Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, speaks at a dinner honoring then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington in May 2012. Archbishop Vigano said in an Aug. 26 letter that now-Archbishop McCarrick was under sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 or 2010 in connection with allegations of sexual abuse against the former Washington archbishop, but that Pope Francis and U.S. church leaders declined to enforce them. CNS photo/ Michael Rogel/PMS

Charles Lewis: Accepting allegations against Pope at face value is foolhardy

  • August 29, 2018

I understand those who do not want to dismiss the letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò out of hand, given his high regard in the Church. His allegations that Pope Francis did nothing after being made aware five years ago of the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick are serious and should raise concerns. 

To accept the allegations as true without further corroboration, however, is foolhardy and dangerous.

I have been a journalist for nearly 40 years. I am not a cynic but I am a sceptic, a good quality for any journalist to possess, especially when someone makes outrageous allegations without proof.

The reporter who helped Viganò write the letter did so without seeing any evidence. What sort of journalist does that? All he had was Viganò’s say so. Why did he not wait for solid evidence?

I worked at the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post as a reporter and editor. We often received serious accusations about people in high places. Those allegations were taken seriously, but not a word was written without some kind of solid evidence. The one time I recall someone breaking that rule, they were fired. 

Then there is the question of why Viganò waited so long to go public with his allegations against Pope Francis. My understanding, according to Viganò’s allegations, is that Pope Benedict XVI had put sanctions on then-Cardinal McCarrick of Washington in 2009 or 2010 and Francis removed the sanctions, thereby aiding a sexual abuser. 

Did no one notice that before Francis became Pope, McCarrick was not acting like as a man under sanctions? Were the sanctions secret? Is it common for someone who has been sanctioned, ordered to a life of prayer and penance, to continue in their duties as if nothing happened?

If Viganò was so worried about an abuser occupying a senior role in the American Church, why did he wait so long to make his allegations public? If I thought a paedophile was running loose I would not wait years to make it known. Nor would anyone decent person.

A number of articles and social media comments have said Pope Francis side-stepped the allegations when questioned by reporters. He did not. He said he would not dignify the charge with a response.

Then there’s the timing. Viganò waited to create the greatest disruption by releasing this letter when the Holy Father was on a highly sensitive trip to Ireland. We as Catholics are supposed to show respect for our popes. We believe he is selected with the aid of the Holy Spirit. 

Sure, a  Pope can go wrong. Popes go to confession as we all do. But as Christ’s shadow on Earth, allegations so serious should be met with serious caution.

Then there is Viganò himself. According to an excellent New York Times story, Viganò had been in a feud with the Vatican long before Francis came on the scene. He was “banished” to the United States for a alleging a high-level cardinal was involved in gay conspiracy.

“Throughout his power struggle, Archbishop Viganò had been writing urgent appeals to Benedict to stay in the Vatican,” the Times reported. Vigano said he had a sick brother in Rome he needed to take care of.

But Archbishop Viganò’s brother, Lorenzo, told Italian journalists that his brother “lied” to Benedict about having to remain in Rome “because he had to take care of me, sick.” To the contrary, he said he had lived in Chicago and was fine and hadn’t talked to his brother in years over an inheritance dispute.

We then have the serious allegations against Viganò that he suppressed an investigation into abuse in Minnesota. Viganò denies the charge.

What about the presumption of innocence? What about respect for the Holy Father? Social media is a swamp, I know. But to see the glee among some people who never liked Francis to begin with is appalling and heart breaking. It is simply not Catholic or fair or decent.

To make things worse, Viganò has called for Pope Francis to resign. My reaction: How dare he. What absolute hubris.

Please do your own thinking on this. Pretend it was your or someone you loved being accused of something without evidence. How would you feel? How would you react?

And then pray for the Church and the Holy Father.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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