Discussing Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s explosive 11-page letter that has roiled the church over the last week, Ross Douthat of The New York Times told America’s Editor in Chief Matt Malone, S.J., he was “skeptical that it would simply boil down to a he-said, he-said scenario” between Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and the Vatican.
On Aug. 30 Father Malone interviewed Mr. Douthat about what was needed from the Vatican regarding the allegations that Pope Francis and others had known about former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abusive past, as well as how Catholics can maintain their faith in light of all the news about abuse in the church this summer.
Regarding the validity of Archbishop Viganò’s letter, Mr. Douthat said documentation, or a lack thereof, ought to clarify if Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis and past popes, allowed then-Cardinal McCarrick to carry on a public ministry with knowledge of what he had done.
“If it's simply false, the Vatican should be able to, if not fully prove that, at least begin to establish it,” said Mr. Douthat. “What I think is more likely is that it is partially or largely true, but that there may be reasons to draw more exculpatory conclusions from the material than the archbishop himself draws.”
Archbishop Viganò’s letter contends that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sanctioned then-Cardinal McCarrick and banned him from public ministry (despite evidence showing McCarrick celebrating Mass, receiving awards and appearing in public with then-Pope Benedict XVI) and that Pope Francis later lifted this punishment. Father Malone pointed out that the archbishop’s accusations potentially implicated St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XIV as well as Pope Francis.
“With the sex abuse crisis there is in fact common ground between liberals and conservatives,” Ross Douthat said.
“You could argue that...in the grand arc of this dark story that the worst decision of all was the decision to elevate McCarrick to Washington D.C., in the first place—to the extent that that decision was made with some knowledge having reached Rome that he had preyed on seminarians,” Mr. Douthat said.
Mr. Douthat added that if the Vatican did not or could not produce documentation about former-Cardinal McCarrick’s history of abuse, “it is perfectly reasonable for people involved” to speak out about it the way Cardinal Wuerl has.
When questioned about whether or not Catholics would be too divided by ideology to accept the truth, Mr. Douthat was cautiously optimistic. “With the sex abuse crisis there is in fact common ground between liberals and conservatives,” he said, “beginning with a general belief that the abuse of children is a terrible crime.”
Mr. Douthat also warned fellow Catholics about seeing others’ “moral failings as intimately connected to their theological errors.” And both Father Malone and Mr. Douthat called for nuance in our current conversation about the causes of abuse.
“The Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years and in much of that time regular Catholics have had a great deal of realism about the potential failures of priests but especially of bishops and the way that power corrupts,” Mr. Douthat said.
Additionally, both Father Malone and Mr. Douthat agreed that, as Catholics, our faith should not be in people, but instead, Mr. Douthat said it “is in God, it's in Jesus Christ, it's in the saints, it's in the sacraments, it's in what happens at Mass and it's not in human beings.”