Vatican is no stranger to scandal. Mired in controversies over sexual abuse by clergy and accusations of cover-up, the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis had been on a mission to minimise the damage and push a reformist agenda. This hit a roadblock on Sunday when Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released an 11-page letter accusing the Pope of being complicit in the cover-up of allegations against former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and calling for his resignation.
Who is ArchbishopVigano?
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States — in essence, Vatican’s envoy to the country — between 2011 and 2016. Ordained in 1968, he retired from service in April 2016 on turning 75 years old, as is the custom.
On August 26, Archbishop Vigano, with the help of Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, wrote a letter in which he called for Pope Francis’ resignation. He alleged that the Pope, along with many current members of the establishment, was aware of the sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick as far back as in 2013, but chose to take no action for about five years.
“Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them,” he wrote in the 7,000-word letter.
Theodore McCarrick, a retired Archbishop of Washington D.C., is the first Cardinal to resign from the College of Cardinals following allegations of sexual abuse.
McCarrick, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse — he has been accused of sleeping with adult seminarians in a clear abuse of power, and, more seriously, of sexually abusing an 11-year-old child and continuing the abuse for around 20 years — resigned in late July this year. Accepting his resignation, Pope Francis ordered him to leave the seminary where he was living and dedicate himself to a life of prayer and penance, pending a canonical trial.
In his letter, Archbishop Vigano said that he had tried to address the failings of the establishment, and to this end had written two memos — in December 2006 and May 2008 — regarding the transgressions of McCarrick.
Archbishop Vigano said that hints of McCarrick’s lapses had been documented as early as November 2000 and more concretely in 2009-2010 when the then Pope, Benedict, imposed on McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis.
“The Cardinal [McCarrick] was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, [or] to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance,” he wrote.
However, multiple media reports confirm that there is ample evidence to prove that such sanctions, if any, were not adhered to.
According to The Associated Press, McCarrick had travelled widely for various humanitarian services and conferences and was even on hand for Benedict’s final general audience in 2013. Additionally, according to a 2010 video posted on YouTube, McCarrick was shown visiting the national seminary in Haiti that had been damaged in an earthquake, reports AP.
Besides naming numerous members of the Church “who were complicit in covering up the misdeeds of McCarrick,” Archbishop accuses Pope Francis himself of failing to act when he shared McCarrick’s reputation with the Pope during a private meeting.
“Holy Father, I don’t know if you know Cardinal McCarrick,” Archbishop Vigano says he told the Pope on June 23, 2013, “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.”
Pope Francis, on his part, has refused to react to the letter. “I think the text speaks for itself, and you have sufficient journalistic ability to draw conclusions,” he said, reports AP . “If time passes and you’ve drawn your conclusions, maybe I’ll speak.”
Meanwhile, the contents of the letter has triggered widespread debate with those supporting Pope Francis viewing this as the bitter tirade of a conservative member against attempts to make the Church more inclusive.
“It really seems like an obvious move by conservatives to de-legitimise Francis,” said David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University in New York to Reuters . “This whole thing was carefully coordinated with conservative Catholic media and carefully timed.”
McCarrick's successor Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who has been named in Vigano’s letter and is facing calls to resign for covering up abuse while he was bishop of Pittsburgh, said in a statement on Monday that Archbishop Vigano had not produced “any objective verifiable proof” of his assertion.