Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò congratulates then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick at a gala dinner in New York in 2012. CNS photo/Michael Rogel, PMS

Charles Lewis: Allegations lead us down dangerous path

  • November 25, 2020

The acceptance of serious allegations swallowed up without proof is an age-old problem. It is also dangerous.

The Jews were alleged to have caused the plague in the Middle Ages — even though Jews were dying like everyone else — so Jews were expelled or even killed. In the late 19th century there began a widespread belief in the United States that Catholicism was a dangerous fifth column taking orders from the pope. Catholics were lynched in riots because of these stupid allegations.

The Roman Catholic Church has not been immune from wallowing in dubious rumours. In 2018 Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò alleged that Pope Francis purposely ignored information that he provided that accused Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a depraved sexual predator. Viganò claimed he had told Francis five years earlier in a 2013 letter. That was his evidence. Viganò then called on Francis to resign.

For those who disliked Francis it was red meat, more proof Francis was unfit to be the Vicar of Christ.

Nowhere did he lay blame on St. Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict who we now know were both aware of reports of McCarrick’s crimes. That struck me as incredibly unfair and reeked of some personal vendetta that Viganò had against Francis.

In 2018, we knew that in either 2009 or 2010 Pope Benedict XVI had put sanctions on McCarrick when it became clear McCarrick was a predator. It is also clear that somehow Benedict did not see McCarrick was ignoring those sanctions.

This is what I wrote in 2018 in The Catholic Register: “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 (five years) to make his allegations public?”

Two years ago The New York Times reported what seemed to me the most devastating rebuke of Viganò’s charges and his credibility.

“At a gala dinner in the luxury Pierre Hotel in Manhattan in 2012, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Pope Benedict’s top diplomat in the United States, bestowed an award for missionary service on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and praised him as ‘very much loved from us all.’ ”

The Times asked that if Viganò knew McCarrick was under sanctions why did he praise McCarrick at a public event?

The Times referred in its story to reporting by LifeSiteNews, which quoted Viganò as saying he attended the dinner because he could not back out.

A Vatican report released this month shows the terrible missteps that occurred. Most painful of all is that John Paul II in 2001 made McCarrick a cardinal and installed him as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite warnings from the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.

O’Connor wrote “with deep regret” that there were reasons for believing that rumours and allegations about the past might surface with such an appointment, with the possibility of accompanying grave scandal and widespread adverse publicity.”

He added that “while charity must prevail and the benefit of the doubt always given to the ‘accused,’ the good of souls and the reputation of the Church must be seriously considered and the potential for scandal given equally serious consideration.”

John Paul II decided to let the rumours pass, believing his friend could never do something so heinous. Everyone, even a great pope, can have a blind spot.

As for Pope Francis? He apparently thought that since his predecessor had approved of McCarrick’s promotion the issue had been settled. But in 2017, when a new report of McCarrick’s crimes came to light, Francis removed him from the College of Cardinal and later laicized him.

It would be trite to say the Vatican report put an end to another ugly chapter in our Church’s history.

For those who were the victims of McCarrick and the Vatican’s inability to deal with a grotesque sexual deviant no report will end their scars. That would be too easy.

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

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