Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives in procession for a Mass of thanksgiving for Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 22, 2010. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis breaks silence on Viganò claims

By  Junno Arocho Esteves
  • May 28, 2019

VATICAN CITY -- After waiting nine months, Pope Francis has denied accusations that he was aware of allegations of sex abuse involving former American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and failed to take action.

“I knew nothing, obviously, of McCarrick. Nothing, nothing,” the Pope said in an interview with a Mexican journalist. 

“I said several times that I didn’t know, that I had no idea. You know that I didn’t know anything about McCarrick — otherwise, I would not have stayed quiet.”

The interview with Valentina Alazraki was published by Vatican News May 28.

In an open letter published last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who served as nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016, made the explosive claim that he verbally informed Pope Francis in 2013 of sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick, a prominent figure under Francis. Vigano’s letter called on Pope Francis to resign.

The letter claimed “corruption has reached the very top of the Church hierarchy.” It made unsubstantiated allegations, that were widely denied, against several prominent Church officials, who, according to Viganò, were aware of McCormick’s history of sexual abuse of minors and inappropriate relationships with seminarians. 

Following a canonical trial that ended in February, McCarrick, who had previously been expelled from the College of Cardinals, was found guilty and removed from the priesthood.

The Pope, in Dublin for the World Meeting of Families when Viganò’s letter was published in August, refused to directly refute the allegations at the time. He told reporters to “read that statement attentively and make your own judgment.”

“I think the statement speaks for itself and you have a sufficient journalistic ability to make a conclusion. Maybe when a bit of time has passed, I’ll talk about it,” he had said on a flight to Rome.

The Pope told the Mexican journalist his August response was “an act of faith” in people reading the document. 

At the time, he said, he had not read Viganò’s entire letter and decided to “trust in the honesty of journalists” and asked them to make their own conclusions.

Pope Francis said subsequent reporting on inconsistencies in Viganò’s letter “was very good. It was better than me explaining to defend myself. (Journalists) judged with the proof they had in their hands.”

Another reason for remaining silent, he said, was to try to imitate the approach Jesus took on Good Friday, where in the face of “a climate of viciousness he closed His mouth.”

“The Lord taught us that path and I follow it,” the Pope said.

“In front of a climate of viciousness, you cannot answer,” he said. “And that letter was vicious. As you later realized by the results, that it was — as some of you reported — paid for. I do not know (if that is true) but I look at the consequences.”

The Pope’s comments came on the same day McCarrick’s former secretary released correspondence that he said confirms Pope Benedict XVI had imposed restrictions on the public ministry McCarrick in 2008, but they were not formal sanctions and were not followed strictly, even during the papacy of Pope Benedict himself.

Msgr. Anthony J. Figueiredo, who was the former cardinal’s secretary for nine months in 1994-1995, said he wanted the truth out about what was known about McCarrick, when and by whom.

Besides knowing about the restrictions himself, the monsignor also said he had evidence that recently retired Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington knew about them, as did Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then-prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then-Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who was nuncio to the U.S. at the time.

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