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The Viganò letter: first read

Viganò must be taken with a large grain of salt – it becomes clear he is ideologically driven and fixated on homosexuality – which is not the core issue here, though it has its place.

He also gets a few facts wrong, to support this ideology. For example, he claims 80% of abuse is of a homosexual nature. This is untrue. If you look at the most comprehensive study to date, and at the people doing the abuse the breakdown is this: 45% homosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 33% heterosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 22% pedophile abuse of children.{1}

His tone develops from factual and well-reasoned to one of taking advantage of the crisis to smear names that don’t deserve it (e.g., Cupich is “ostensibly arrogant”?? Francis had a ‘deceitful way’?? BS). Some of the cardinals he seems to list for no other reason than that they were appointed by Francis, and Francis he imposes sneering and snide comments on without justification.

He was unhappy with his job placement, and has a mixed record. He has personally tried to quash an investigation into a bishop who facilitated and covered up abuse, that whole Kim Davis meets the pope debacle, and a number of other moments. (Which alone does not mean we should dismiss everything he has to say, but acknowledge that it is not at all an objective or proven claim).

When asked to provide proof for his claims, he responded with “silence and prayer.”

But if you can keep all that in mind, that he names names and shares what he knows (even if it is tainted by his bias) is nearly a good example. The dirty laundry must be aired in order to be cleaned. But it would have been better had he stuck to facts rather than gossip, innuendo, and whining.

It becomes clear at least, from this and other sources, that:

a) John Paul II so utterly failed in this issue, and/or was sufficiently incompetent to serve in his office, by 2000, that he is basically a non-factor – but not in an excusable way. The worst of the abuse and the cover up happened on his watch – and one could easily suspect that the reason his canonization was rushed was to avoid this all coming to light before that happened;

b) Benedict may or may not have acted regarding McCarrick, but if he did, he did so secretly and late, and this is the crux of the problem. What good are ‘sanctions’ if no one knows about them? Benedict’s record on abusive priests was good as pope, but with regard to bishops and cardinals he did nothing. Another fail.

c) Francis is loyal to his friends to a fault, and just telling him about someone (Barros, McCarrick) is not enough, without evidence or clear first-hand testimony. This too is a failure.

d) Viganò’s ire seems motivated by other reasons. As a schemer, he sees scheming behind everything, even if it isn’t there. His wholesale attack on Francis and everyone connected to him is not justified by the facts he presents earlier, but there are some legitimate questions raised. The pope resigning is not one of them.

e) There is a whole list of curial cardinals and other bishops who ought to go. Just maybe not the whole list Vigano complains about, since some of his assertions are little more than gossip and retribution, the rest are documented and valid. It would be better had he not mixed the two.

He names a dozen people who should have known, by virtue of their office, of these sanctions – none of whom have confirmed Viganò’s account.

Some appear serious and well-founded: Bertone, Bootkoski, Myers, Sambi, Sodano, Wuerl.

Most seem just to be speculation at best, and ideological mudslinging at worst. These probably should have been left out entirely, if he wanted to be taken as a straight shooter: Coccopalmerio, Paglia, O’Brien, Martino, Farrell, O’Malley, Cupich, Tobin, Martin.

To that end, yes, there should be an investigation into the McCarrick affair, into the US bishops broadly, and into Viganò.

It is after all the pope – as well as the People of God – who have been asking for honesty, transparency, and reform. This kind of ideologically driven rant does not help, but it does not mean that there is not something worth including in an investigation here.

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Popes and abuser-cardinals

August is normally a quiet month in Rome.

A month ago today, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, 88, from the college of cardinals. And that was merely the beginning.

This was a first: No pope – none – has removed a cardinal for reasons related to the sex abuse scandal in recent memory, if ever. Compare Francis’ two immediate predecessors:

When it became known in 2013 that Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Scotland) was found, like McCarrick, to have engaged throughout the 1980s-90s in the abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault of adults under his authority, Pope Benedict (who would announce his retirement a few days later) finally accepted his retirement as archbishop, and allowed him to go on retreat for a period of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”. Ostensibly on his own volition, O’Brien choose not to participate in the conclave the following month, but there is no indication that there were any sanctions imposed on him as a cardinal by Benedict.

Only after Francis was elected was a visitation and investigation initiated – again, something unprecedented – and when the results of the investigation landed on Francis’ desk, O’Brien was he relieved of the “rights and duties” of a cardinal, though he still remained a cardinal, entitled to dress and be addressed as such. It was a bizarre half measure, some attest to Benedict’s intercession.

When Cardinal Bernard Law was found to have covered-up sexual abuse by priests in Boston for years, and his resignation from that post eventually accepted, Pope John Paul II gave him an honorary post as cardinal-archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and allowed him all the rights and duties of cardinal, with a great deal of influence in the Roman curia for several years to come. Benedict did not change this, allowing him to continue unabated until retiring at the age of 80 from these roles.

We can only imagine how many other cases there have been without any public action on the part of popes at all.

Now comes this letter of former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Viganò, claiming, among many other things, that Pope Benedict had in fact placed McCarrick on some kind of (double secret) suspension, but that Pope Francis had allowed McCarrick freedom again, and for this reason he should resign. (More on that later).

Pope emeritus Benedict has not, as of this writing, said anything about them, nor has Pietro Sambi, who was apparently responsible for communicating them to McCarrick. Pope Francis apparently trusts our ability to read critically enough to see Viganò’s letter for what it is, and no more.

Viganò claims that “the Cardinal 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, to travel,with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.” 

It seems unlikely that there were any such restrictions, except perhaps the request to move out of the seminary.

First, if such sanction existed, the failure to make them public would be a grave scandal in itself. “Secret” laws are no law at all, and one of the issues at the heart of this ongoing scandal is the lack of transparency. In which case, yes a pope would be morally at fault for failing to act appropriately, and for covering up knowledge of an abuser. But that pope would be Benedict, not Francis.

It does not stretch the imagination much to think that the old guard would have thought this an acceptable solution: McCarrick was elderly, no longer a threat, and already retired both as archbishop and on curial dicasteries. Let him meet his maker without another public scandal. Very Romanità. Very much the kind of thing Francis has decried since the beginning.

Even if this were the way it played out, wrong though it might be, that would not be reason enough for Benedict to resign (though he eventually did). It would be reason to confess his error, correct it, and never do it again. It certainly is not a reason for Francis to resign.

But Ockham’s Razor suggests that most likely, there never were any formal sanctions. Certainly, both Pope Benedict and Viganò “violated” these sanctions if there were, concelebrating mass with McCarrick, being at public events with him, and saying and doing nothing about it. 

What is more likely is simply that McCarrick was told to sell his beach house and stop spending summer vacations there with seminarians (done in 2000) and then, in retirement, not to reside in the seminary. Which he did. And that’s about it, as far as ‘sanctions’ seem to have gone, until Pope Francis acted.

The culture of secrecy that pervaded the Church up to and including the papacy of John Paul II, only slowly began to crumble under Benedict XVI, and finally being torn away by Francis, is part of the clericalism that allowed this filth to spread thoroughly through the House of God.

As with any serious housecleaning, things get messier before they get organized, the dirt becomes more visible –  but you don’t blame the cleaner! As with anyone shining the light of Truth into dark corners, those who prefer the darkness will do anything to put out the light.

IlGesu_Ceiling01

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

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