I got caught last night offering a brief opinion on +Vigano’s memo and Pope Francis’ response on Facebook last night while sharing yesterday’s post about bishops who need to resign. In the Facebook post, I offered that Pope Francis’ response was underwhelming and I stand by that.
To catch up, Archbishop Vigano was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 2011-2016, the end of Pope Benedict’s papacy and the first few years of Pope Francis’ papacy. The Nuncio has a dual function—they are the governmental ambassador of the Holy See to the United States and he is the Pope’s representative to the United States.
The Nuncio does not have any real administrative power over the Church in the U.S. He isn’t the head of the Church in the States (nor is the USCCB in most areas as far as that goes).
Anyhow, +Vigano wrote a memo stating that, among other things, Pope Benedict XVI had secretly restricted then-Cardinal McCarrick’s ministry and Pope Francis reversed it.
Yesterday, while in transit back to Rome after an Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, Pope Francis took questions aboard the papal flight. Here is the relevant section from Catholic News Agency‘s translation:
Greg Burke: Thanks, Holiness. Let’s go to the question from the English-speaking group. Anna Matranga from the American television, CBS.via Catholic News Agency
Anna Matranga, CBS: Good evening, Holy Father. I’ll return to the subject of sex abuse about which you’ve already spoken. This morning, very early, a document by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’ came out. In it, he says that in 2013 he had a personal talk with you at the Vatican, and that in that talk, he spoke to you explicitly of the behavior of and the sexual abuse by former-Cardinal McCarrick. I wanted to ask you if this was true. I also wanted to ask something else: the Archbishop also said that Pope Benedict sanctioned McCarrick, that he had forbidden him to live in a seminary, to celebrate Mass in public, he couldn’t travel, he was sanctioned by the Church. May I ask you whether these two things are true?
Pope Francis: I will respond to your question, but I would prefer last first we speak about the trip, and then other topics. I was distracted by Stefania, but I will respond.
I read the statement this morning, and I must tell you sincerely that, I must say this, to you and all those who are interested. Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak. But, I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you. That’s good. (inaudible)
Matranga: Marie Collins said that after she met you during the victims gathering, that she spoke with you precisely about ex-Cardinal McCarrick. She said you were very tough in your condemnation of McCarrick. I want to ask you, when was the first time that you heard talk about the abuses committed the former cardinal?
Pope Francis: This is part of the statement about McCarrick. Study it and then I will say. Yesterday, I had not read it but I permitted myself to speak clearly with Marie Collins and the group, it was really an hour-and-a-half, something which made me suffer a lot. [The Holy Father continued on a different topic discussed during the Irish victims gathering.]
About +Vigano’s Memo: I don’t know. If fully accurate, it is damning. I caution that we seek verification and investigation. The more incredible the claim, the more we should be cautious to accept it or deny it at face value. As lay Catholics or file-and-rank clerics, I don’t think we know enough yet and it is incredibly confusing.
Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa whom I know personally as he was the vocations director for the Diocese of Austin when I was a seminary applicant (I opted to suspend my application shortly before starting). I know him to be a wise and thoughtful priest. He published on his public Facebook page:
I count myself blessed that it was Archbishop Viganò who called me to tell me that I was appointed fourth bishop of Tulsa. The allegations he details mark a good place to begin the investigations that must happen in order for us to restore holiness and accountability to the leadership of the Church. [Emphasis mine]Bishop David Konderla, via Facebook Sunday August 26th
A plain reading of that to me reads that he is offering his own credibility that +Vigano is a solid source.
Even more surprising, Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas issued a letter to his entire diocese to be posted at all Masses and on all parish sites/social media accounts where he states +Viagno’s accusations are credible.
+Wuerl’s spokesman has apparently confirmed that he cancelled a meeting of perspective seminarians with +McCarrick. Why would he have done that if, as he said, he wasn’t aware of allugations against +McCarrick, which +Vigano directly states that he did know?
From reactions like this, wow. There must be something to this. Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do!
But, at the same time, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, editor of the Jesuit-ran America magazine posts on Twitter a thread of various times that after these sanctions were placed on +McCarrick that +McCarrick celebrated Mass publicly and/or traveled. Some of these times included Pope Benedict and/or +Vigano. Separately, I’ve seen a photo of Pope Benedict greeting +McCarrick during his exit from the Vatican upon his resignation.
Some questions about the Abp Vigano testimony: He claims that Pope Benedict imposed sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick that were "similar" to what Pope Francis has now done. 1/13— Matt Malone, S.J. (@Americaeditor) August 26, 2018
+Vigano, before being nuncio, was, in lay terms, the mayor of Vatican City and ruffled feathers. Part of these disagreements and internal battles were leaked out by Pope Benedict’s butler in an affair reported as VatiLeaks. Some opinion sites have offered that +Vigano is doing this in retribution against other Curial officials who had a hand to play in that affair.
Also being reported is that +Vigano shut down an investigation and ordered letters destroyed concerning Archbishop John Neinstedt‘s mishandling of an abusive priest allowed to stay in ministry after being credibly accused and lying about it. +Neinstedt’s actions led to criminal charges being filed against the Archdiocese, which were dropped after the Archdiocese (under the leadership of a different bishop after +Neinstedt’s resignation in disgrace) admitted wrongdoing. So, +Vigano’s hands aren’t clean either. Why did he wait until now to say something?
So, did Pope Francis knowingly overturned secret sanctions? Did Benedict really put the sanctions on him? Why were they secret? Were they not enforced? Is everything here fully accurate or is there another side not being told yet?
The point: There is far more unknown about what’s going on than known. Allegations need to be investigated and rushing to judgement—that Pope Francis is guilty of cover up, that +Vigano dropped a hit piece, or anything in between—isn’t what we need right now.
About Pope Francis’ response: It is underwhelming. Period.
He doesn’t confirm or deny anything. He says that believing the document—or not—is an act of faith. He throws this back to journalists to figure it out. He wants us to form our opinions and once we do, then he’ll say something? So, if we think he did it then he’ll admit or defend himself? If we think he didn’t do it, he’ll just stay above the fray?
There are plenty of other non-answers that I would have accepted for the time being.
If he would have said “While in Ireland, my focus is on this pastoral trip. The World Meeting of Families was an important gathering and the Irish people have suffered greatly at the hands of the Church. Due to the energy I put into this visit and meetings, I have not reviewed +Vigano’s memo in-depth yet. This is a serious matter and we should investigate all of these accusations.” Okay, cool. Basically a no comment yet, but we should confirm the truth.
I don’t believe the Pope’s response should be read as an admission of guilt or “no content” or anything like that.
But, it definitely didn’t give me anything to think that the Vatican is taking this seriously.