The first anniversary of the Testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò is upon us today. That document, and the events that followed this bombshell, say a great deal about the crisis now facing the Church.
It’s a crisis of truth, of grave immorality and cowardice, of unaccountability by Church hierarchs, of powerful clerics resisting revelation of facts known to them, but hidden from the faithful. It’s a crisis of the ongoing refusal to come clean about what was known about Theodore McCarrick and others, and why decisions were made that protected men who were known to have done great evil, and yet continued to enjoy favor and protection.
On August 22, 2018 Viganò wrote: “Bishops and priests, abusing their authority, have committed horrendous crimes to the detriment of their faithful, minors, innocent victims, and young men eager to offer their lives to the Church, or by their silence have not prevented that such crimes continue to be perpetrated.”
These words are not unlike what Pope Francis himself had written two days earlier in his Letter to the People of God (August 20th): “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
He went on to endorse the zero tolerance and accountability measures being implemented, too slowly, around the world: “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”
The remedy Viganò proposed in his Testimony is this: “We must tear down the conspiracy of silence with which bishops and priests have protected themselves at the expense of their faithful, a conspiracy of silence that in the eyes of the world risks making the Church look like a sect, a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar from the one that prevails in the mafia.”
Viganò also wrote that, at a June 23, 2013 private audience, Pope Francis asked him “What is McCarrick like?” He told the pope about the McCarrick’s history of homosexual predations against seminarians and priests. Viganò says Francis showed no shock or surprise at hearing this and changed the subject.
Pope Francis has spoken publicly twice about Viganò’s claims. On the airplane back from Ireland (the day of the publication of the Testimony), he said:
I read it and sincerely I must tell you, and all those who are interested: read it yourselves carefully and make your own judgment. I will not say a single word on this. I believe the memo speaks for itself, and you are capable enough as journalists to draw your own conclusions. This is an act of trust: when some time has passed and you have drawn conclusions, perhaps I will speak. But I ask that you use your professional maturity in doing this: it will do you good, really. That is enough for now.
To which Viganò replied on September 29, 2018: “But how can journalists discover and know the truth if those directly involved with a matter refuse to answer any questions or to release any documents? The pope’s unwillingness to respond to my charges and his deafness to the appeals by the faithful for accountability are hardly consistent with his calls for transparency and bridge building.”
The only substantive papal response to Viganò’s claims came in a May 2019 interview with the Mexican journalist Valentina Alzaraki. Crux reported: “In his first direct comments about the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis said that ‘about McCarrick I knew nothing, obviously, nothing, nothing. I said it many times, I knew nothing, no idea.’”
He said in the same interview: “I don’t remember if he [Viganò] told me about this. If it’s true or not. No idea! But you know that about McCarrick, I knew nothing. If not, I wouldn’t have remained quiet, right?”
This was, in fact, his first public denial of Viganò’s claims, and it contains the confusing statement that he cannot remember if Viganò told him something about McCarrick’s evil acts, while at the same time affirming vehemently he knew nothing about the acts.
The Holy See Press Office issued a Communiqué (dated October 6) about the McCarrick matter: “Information gathered during the preliminary investigation will be combined with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.”
It promised: “The Holy See will, in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick. From the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: ‘We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead’ (Philadelphia, 27 September 2015). Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact, represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.”
The Communique suggested that the investigation may reveal that “choices” in the past will not look so good today, indicating that embarrassing information is in the Holy See’s possession, just as Viganò has claimed repeatedly.
It is almost eleven months since the communiqué was issued. This obvious delaying tactic is detrimental to the good of the Church. Grave offenses by men in authority have been ignored and covered up by those responsible for the good of the community. Truth alone will lead to justice and some resolution. The Viganò Testimony is one-year-old, but a transparent and thorough response has yet to come.
Image: The Decretals of Pope Boniface VIII by an unknown artist, c. 1328 [British Library, London]. The illuminated book in which the image appears contained the pope’s decrees or litterae decretales.