Vatican officials refuse to discuss Viganò’s letter, encourage journalists to study it
Vatican officials are tightlipped about Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s letter and feel more than a little shocked and bitter that he has not only called into question the integrity of so many senior officials of the administrations of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis—and asked for the latter’s resignation—but has also reignited serious questions about how the Polish and German popes handled the abuse cases during their pontificates.
Pope Francis is “serene,” despite the difficulties, but in the Vatican there are feelings of “bitter disappointment” and “restlessness,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, told journalists yesterday.
In his letter, the former papal nuncio to the United States revealed that he had told Francis about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuses and corrupt ways in a private audience in June 2013 and alleged—without providing evidence—that the pope not only covered up all this but also lifted the sanctions that Benedict XVI had imposed on McCarrick in 2009 or 2010. Under the sanctions, Archbishop Viganò said, the then-cardinal “had to leave the seminary where he was living, was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, or to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, and was under the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”
In the Vatican there are feelings of “bitter disappointment” and “restlessness.”
Archbishop Viganò said it was “certain” that Benedict imposed these sanctions on McCarrick and that they were communicated to him by Archbishop Pietro Sambi at the nunciature in Washington in an hour-long “stormy conversation.” He said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, “communicated these same dispositions” to him in November 2011 before he went to the United States as nuncio.
America contacted Cardinal Ouellet by phone and asked him to confirm this, but the Canadian cardinal said he preferred “not to comment on Viganò’s statement” because he had “just returned” from holidays today “and I need to see the pope first before talking to journalists.” Pope Francis had called on journalists to study the document carefully, and “I am at the pope’s service,” Cardinal Ouellet said. “I must see the pope first and then, maybe, maybe—it depends on him—maybe I can speak to journalists.”
America also tried to contact Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the former prefect of that same congregation, but the man who answered the phone said, “He is not at home” and then put the phone down. Subsequent attempts to make contact went unanswered.
“I must see the pope first and then, maybe, maybe—it depends on him—maybe I can speak to journalists,” said Cardinal Ouellet.
Two other Vatican officials with whom America spoke but who asked not to be named said they knew nothing about sanctions or restrictions on Archbishop McCarrick. Indeed, it seems that the bishops of the United States also knew nothing about them, and it is certain that the sanctions were not announced publicly. If they existed, as Archbishop Viganò insists, it is not clear if they were only conveyed orally.
In his letter, Archbishop Viganò said that, at his request, Francis granted him a 40-minute private audience on June 23, 2013, during which at one point, “the pope asked me in a deceitful way: ‘What is Cardinal McCarrick like?’”
Sources here say the pope often asks such questions and wonder why Archbishop Viganò should ever consider them “deceitful.” They also point out that according to the letter it was Francis, not the nuncio, who introduced Archbishop McCarrick into the conversation, and they ask why Archbishop Viganò did not first raise the matter if he were so concerned about the errant cardinal’s behavior.
The nuncio said he responded to Francis’ question in this “naïve” way: “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.”
He noted that “the pope did not make the slightest comment about these grave words of mine and did not show any expression of surprise on his face, as if he had already known the matter for some time, and he immediately changed the subject.”
Archbishop Viganò went on to suggest, without providing evidence, that Francis had lifted the sanctions on the cardinal and said, “It was also clear that, from the time of Francis’ election, McCarrick, now free from all constraints, had felt free to travel continuously, to give lectures and interviews.”
Sources ask how Archbishop Viganò can explain his own failure to impose the sanctions that he is blaming Francis for ignoring or lifting.
Sources here ask how Archbishop Viganò can explain his own failure to impose the sanctions that he is blaming Francis for ignoring or lifting. As an article in America revealed yesterday, in the period of alleged sanctions before the Jesuit pope’s election, that is from 2011 to 2013, the nuncio participated in several public events with Cardinal McCarrick in the United States. Moreover, the cardinal visited the Vatican, met Benedict XVI and celebrated Mass with U.S. church leaders on a number of occasions during the time the sanctions were said to be in force.
Archbishop Viganò also alleges—again without proof—that the pope “continued to cover him up” even after the nuncio had informed him about McCarrick three months after his election.
Apart from the question of the sanctions, America has learned from a Vatican source that even before John Paul II appointed Archbishop Theodore McCarrick to Washington, D.C., in 2000, it was already known by some in the Secretariat of State, and perhaps in other parts of the Roman Curia, too, that the archbishop was taking seminarians to his beach house.
At that time, the key figures in the appointment of bishops were Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, who was “substitute” or chief of staff from Dec. 12, 1989, until Sept. 16, 2000, when he became prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, a post he held until 2012, and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the private secretary of John Paul II throughout his pontificate. The two were very close to each other, had easy access to the Polish pope, were totally trusted by him and exercised great influence. The other increasingly important figure in such appointments was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as secretary of state from June 29, 1991, to June 22, 2006.
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri succeeded now-Cardinal Re as “substitute” in September 2006 and held that post until July 1, 2007, when he was succeeded by Archbishop Fernando Filoni (July 1, 2007 to May 10, 2011).
Archbishop Viganò’s letter mentions Re, Sandri and Sodano, but not Dziwisz.
Archbishop Viganò, who was an important figure in the Vatican but was not in the inner circle, said he revealed “those truths regarding the heart-breaking case” of 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 the end of May 2016.”
He explained that in this role as delegate in the Secretariat of State, his brief was broad, highly sensitive and concerned matters regarding human resources. He wrote, “My responsibilities were not limited to the Apostolic Nunciatures, but also included the staff of the Roman Curia (hires, promotions, informational processes on candidates to the episcopate, etc.) and the examination of delicate cases, including those regarding cardinals and bishops, that were entrusted by the Cardinal Secretary of State or by the Substitute of the Secretariat of State.” He had access to all personnel files and much more.
Archbishop Viganò had access to all personnel files and much more.
John Paul II appointed McCarrick as archbishop of Washington D.C., on Nov. 21, 2000. In his letter Archbishop Viganò asks: “Was McCarrick’s appointment to Washington, and as cardinal, the work of Sodano, when John Paul II was very ill?” His answer: “We are not given to know,” nevertheless “it is legitimate to think so, but I do not think he was the only one responsible for this.” He asserted that Archbishop McCarrick’s appointment “was opposed by Archbishop Re” and said that in the nunciature there is a handwritten note in which he “disassociates himself from the appointment” and states that Archbishop McCarrick was number 14 on the list.
As a journalist who covered the Vatican at that time, I find it difficult to accept Archbishop Viganò’s assertion above, that Cardinal Sodano was the main person responsible for the appointment because John Paul II “was very ill.” John Paul II visited Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel that year, and I saw him speak with heads of state, religious leaders and many other people. Yes, he had Parkinson’s disease at that point, but he was not incapacitated.
Archbishop Viganò supports his thesis by asserting that “if Sodano had protected Maciel, as seems certain, there is no reason why he wouldn’t have done so for McCarrick, who according to many had the financial means to influence.” By drawing the parallel between Archbishop McCarrick and Father Maciel, he raises important questions that surely need to be answered.
In the letter, he mentions two specific denunciations against Archbishop McCarrick that were sent to the Vatican in the years 2000 and 2006.
Viganò proposed “that an exemplary measure be taken against the cardinal that could have a medicinal function”
The first was in Nov. 22, 2000 and came from Boniface Ramsey, O.P., who was a professor at the Newark seminary from the late 1980s to 1996. McCarrick was archbishop of that diocese. He affirmed that there was “a recurring rumor” in the seminary that the archbishop “shared his bed with seminarians,” inviting five at a time to spend the weekend at his beach house, and that a number of these men were subsequently ordained. He said Archbishop Sambi, the nuncio in the United States at the time, forwarded the allegation to the Vatican the day after Archbishop McCarrick’s appointment, but no measures were taken against him. Three months later John Paul II gave him the red hat.
The second allegation came in December 2006 and was from the Rev. Gregory Littleton, a priest who was subsequently laicized for abuse of minors. He accused McCarrick, then archbishop of Newark, of abusing him.
Archbishop Viganò wrote a memo to his superiors—Cardinal Sodano and Archbishop Sandri—describing the facts as “of such gravity and vileness” that “they constituted the crimes of seducing and requesting depraved acts of seminarians” and much more, including “sacrilegious celebrations [of the Eucharist].” In it, he proposed “that an exemplary measure be taken against the cardinal that could have a medicinal function” and that the church authorities “should intervene before the civil authorities and, if possible, before the scandal had broken in the press.” He argued that if this were done the civil authority “would no longer have to judge a cardinal but a pastor.” Archbishop Viganò said his memo was never returned with a decision.
Two years later, in April 2008, Richard Sipe published online a “Statement for Pope Benedict XVI about the pattern of sexual abuse crisis in the United States.” It was passed to the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, and the secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone, and in May 2014, Archbishop Viganò sent a new memo to the substitute, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, summarizing Mr. Sipe’s statement and including his own December 2016 memo, and he again told his superiors that “it was necessary to intervene as soon as possible by removing the cardinal’s hat from Cardinal McCarrick, and that he should be subjected to the sanctions established by the Code of Canon Law, which also provide for reduction to the lay state.”
He received no reply, however, and wrote, “I remained greatly dismayed at my superiors for the inconceivable absence of any measure against the cardinal, and for the continuing lack of any communication with me since my first memo in December.”
Sometime later, he learned from Cardinal Re that, following Mr. Sipe’s statement, in either 2009 or 2010, “Pope Benedict had imposed on McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis.”
Archbishop Viganò had asked his superiors in 2006 and more explicitly in 2008 that Benedict XVI should not only remove McCarrick from ministry but also take away his red hat. It is ironic that it was Pope Francis, whom he accuses of covering up Archbishop McCarrick’s abuses and for whose resignation he clamors, that was the pope who did exactly that; he did so immediately after the first case of the abuse of a minor by the cardinal was confirmed.