Pope addresses Viganò report, child abuse cover-ups and families with gay children in press conference

 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis said Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò's long document calling on him to resign is written in a way that people should be able to draw their own conclusions.

“I read the statement this morning and, sincerely, I must say this to you and anyone interested: Read that statement attentively and make your own judgment,” he told reporters Aug. 26. “I think the statement speaks for itself, and you have a sufficient journalistic ability to make a conclusion.”

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Speaking to reporters traveling back to Rome with him from Dublin, the pope said his lack of comment was “an act of faith” in people reading the document. “Maybe when a bit of time has passed, I'll talk about it.”

Asked directly when he first learned of the former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse, Pope Francis said the question was related directly to Archbishop Viganò’s report and he would not comment now.

Pope Francis: “Read that statement attentively and make your own judgment.”

Archbishop Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States, claimed he told Pope Francis about Cardinal McCarrick in 2013.

In June, the Vatican announced that the pope had ordered the former Washington archbishop to live in “prayer and penance” while a canonical process proceeds against him. The pope later accepted Archbishop McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals.

The issue of clerical sexual abuse and other crimes and mistreatment of minors and vulnerable adults by Catholic priests and religious and the attempts by bishops and superiors to cover up the facts dominated the news coverage of the pope's trip to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.

The pope said his meeting Aug. 25 with survivors of abuse was “very painful,” but it was very important “to listen to these people.”

Archbishop Viganò claimed he told Pope Francis about Cardinal McCarrick in 2013.

Marie Collins, a survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told reporters after the meeting that she is still concerned that the pope has not established a tribunal to investigate and hold accountable bishops accused of failing to protect minors and covering up abuse.

Pope Francis said while he likes and admires Collins, “she is fixated” on the accountability tribunal, and he believes he has found a more efficient and flexible way to investigate and try suspected bishops by setting up temporary tribunals when needed.

The pope then went on to describe how “many bishops” had been investigated and tried, most recently Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam. In March an ad hoc apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of “certain accusations.”

Pope Francis said the archbishop has appealed the conviction and, while he has asked some canon lawyers for input, he plans to make the final judgment on the archbishop's case himself.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church.]

But the archbishop was accused of sexually abusing minors; the tribunal Collins was talking about was supposed to look specifically at bishops accused of covering up cases of abuse.

The pope immediately welcomed one of the suggestions made during the meeting with survivors: that he ask publicly and very specifically for forgiveness for the abuse that took place in a variety of Catholic institutions. The result was a penitential litany at the beginning of the Mass he celebrated in Dublin Aug. 26 to close the World Meeting of the Families.

Pope Francis said the survivors’ meeting was the first time he had heard details about the church-run homes for women who were pregnant out of wedlock. Many of the women were forced to give their babies up for adoption and were even told that it would be a “mortal sin” to go looking for their children.

The now-notorious St. Mary’s home for unmarried mothers and their children in Tuam was a specific case brought to the pope's attention personally by Katherine Zappone, Irish minister for children and youth affairs.

Francis pleaded with Catholic parents to listen to their children, even if the thought of a priest abusing them is horrifying.

Pope Francis told reporters that Zappone had given him a memo about a “mass grave” found on the site of one of the homes and “it appears that the church was involved.”

In May 2014 a local amateur historian in Tuam claimed that between 1925 and 1961, 796 infants died in St. Mary's home. She found burial records only for two of the children. The rest, she believed, were buried in a common grave on the site, including in a former septic tank. The home was run by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns.

The Irish government is still in the process of trying to determine the best way to remember the victims and decide what to do with the Tuam site.

Asked by reporters what lay Catholics can do about the clerical abuse scandal, Pope Francis responded, “When you see something, say something immediately,” preferably to someone with the authority to investigate and stop it.

The role of the media is important for getting the truth out, he said, but journalists should be careful to write about accusations “always with the presumption of innocence, not a presumption of guilt.”

He pleaded with Catholic parents to listen to their children, even if the thought of a priest abusing them is horrifying. Stating again that he often meets on Fridays with survivors of abuse, he told reporters, “I met a woman who has suffered with this wound for 40 years because her parents would not believe her.”

During the inflight news conference, Pope Francis also was asked about Ireland's legalization of gay marriage and what advice he would give the parent of a gay child.

“What would I say to a parent whose son or daughter had that tendency? I would say first, pray. Don't condemn. Dialogue, understand, make room for that son or daughter, make room so he can express himself,” the pope said.

“I would never say silence is a remedy,” he said. And “to ignore one's son or daughter who has a homosexual tendency is a failure of fatherhood or motherhood.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Victoria Tanco
3 weeks 2 days ago

Cindy, there is so much being said about all this in the media. How do we know whom to trust anymore? I read the letter from Vigano and don’t know what to think. Thank you for reporting what you can.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 2 days ago

I feel sorry for Pope Francis. Events are overtaking him. His refusal to say he heard about McCarrick's sins and crimes is like taking the 5th (US constitution). It is possible he heard about the McCarrick stuff and did not believe them. If so, he should say so. Just as in the Chilean reversal, an honest reversal can be tolerable. Stonewalling is intolerable. Several top bishops are now credibly accused by one who was in a senior office (Papal Nuncio). They need to be cleared or they cannot function credibly. Perhaps, they should offer to step aside from any committees until they are cleared, which is the standard today for anyone accused of enabling child sex abuse.

Jim Spangler
3 weeks 2 days ago

Tim, I agree! All of these named need to be sit aside until all investigations are processed! They should not be allowed to influence decisions or reports. It needs to be equal to the secular world with "Administrative Leave"! They should not be privy to any information whatsoever, who's being interviewed, what is said etc. Most Dioceses have responsible assistants who can manage a Diocese during this time. If not, a board should appoint those that are squeaky clean! LORD send down Your Spirit and renew the Church! Purify and cleanse! Amen!

Douglas Fang
3 weeks 1 day ago

Vigano? A forgotten cultural warrior of the past who is trying desperately to hang on to a glorious disgraceful past. There is nothing honest in his letter. The Pope is right to ask anyone of us who still (may?) have a rational and honest mind to read Vigano’s letter and make our own judgment. There is nothing worthy for the Pope to answer such a dishonorable letter.

Danny Collins
3 weeks 1 day ago

@Douglas Fang, What is dishonorable about the letter? You make a pretty broad claim but offer no examples of areas in which Vigano lied. For instance, did Francis know about the restrictions placed on McCarrick or not? Did Wuerl know or not? The Catholic Herald is reporting that, "Archdiocesan spokesman Ed McFadden confirmed for the Catholic Herald that Cardinal Wuerl did, in fact, cancel the event “at the nuncio’s request”." If he cancelled it at Vigano's request, did they never ask why such a request was made? Such a lack of curiosity in restricting such a powerful man is quite simply unbelievable.

When you look at the vatileaks scandal, many of the key memos about corruption that were leaked were written by Vigano. Research it. Vigano has a reputation for fighting corruption and your calumny against him is disgraceful.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 1 day ago

Douglas - I appreciate your strong loyalty to the Holy father and your dismissal of anyone who accuses him. Archbishop Vigano is no minor figure. He had access to all the documents he in referencing and has sworn an oath that it is true. No one else has done such a thing. Most are keeping quiet. Anyway, this has already hit a critical mass of media attention and cannot subside without detailed investigation. I hope Pope Francis comes out of this looking better than he does now, but the truth will come out, no matter what our predispositions are.

Danny Collins
3 weeks 1 day ago

The headline is misleading. The Pope refused to address Vigano's claims, instead condescendingly saying to the reporters that investigating it professionally and thoroughly would be good for their character development. This can be seen in videos which include the next question about Marie Collins meeting with the pope, but is typically cut off.

The fact is, reinstating abusers that Benedict restricted is nothing new for Pope Francis. Fr. Mauro Inzoli abused numerous children and was defrocked by Francis. However, Inzoli had friends in high places, and Cardinal Coccopalmerio intervened in his behalf, leading to Francis reinstating him as a priest. Then, after his conviction for child sexual abuse in the Italian criminal courts, Francis was forced to defrock him again. The Barros case in Chile is similar. Francis only acts to remove abusers he likes when the media forces him to. Usually, the media isn't too interested in holding their favorite pope's feet to the fire, even in cases of great scandal like t his. Basically, nobody's followed up on the many questions raised by the McCarrick scandal about how a man so evil became the public face of the US Catholic Church's response to the sex abuse crisis. There are so many stories to be pursued about who knew and when, but nobody seems to be working these angles.

Danny Collins
3 weeks 1 day ago

The headline is misleading. The Pope refused to address Vigano's claims, instead condescendingly saying to the reporters that investigating it professionally and thoroughly would be good for their character development. This can be seen in videos which include the next question about Marie Collins meeting with the pope, but is typically cut off.

The fact is, reinstating abusers that Benedict restricted is nothing new for Pope Francis. Fr. Mauro Inzoli abused numerous children and was defrocked by Francis. However, Inzoli had friends in high places, and Cardinal Coccopalmerio intervened in his behalf, leading to Francis reinstating him as a priest. Then, after his conviction for child sexual abuse in the Italian criminal courts, Francis was forced to defrock him again. The Barros case in Chile is similar. Francis only acts to remove abusers he likes when the media forces him to. Usually, the media isn't too interested in holding their favorite pope's feet to the fire, even in cases of great scandal like t his. Basically, nobody's followed up on the many questions raised by the McCarrick scandal about how a man so evil became the public face of the US Catholic Church's response to the sex abuse crisis. There are so many stories to be pursued about who knew and when, but nobody seems to be working these angles.

Paige Smyth
3 weeks 1 day ago

The fact trail actually speaks for itself with this issue. It is obvious Francis knew quite a bit. There is an obvious homosexual underground taking over the hierarchy of the church. Troubling times in the Catholic Church.

Also, I love how Francis didn’t address the gay marriage part of that question. Apparently he has a hard time saying it like it is

Michael Barberi
3 weeks 1 day ago

The Vigano letter implicates 3 popes in the McCarrick scandal, namely, Pope JP II who promoted McCarrick to Cardinal when accusations were known about him, Benedict XVI whose long delay in sanctioning him but not asking him for his Red Hat, and Pope Francis who is accused of lifting Benedict XVI sanctions but eventually accepted his resignation (which the pope could have pressured him to do). Confounding these accusations or implications is an account that McCarrick did not abide by Benedict XVI's sanctions even when it appears that Benedict VI was aware of this.

All of this must be investigated thoroughly by an independent Vatican or US Conference of Bishops lay-lead committee. IMO, it is clear that the sexual abuse scandal and the culture of clericalism is systemic, worldwide and varies by degree, from Popes on-down to Cardinals, Bishops and Priests. We need transparency, impartial investigations, justice and most importantly significant "reform".

Also most important: Cardinals, Bishops and Priests, inclusive of the Holy Father, should be considered innocent until proven guilty by a Vatican tribunal or a Episcopal Council in the case of a Pope. This must include Popes who have passed away (JP II) and those who are living but retired (Francis and Benedict XVI, respectively).

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