbishop Montalvo on Nov. 22, 2000, and nobody asked me to do it. Afterward, I phoned the nunciature to let Montalvo know the letter was coming. I got him on the phone in just a few seconds.”

Then Father Ramsey called a friend to share his plans. This friend, an “upright priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, who I respect a great deal, warned me against sending the letter,” said the Dominican priest.

“His view was that the nuncio would show the letter to McCarrick, and I would be destroyed.”


Turning to the broad scope and often angry tone of Archbishop Viganò’s bombshell letter, Father Ramsey described the language as “overly emphatic.”

“You don’t attack the pope publicly like this,” he said. “You don’t make gratuitous insults … if you are providing serious testimony.”

But even as Father Ramsey sharply criticized elements of Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, he did not suggest the charges should be dismissed out of hand.

“That doesn’t mean what he is saying isn’t true,” the priest said.

So, a criticism of style, not substance. More:

Despite his long campaign against McCarrick, Father Ramsey also appeared uncomfortable with Archbishop Viganò’s strongly stated indictment of homosexual networks that sought to advance the careers and agendas of specific prelates. Thus, he stressed that a push for additional reforms to address unresolved sexual misconduct and abuse at seminaries shouldn’t turn into a “witch hunt” against homosexuals in the priesthood.

“I was talking to a priest from Newark this morning, and voiced my opinion that I am opposed of going after gay people,” Father Ramsey said. “He agreed, and said a large percentage of the Archdiocese of Newark would be out if they ‘outed’ gay people.”

But Ramsey goes on to give an example of how he, as a voting member of the seminary faculty in Newark, kept one of McCarrick’s favored gay candidates from ordination, and McCarrick retaliated by removing Ramsey from the voting faculty. So is there a lavender mafia — that is, a clerical gay network that advances its members, and retaliates against those who oppose it — or isn’t there? I’m not quite sure what Father Ramsey is getting at in this interview. It sounds like he’s backing away from the unpleasant implications of his own testimony.

3. Register stands by its reporting on Benedict XVI and McCarrick sanctions. 

There’s a hubbub over the fact that BXVI’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has told a German newspaper that Benedict did not confirm the Vigano testimony. Tim Busch, an American Catholic on the board of EWTN (parent company of the National Catholic Register) was cited in the NYT as saying that “leaders of the publication had personally assured him that the former pope, Benedict XVI, had confirmed Archbishop Viganò’s account.”

Today, Edward Pentin of the Register writes:

Much is being made on social media today about Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s comments in which he said it is “fake news” to suggest that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI confirmed Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony on abuse cover up in the Vatican.

What Archbishop Gänswein said is entirely accurate: Any assertion that the Pope Emeritus had seen the entire testimony, and confirmed it, is untrue.

The Register also never reported this.

What we did report, given by an inside source close to Benedict in July, was that Benedict had issued sanctions against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick but was unable to remember their precise nature.

That has not been denied.

The problem here is either with Busch mischaracterizing what he was told by the Register‘s editors, or with the Times for mischaracterizing what Busch told them. As a journalist, it’s not hard to see how one gets the critical nuance of a claim like that wrong. The fact of the matter is that the Register never reported that Benedict positively affirmed the contents of the Vigano testimony. Here is what the Register wrote on August 25:

The Register has independently confirmed that the allegations against McCarrick were certainly known to Benedict, and the Pope Emeritus remembers instructing Cardinal Bertone to impose measures but cannot recall their exact nature.

The paper does not cite Benedict directly, or any source directly.

4. Why Francis can’t ignore the Vigano testimony.

Father Gerald Murray has a strong piece in First Things today about why Pope Francis can’t ignore the Vigano testimony. Excerpts:

The stunned outrage occasioned by Viganò’s allegations of papal malfeasance regarding the moral turpitude of ex-Cardinal McCarrick is unprecedented in my lifetime. McCarrick’s gross immorality and abuse of authority is a monumental “source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.” Even more stunning is Viganò’s account that Francis removed the penitential restrictions Benedict placed on McCarrick. Only Francis can explain the truth or falsehood of Viganò’s account. Not to do so is to leave the entire Church, and especially McCarrick’s victims, with the impression that it does not matter that he was a predatory sex offender; he’s the pope’s friend, he is unaccountable, nothing and no one else matters.

Exactly. More:

Will the Viganò memo meet the same fate as the five Dubia on Amoris Laetitia submitted by Cardinal Burke et al.? For the good of the Church, the faithful must not let that happen. Francis should not be shown the misplaced charity of silence in response to his silence. Recall that Juan Barros would still be the bishop of Osorno, Chile, if the laity in particular had not kept insisting on the need to answer the question, “Why is this underserving man who failed to protect victims of sexual abuse by an important cleric (Fr. Fernando Karadima) still the bishop of a diocese?” This time the question is: “Did Pope Francis ignore and cover up McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians, abuse made possible by McCarrick’s immoral use of his episcopal authority?” If the pope did this, by his own words he indicts himself. That question, prompted by Viganò’s eminently coherent account of his personal interactions with Francis, must be answered. Our pontiff must confirm the brethren in the truth by telling the Church what he knew and did regarding McCarrick.

More on that point in the next item. I don’t want to leave Father Murray’s essay without citing and commenting on this point:

One great lesson of this scandal is that inflicting private and unpublicized penalties for grave offenses against chastity on “important” clerics is a huge mistake. When Benedict found McCarrick to be guilty as charged, the rest of the Church should have been told. McCarrick would not then have been able to pretend he was under no censure. Any violation of the terms of his punishment would have been noted by everyone and thus not allowed to happen. Then Cardinal McCarrick would not have been at the 2013 conclave, just as the Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien was not present due to his sexual abuse of adult males under his authority.

Owing to his advanced age, McCarrick was not eligible to vote in the 2013 conclave, but he spoke at the meeting in advance, and by his own testimony at Villanova a few years back, was influential in pushing Bergoglio’s candidacy. Plus, according to influential progressive Catholic journalist Rocco Palmo’s 2016 account of how Cardinal Tobin moved to Newark, McCarrick’s influence counted for a great deal with the Pope:

As reported at the top, multiple signs point to Newark’s fourth archbishop [McCarrick] as the lead architect behind the choice of his second successor. Having maintained an enduring devotion for and among the Jersey church since his transfer to the capital in 2000, McCarrick – who Francis is said to revere as “a hero” of his – made a direct appeal over recent weeks for Tobin to be named to Newark, according to two sources familiar with the cardinal’s thinking.

I suppose that even a publicly disgraced McCarrick might still have had influence behind the scenes, but it certainly would have been much more difficult. Father Murray is right: this old-school Catholic way of handling things quietly and allowing the institutional Church to enjoy a smooth, flawless reputation in public, has to end. Benedict failed in his management of McCarrick.

5. Francis doesn’t get the full spectrum meaning of sexual abuse and corruption. 

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican journalist considered to be closest to Pope Francis, has a long piece in La Stampa today attempting to knock down the Vigano testimony. If this is the best Team Francis can do, the pope is in trouble.

It’s a shallow exercise in whataboutism and ad hominem, but this part is especially interesting:

A doubt can be raised about [McCarrick’s] appointment to Washington, but why no one think to investigate before he was created cardinal the following year? But why did the nuncio not insist, if he was so sure of the abuses committed against seminarians and priests (always of legal age), asking John Paul II for an audience?

More Tornielli:

New complaints arrived in 2006, when the Pope was Benedict, and the Secretary of State was Tarcisio Bertone. This time a former priest and abuser of children Gregory Littleton enters the scene, who gives the nuncio to the USA (at that moment Monsignor Pietro Sambi) a memory in which he tells that he too was sexually harassed by McCarrick (always as over-18).


It is worth remembering: no one has ever spoken, let alone denounced, about child abuse. We are talking about harassment of people of full age, which – given that it is the bishop who invites his seminarians or priests to bed, are actually an abuse.

The translation is bad, but you see what Tornielli is doing here: reminding his readers that hey, it wasn’t so bad, it’s sex with adults, after all.

Ross Douthat nails it:


Here is what Pope Francis said in a press conference about the case of Monsignor Battista Ricca, appointed by Francis to run the Vatican Bank, despite the fact that in his career as a Vatican diplomat, Ricca lived a scandalous life. Ricca shacked up with his gay lover, a former Swiss Guard officer, and was beaten badly one night in a park notorious for gay men cruising for sex. Plus, he was once caught in a stuck elevator with a young male prostitute. According to Vatican journalist Sandro Magister, Ricca’s friends in the Vatican kept all of this out of his personnel file:

But at the Vatican there are some who actively promoted this cover-up operation. By blocking the investigations from the time of the events until today. By concealing the reports from the nuncio. By keeping Ricca’s personal file immaculate. In this way they facilitated a prestigious new career for Ricca.

Therefore, the new Pope had no way of knowing what his new appointee had done. When asked on the plane in about the Ricca affair, Francis said:

About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that.

Got that? Ricca was a sinner, and we must forgive. Therefore, this sexually corrupt lavender mafiosi gets a pass in Francis’s book, because hey, what’s a little gay sex among monsignors, right?

This is one of the things Vigano condemns in his testimony: the kind of lavender mafia behavior in the Catholic hierarchy that winks at homosexual corruption. Nobody has ever said that Francis is gay, but it’s clear that he doesn’t take sexual corruption among priests as seriously as he should.

Along those lines, what is quite telling at this stage is how so many public commentators on the US Catholic left, despite claiming to take sexual abuse seriously, throw their scruples aside for the sake of protecting Francis against Vigano’s accusations. If they were principled, they would hold the same view that conservative Matthew Schmitz does:


6. Cupich on the Pope’s “bigger agenda”.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago doesn’t take the Vigano allegations as seriously as he ought. Watch the video embedded in Matthew Schmitz’s tweet:


Cupich used the “rabbit hole” line in an interview with National Catholic Reporter as well.

That’s whistling past the graveyard, for sure. As important as the environment and immigration are, nothing is more important than the credibility of the papacy, and of the Roman church’s leadership, on the questions of sexual abuse and misconduct. If what Vigano alleges is true, then the corruption goes all the way to the top of the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis is no better than those he criticizes. If not, not. There is no issue more important than this one for the Catholic Church. Phil Lawler says:

Introducing an interview with Cardinal Blase Cupich, a Chicago TV anchor referred to the “explosive allegations” in the testimony of Archbishop Vigano. But the cardinal himself told the interviewer that the Pope was “not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.” He explained: “The Pope has a bigger agenda.” And what could be bigger than ensuring that predator-prelates are not setting Church policy? Bigger than stopping sexual abuse? Bigger than demonstrating that the Catholic hierarchy is trustworthy? Bigger than showing that the Vatican is not sheltering a criminal enterprise? The cardinal’s first example: “talking about the environment…”

7. The unexpected future of Catholic congregationalism.

A Catholic reader who is an academic writes:

For the last 50 years in the Catholic church, liberals have been basically anti-clerical. They never took seriously JPII or Benedict nor any of their appointed bishops. They basically did their own thing and individual priests told parishioners the same thing [while] conservatives were the stalwart defenders of the hierarchy and Rome.

Now the tables have been reversed. It’s the liberals who say: listen to Francis, listen to Cupich and McElroy. Listen to the church teachings on climate change and immigration. Don’t dare criticize the pope or his allies. And it’s conservatives who are now realizing that their future rests at the local and individual level and that any rebirth of the Church is going to start there. The hierarchy is just too corrupt and you can’t trust them.  I’m very interested in seeing how this all plays out.



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