Carlo Maria Viganò
Carlo Maria Viganò
|Apostolic Nuncio to the United States|
|Church||Roman Catholic Church|
|In office||October 2011 – April 2016|
|Ordination||24 March 1968|
by Carlo Allorio
|Consecration||26 April 1992|
by John Paul II
|Birth name||Carlo Maria Viganò|
|Born||16 January 1941|
Varese, Kingdom of Italy
|Alma mater||Pontifical Gregorian University|
|Motto||Latin: Scio cui credidi|
Carlo Maria Viganò
|Spoken style||Your Excellency|
Carlo Maria Viganò (Italian pronunciation: [viganˈɔ]; born 16 January 1941) is an archbishop of the Catholic Church who served as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 19 October 2011 to 12 April 2016. He previously served as Secretary-General of the Governorate of Vatican City State from 16 July 2009 to 3 September 2011. He is best known for having exposed two major Vatican scandals. These were the Vatican leaks scandal of 2012, in which he revealed financial corruption in the Vatican, and a 2018 letter in which he accused Pope Francis and other Church leaders of covering up sexual abuse allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Viganò was ordained a priest in 1968 and spent most of his career working in a diplomatic capacity for the Holy See. As a priest, he served on a number of diplomatic missions before being consecrated a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Viganò was appointed Secretary General of the Vatican City Governatorate in 2009, where he reformed the finances of Vatican City and turned a budget deficit into a surplus. He complained directly to Pope Benedict XVI about financial corruption. The unauthorized publication of two of his letters led to the Vatican leaks scandal, exposing financial mismanagement and wrongdoing in the Vatican. He was then transferred to the position of Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in 2011 over his objections. While in the United States, Viganò earned a reputation as a conservative, arranging a controversial meeting between Pope Francis and former county clerk Kim Davis, known for her opposition to same-sex marriage, during the Pope's 2015 visit to the United States. A priest accused him of suppressing allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt, but he denied doing so.
On August 25, 2018, Viganò published an 11-page letter accusing Pope Francis and numerous other senior Church leaders of concealing allegations of sexual misconduct against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Viganò stated that Pope Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick in response to accusations that were made against him, but that Pope Francis refused to enforce them and that he made McCarrick an important advisor. Viganò called on Francis to resign. The letter provoked diverse reactions within the Church, with some expressing support for the allegations and calling for further investigation and others defending Francis, questioning the statements made in the letter, and attacking Viganò's credibility. After the publication of the letter, Viganò continued to issue public statements.
Carlo Maria Viganò was born 16 January 1941 in Varese, Italy. Viganò was ordained a priest on 24 March 1968. He earned a doctorate in utroque iure (both canon and civil law). He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1973, and worked at the papal diplomatic missions in Iraq and Great Britain. From 1978 to 1989, he held posts at the Secretariat of State. He was named Special Envoy and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 4 April 1989.
Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria
On 3 April 1992, he was appointed Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana and Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Nigeria by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated by the Pope, with Cardinals Franciszek Macharski and Angelo Sodano serving as co-consecrators, on 26 April.
Personnel chief at the Vatican
At the close of his mission to Nigeria in 1998, he was assigned to functions within the Secretariat of State as delegate for Pontifical Representations, making him the personnel chief for the Roman curia in addition to Vatican diplomats. He served in this role until he became Secretary General of the Governatorate on 16 July 2009.
Secretary General of the Vatican City Governatorate
In 2009, Viganò was appointed Secretary General of the Vatican City Governatorate. In that role he established centralized accounting procedures and accountability for cost overruns that helped turn a US$10.5 million deficit for the city-state into a surplus of $44 million in one year.
In 2010, Viganò suggested that the Vatican should drop out of the Euro currency agreement in order to avoid new European banking regulations. Instead, the Vatican chose to adhere to the Euro agreement and accept the new scrutiny that tougher banking regulations required. In late January 2012 a television program aired in Italy under the name of Gli intoccabili (The Untouchables), purporting to disclose confidential letters and memos of the Vatican. Among the documents were letters written to the pope and to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, by Viganò, complaining of corruption in Vatican finances and a campaign of defamation against him. Viganò, formerly the second ranked Vatican administrator to the Pope, requested not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions in higher contract prices.
On 4 February 2012, Giovanni Lajolo, Giuseppe Bertello, Giuseppe Sciacca, and Giorgio Corbellini issued a joint statement on behalf of the Governatorate of the Vatican: "The unauthorized publication of two letters of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the first addressed to the Holy Father on March 27, 2011, the second to the Cardinal Secretary of State on May 8, for the Governorate of Vatican City is a source of great bitterness. The allegations contained in them can not but lead to the impression that the Governorate of Vatican City, instead of being an instrument of responsible government, is an unreliable entity, at the mercy of dark forces. After careful examination of the contents of the two letters, the President of the Governorate sees it as its duty to publicly declare that those assertions are the result of erroneous assessments, or fears based on unsubstantiated evidence, even openly contradicted by the main characters invoked as witnesses."
Velasio De Paolis, former head of the Vatican's Prefecture of the Economic Affairs, its auditing office, said, "From what I know, I don't think there was actual corruption." But he did concede the possibility of "instances of a lack of correctness."
Journalist John L. Allen Jr. suggests Viganò's transfer could have been about a clash of personalities rather than policy. "[T]his would not seem to be about a courageous whistle-blower who's trying to expose wrong-doing or prompt reform. The motives seem more personal and political."
Apostolic Nuncio to the United States
On 13 August 2011, Bertone informed Viganò that Pope Benedict was appointing him Nuncio to the United States. Reuters reported that Viganò was unwilling to take that assignment. Viganò stated that this decision was not what Pope Benedict XVI originally had manifested to him. He wrote to Benedict that his appointment would create "disarray and discouragement" among those who worked against "numerous situations of corruption and waste." One of the letters leaked by Benedict's butler in 2012 revealed that Viganò had bypassed Bertone and complained directly to Benedict regarding corruption in the Vatican, for which Bertone arranged to have Viganò transferred to Washington over Viganò's objections. Although Father Federico Lombardi, the official Vatican spokesperson, had originally said that Benedict held "unquestionable faith and trust" in Viganò, a statement in February 2012 signed by some Vatican leaders said that his allegations were "erroneous," "unfounded," and "based on groundless fears."
It was initially reported that Viganò's brother, Fr Lorenzo Viganò, a Jesuit biblical scholar, said that his brother lied in telling Benedict he needed to stay in Rome to care for his ailing brother, when apparently Lorenzo was healthy, living in Chicago, and had not spoken to his brother for two years. However, Vigano's siblings disputed those statements. The Vatican published Viganò's Washington appointment on 19 October 2011 and Viganò became the 14th papal representative to the United States since the creation of the post in 1893 and the fifth to serve as a diplomatic representative accredited to the government since bilateral diplomatic relations were established in 1984. Viganò said he welcomed the appointment and said that being Apostolic Nuncio to the United States is an "important, vast and delicate" task; he was grateful to Pope Benedict for entrusting him with the mission and he felt called to renew his "trust in the Lord, who asks me to set out again." Being apostolic nuncio, he said, is "a call to know this people, this country and come to love them."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, commented that the revelation of Viganò's complaints about corruption and cronyism in Vatican finances "in a way...enhances his credibility as someone who does not look upon the internal workings of the Holy See with rose-colored glasses, but is well aware of difficulties there."
In 2014, Viganò allegedly ordered officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to end an investigation into sexual misconduct on the part of Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was found innocent by police authorities. Father Dan Griffith, who served as the Archdiocese's Delegate for Safe Environment between August 2013 and July 2014, wrote an account of a meeting that took place in April 2014. Griffith's memo was leaked to the National Catholic Reporter in July 2016 and alleged that Viganò had ordered the Archdiocese's two auxiliary bishops, Lee A. Piché and Andrew H. Cozzens, to cease the investigation and carry out the destruction of evidence. On 11 March 2014, local county officials announced they had concluded an intensive investigation and would not file charges against Nienstedt, who announced his return to public ministry the same day. However, Nienstadt resigned in June 2015 after it was announced that a Minnesota prosecutor was bringing criminal charges and initiating a civil suit against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from sexual abuse. After the Nienstadt case received renewed attention following Viganò's 2018 letter, Viganò denied allegations that he had attempted to suppress the investigation and provided documentation in his defense. Griffith responded to Viganò's statement and defended his memo. Cozzens also responded with a statement stating that at one point he and Griffith believed that Viganò had ordered an end to the investigation, but that Viganò later clarified that the investigation should be completed. Cozzens said that he believed Griffith acted in good faith.
On 5 June 2019, Viganò was reported to have received, together with other influential U.S. Catholic leaders, substantial monetary gifts from West Virginia bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who had resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. The gifts had been reimbursed by Bransfield's diocese. Viganò said that he had been told by his staff that such gifts were common in the United States, that he had decided to donate the money to charity, and that he did not know that the diocese had reimbursed Bransfield.
Kim Davis meeting
On 24 September 2015 during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis met Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On 2 October, Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that the office of Viganò had extended the invitation to Davis. Chief Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi depicted the meeting as one among many brief introductions rather than an audience.
Juan Carlo Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse who met with Pope Francis, alleged that Viganò "nearly sabotaged the visit" by having Francis meet Davis. "I didn't know who that woman was, and he snuck her in to say hello to me — and of course they made a whole publicity out of it," Pope Francis said, according to Cruz. Cruz stated that Pope Francis said that he was "horrified" and that he then "fired that nuncio." Viganò replied by releasing a letter to LifeSiteNews, stating that "the pope knew very well who Davis was, and he and his close collaborators had provided the private audience." Subsequently, Vatican spokesman Lombardi and Thomas Rosica confirmed that the evening prior to Francis' meeting with Davis, Viganò had indeed spoken "with the pope and his collaborators and received a consensus" regarding the meeting. Shortly after the meeting, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington informed a reporter that both he and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had advised Archbishop Viganò against arranging the meeting. Father Lombardi stated that Viganò had organized the meeting and "inserted it in the context of the pope's many and quick greetings at his departure from the nunciature," which "certainly did not allow the pope and his collaborators to realize the significance of this meeting."
In January 2016, Archbishop Vigano submitted his resignation as required when he turned 75 years old. On 12 April 2016, Pope Francis accepted Viganò's resignation and named Archbishop Christophe Pierre to succeed him as nuncio to the United States.
August 2018 letter
On 25 August 2018, Viganò released an 11-page letter describing a series of warnings to the Vatican regarding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Two months earlier, on June 20, 2018, McCarrick had been removed from public ministry by the Holy See after a review board of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York found an allegation "credible and substantiated" that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy while a priest in New York.
According to Viganò's letter, in 2000, Gabriel Montalvo (then nuncio to the United States) had informed the Vatican of McCarrick's "gravely immoral behaviour with seminarians and priests." Subsequently, Viganò alleges, Pietro Sambi (nuncio from 2005 to 2011) informed the Vatican again before Viganò himself wrote his own memo regarding McCarrick in 2006. However, according to Viganò, nothing was done until Pope Benedict XVI to stop McCarrick.
On July 27, 2018, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick to observe "a life of prayer and penance in seclusion" and accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals., pending the results of a canonical trial.
Accusations against Pope Francis
Viganò says that in 2007 he wrote a second memo that included material from clerical sexual abuse expert Richard Sipe. Viganò says this led Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 or 2010 to place severe restrictions on McCarrick's movements and public ministry, not allowing him to venture beyond the seminary grounds where he was living, and not permitting him to say Mass in public. Viganò states that he spoke to Pope Francis about McCarrick's behavior in June 2013 and informed him of the restrictions that Benedict XVI had imposed on him. Nevertheless, Francis allegedly removed these sanctions and made McCarrick "his trusted counselor," even though Francis "knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator. He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end."
In the letter containing these allegations, Viganò called on Francis and all others who covered up McCarrick's conduct to resign. Viganò stated: "In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal church, he [Pope Francis] must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example to cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick's abuses and resign along with all of them... We must tear down the conspiracy of silence with which bishops and priests have protected themselves at the expense of their faithful, a conspiracy of silence that in the eyes of the world risks making the church look like a sect, a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar from the one that prevails in the mafia."
Amidst other instances of the Church's failure to follow through on allegations against the clergy, Francis convened a Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church from 21 to 24 February 2019, which led to his issuing the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which specified the responsibility of bishops in handling cases and in reporting.
Accusations against others
In his letter, Viganò accuses three consecutive Vatican secretaries of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, of knowing about McCarrick's behavior but doing nothing about it.
In his letter, Viganò names several high-ranking prelates who he says were aware of Pope Benedict's restrictions on McCarrick, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cardinal William Levada, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Archbishop Ilson de Jesus Montanari, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, and Bishop Robert McElroy. Viganò's letter says that these cardinals and prelates knew about McCarrick's sexual harassment of young adult seminarians; it does not say that anyone knew of McCarrick's sexual abuse of minors.
Assessments of letter by news media
The New York Times stated that Viganò's letter contained "unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks," and described it as "an extraordinary public declaration of war against Francis' papacy at perhaps its most vulnerable moment." It said that during the time period that Viganò alleged McCarrick was subject to restrictions on his ministry, McCarrick continued to publicly celebrate Mass, and even joined with other bishops to present Pope Benedict a birthday cake in 2012. One notable mass which McCarrick participated in occurred at the 2010 papal consistory where Donald Wuerl, his successor as Archbishop of Washington D.C., was made a cardinal. McCarrick also made a public appearance at the Library of Congress in 2011 and joined other American bishops during their five-year "check-in" with Pope Benedict in January 2012. He made several trips to the Vatican during this period as well, and participated in a mass with other U.S. bishops at Saint Peter's tomb during the January 2012 visit. However, McCarrick had declined numerous requests in the summer of 2010 to be interviewed by The Washington Post, which described his 80th birthday celebrations in July of that year as "uncharacteristically quiet."
Viganò's defenders suggested that Benedict did not impose formal sanctions but instead made an informal request for McCarrick to assume a low profile and that he was then unwilling to enforce these restrictions. As evidence, they pointed to Benedict's other supposedly half-hearted attempts to discipline prelates accused of misconduct, the purportedly defiant behavior of McCarrick as an indicator that he could have ignored attempted restrictions, and contemporary media reports noting that McCarrick enjoyed a more visible role after Francis's election than he had while Benedict XVI was still pope. A 2014 news article referred to McCarrick as "one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI," adding that after the election of Pope Francis he was put "back in the mix." He engaged in a number of high-profile diplomatic missions early in Pope Francis' pontificate, often at the behest of the Vatican. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict's personal secretary and "trusted lieutenant," described reports that Pope Benedict confirmed Viganò's letter as "fake news." On 7 October, after being asked to come forward by Viganò, Cardinal Marc Ouellet stated that he was aware of informal restrictions that Benedict XVI had asked McCarrick to abide by, but that there were no formal sanctions.
Journalists at the time of the appointments of both Cupich and Tobin reported that McCarrick had recommended both for their positions as archbishop of Chicago and Newark, respectively, as consistent with the statement made in Viganò's testimony. Journalists Tornielli and Valente reported that, contrary to what Viganò suggests in his testimony, Cupich was indeed on the list of candidates sent to Rome (he was third) and had the support of other U.S. bishops. In 2014, McCarrick attempted to have a friend, Father Robert Furman, appointed Bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska, but the appointment went to a different person. The Guardian stated "Linking Pope Francis with the protection of a sexual abuser is false. But the rage behind it will not go away."
Viganò reported that the sanctions were instituted in 2009 and 2010, and that at that time, McCarrick was ordered to leave the grounds of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Seminary in which he was living. Two sources present at a 2008 meeting between Sambi and McCarrick told Catholic News Agency that Sambi ordered him to move out of the seminary and testified that Sambi specifically stated that it was at the instruction of Pope Benedict XVI. McCarrick left the seminary in around early 2009, and subsequently moved into the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle in Woodley Park, Washington D.C.
The Catholic magazine America proposed several reasons why some people find Vigano's letter credible, including Viganò's inside role in these matters as well as Pope Francis' alleged "lack of progress" and "lack of urgency" regarding sexual abuse; it also proposed several reasons why other people are skeptical about the letter, including public appearances made by McCarrick during the papacy of Pope Benedict and Viganò's "perceived hostility toward Pope Francis" for having removed him from his post in 2016, allegedly because Viganò was seen as having "become too enmeshed in U.S. culture wars, particularly regarding same-sex marriage." Viganò's handling of the investigation into Archbishop John Nienstedt for misconduct with adult seminarians was also subject to renewed scrutiny.
On 1 September 2018, The New York Times reported that Viganò had personally presented McCarrick with an award for missionary service in 2012 at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan and praised him as "very much loved from us all." The article said that "if Archbishop Viganò is to be believed, he was keeping a troubling secret." Conservative media countered by suggesting that he was unable to back out of the ceremony and exerted no control over it. Viganò himself said that he "couldn't make the slightest impression that I had something against the cardinal in public."
The Los Angeles Times quoted Villanova University professor of theology, Massimo Faggioli, "This letter has everything to do with factions in the church that are vying for power and influence,...You have a convergence of interests that is making this a huge mess in the U.S. Catholic Church."
Responses to letter
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement declaring that Viganò's letter raised questions which "deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past."
The McCarrick case and Viganò allegations, happening at about the same time as the conclusion of the Grand jury investigation of Catholic Church sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, which alleged systematic cover-up of clergy sex abuse by bishops in Pennsylvania over decades, have intensified tensions in the Catholic Church between ideological liberals and conservatives. In addition to a general call from Catholics across ideological boundaries for greater accountability and transparency within the Church, the allegations of sexual abuse have opened up ideological divisions within the Church. Many conservative Catholics have focused on the alleged role of homosexuality in clergy sex abuse and have expressed concerns that Pope Francis is not sufficiently strict in enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy, while many Catholic liberals have blamed the sex abuse scandals on what they perceive to be the excessively hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church and have called for the Church to be more welcoming and inclusive of homosexuals. Conservatives have often shown a willingness to accept at least some of Viganò's allegations, while liberals have more commonly criticized the letter and defended Pope Francis.
Reaction of Pope Francis
Asked by a reporter to respond to Viganò's allegations, Pope Francis replied,
I read the statement this morning, and I must tell you sincerely that, I must say this, to you [the reporter] 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.
According to veteran Vatican journalist John L. Allen Jr., the "clear suggestion" from Francis was that "if they did so, the charges would crumble under their own weight," while others saw the Vatican's silence and Viganò's strong insistence that documents related to the case be made public as indication that the latter was likely telling the truth. On 28 August, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said, in reference to Francis's statement, "Frankly, but with all due respect, that response is not adequate." He called on all Vatican officials, including Francis, to "make public the pertinent files indicating who knew what and when...and provide the accountability that the Holy Father has promised." Bishop Marian Eleganti said that Francis's refusal "to say a single word about [the accusations against him] is a classic non-denial."
On 3 September, the Pope said "With people who do not have good will, with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within families," the answer is "silence. And prayer." Many found this to be a clear reference to his decision to remain silent about the scandal. On 11 September, referring to the devil, Pope Francis said:
In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops...True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people...The Great Accuser, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, 'roams the earth looking for someone to accuse'.
In an interview published on 28 May 2019, Francis directly addressed the accusations made in Viganò's letter for the first time. He stated that he "knew nothing" about McCarrick's conduct. Asked about Viganò's statement that he told Francis about McCarrick's behavior, he said: "I don't remember if he told me about this. If it's true or not. No idea! But you know that about McCarrick, I knew nothing. If not, I wouldn't have remained quiet, right?"
Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, who had served as first counsellor at the nunciature in Washington, D.C., stated that "Viganò said the truth," but declined to elaborate further. In his letter, Viganò had cited Lantheaume as the one who told him about the alleged "stormy" encounter between McCarrick and Sambi in which Sambi informed McCarrick of the sanctions being placed on him.
Thomas Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, stated that he had "always known and respected [Viganò] as a man of truthfulness, faith and integrity," and asked that the statements in his letter "be investigated thoroughly." Similarly, David Konderla, Bishop of Tulsa, stated that Viganò's allegations would be "a good place to begin the investigations that must happen." Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, went further, stating that he found Viganò's allegations "credible." Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, said that Viganò was a man of "selfless dedication" with "integrity and sincere love of the Church." Cordileone also said that his calls for Pope Francis's resignation "must be taken seriously."
Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, said that Viganò has "impeccable integrity" and he had "offered a number of concrete, real allegations in his recent document, giving names, dates, places, and the location of supporting documentation," and that these allegations justified a canonical investigation. Morlino also expressed disappointment that Pope Francis had not given a direct response when asked about this matter, and accused the National Catholic Reporter of "leading the charge in a campaign of vilification against Archbishop Viganò."
Paprocki called on all Vatican officials, including Francis, to "make public the pertinent files indicating who knew what and when...and provide the accountability that the Holy Father has promised." Archbishop Paul Stagg Coakley professed to having "the deepest respect for Archbishop Viganó and his personal integrity" and called for an investigation and a "purification" of the Church. Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan stated that there was "no reasonable and plausible cause to doubt the truth content of the document." He demanded "ruthlessness and transparency" in cleansing the Church of evils, particularly "homosexual cliques and networks" in the curia.
Some American bishops were critical of Viganò's missive. Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, released a statement criticizing Viganò's statement for "factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology." Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, said the language of the letter seemed political: "It was so scattershot that it was hard to read if it was ideological in some ways, or it was payback to others for personal slights that he had because there were some people who in his past he felt had mistreated him." Cupich said he was "taken aback" by the negative language Viganò used with regard to him. Cupich described the letter as a distraction from the Church's "bigger agenda": "We have to speak about the environment, about the poor, we have to reach out to people who are marginalized in society. We cannot be distracted at this moment." When asked about those criticizing Francis, he responded, "Quite frankly, they also don't like him because he's a Latino." While Pope Francis was born in Argentina, both of his parents immigrated to that country from Northern Italy.
Robert McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, said that the letter, instead of seeking "comprehensive truth," showed "partisanship, division and distortion" in "its ideologically-driven selection of bishops who are attacked, in its clear efforts to settle old personal scores, in its omission of any reference to Archbishop Viganò's own massive personal participation in the covering up of sexual abuse by bishops, and most profoundly in its hatred for Pope Francis and all that he has taught." Contrary to Viganò's statements, a spokesman for Wuerl stated that he had never received any information from Viganò concerning restrictions on McCarrick. On 30 August, Wuerl wrote a letter to priests in the archdiocese saying, "We need to hold close in our prayers and loyalty our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Increasingly, it is clear that he is the object of concentrated attack."
In an interview published on 27 November 2018, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect Emeritus for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized Viganò's language against Pope Francis, saying, "No one has the right to indict the pope or ask him to resign!" He said that these conversations "must take place in private, in the proper places, and without ever making a public controversy." Müller went on to say that such "attacks...end up questioning the credibility of the Church and her mission." He added that he is convinced that the Pope "is doing everything possible" to resolve the abuse scandal. Müller suggested that Pope Francis appoint a commission of cardinals to study the abuse scandal and called for unity amongst the Church's different theological wings.
Involvement of Marco Tosatti
After the letter was published, Italian journalist Marco Tosatti said that he had helped Viganò write and edit the letter. Tosatti stated that Viganò "had called him a few weeks ago out of the blue asking to meet, and then proceeded to tell him the information that became the basis of the testimony." When they met, Viganò brought a draft of the document, and then Tosatti helped Viganò rewrite and edit it. Tosatti said the reason Viganò wrote the letter now was that "77 is an age where you start preparing yourself...he couldn't have a clear conscience unless he spoke." After the document was completed, Tosatti located publications that were willing to publish the letter: the Italian daily La Verità, the English-language National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews, and the Spanish website InfoVaticana.
Follow-up letters and response from Cardinal Ouellet
On 27 September 2018, Viganò released a follow-up letter (dated 29 September). In this letter, Viganò explained why he had broken the "pontifical secret" by publishing his first letter. He criticized Francis for not having responded directly to the original letter, but instead having compared his critics to Satan. Viganò stated that it was Cardinal Marc Ouellet who had informed him of the sanctions that Benedict XVI had allegedly placed on McCarrick, and urged Ouellet to publicly confirm this statement. He wrote, "Neither the pope, nor any of the cardinals in Rome have denied the facts I asserted in my testimony."
On 7 October, Cardinal Ouellet replied to Viganò in a public letter. He confirmed that during the papacy of Benedict XVI, McCarrick "had been requested not to travel or to make public appearances", but he insisted that these restrictions placed on McCarrick should not be seen as "sanctions" or "formally imposed", referring to them rather as "conditions and restrictions that he had to follow on account of some rumors about his past conduct." He defended the decision not to impose formal sanctions on him, stating that this was a matter of "prudence" as there was not yet sufficient evidence to implicate him. Ouellet also confirmed that in 2011, he had "verbally" told Viganò about the restrictions on McCarrick. However, he argued that as these were not formal sanctions, Viganò's letter was "false" for saying that Benedict imposed sanctions on McCarrick which Francis subsequently lifted. In other passages, Ouellet called Viganò's accusations "far-fetched," "blasphemous," "incomprehensible," and "abhorrent."
Many journalists and analysts have said that, despite denouncing the Archbishop, Ouellet confirmed in substance one of Viganò's key statements: Restrictions, even if non-canonical penalties, were imposed on McCarrick because the Vatican authorities were not only aware of the accusations but believed them to be true, even if they lacked probative evidence.
On 19 October, Viganò released a third letter in which he alleged that, despite Ouellet's denials, for years "the Holy See was aware of a variety of concrete facts" concerning McCarrick's activities, and that documents proving this allegation are kept in the Vatican Archives. Concerning Ouellet's response to the Archbishop's second letter, which included heavy criticism, Viganò said, "Cardinal Ouellet concedes the important claims." He denounced the "conspiracy of silence" in the Church hierarchy which he believes oppresses victims and protects abusers. Viganò ended the letter by urging other bishops to come forward with what they knew: "You too are faced with a choice. You can choose to withdraw from the battle, to prop up the conspiracy of silence and avert your eyes from the spreading of corruption or choose to speak." Eight days later, Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan stated that he received a complaint about McCarrick in 1994 while serving as papal nuncio, and then forwarded it to Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, who supposedly conducted an investigation that yielded nothing. Cacciavillan said that he did not attempt to directly contact the Vatican.
On 10 January 2019, The Washington Post published a story stating that Wuerl, despite his past denials, was aware of allegations against McCarrick in 2004 by former priest Robert Ciolek and reported them to the Vatican. Both the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Washington acknowledged that Wuerl knew about and had reported Ciolek's allegation to the Vatican.
On 14 January, Viganò urged McCarrick to publicly repent for his actions, telling him that his "eternal salvation is at stake." He continued, "Time is running out. But you can confess and repent of your sins, crimes and sacrileges, and do so publicly, since they have themselves become public."
In February 2019, French author Frédéric Martel affirmed that Pope Francis's aides told him that Viganò had informed Francis about allegations involving seminarians but that Francis had dismissed them. According to Martel, "when the Pope dismissed the allegations, his entourage indicated to me that 'Francis was initially informed by Viganò that Cardinal McCarrick had had homosexual relations with over-age seminarians, which was not enough to condemn him.'"
Release of McCarrick correspondence
On 28 May 2019, correspondence obtained by Crux shows that Benedict XVI imposed travel restrictions on McCarrick in 2008, as Viganò said. However, McCarrick gradually began to resume travelling. Correspondence also indicates that, contrary to Wuerl's denials, he was aware of the restrictions imposed on McCarrick. McCarrick writes that he discussed the restrictions with Wuerl in 2008, saying that his "help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me." However, a spokesperson for Wuerl denied that he had any such knowledge.
In 2019, Viganò gave his first extended interview since he released his allegations by corresponding through email with The Washington Post. He accused Pope Francis of defrocking McCarrick without a trial in order to avoid the possibility of having other bishops who knew about or covered up for McCarrick implicated. "Moreover, having made the sentence definitive, the pope has made it impossible to conduct any further investigation, which could have revealed who in the Curia and elsewhere knew of McCarrick's abuses, when they knew it, and who helped him to be named archbishop of Washington and eventually a cardinal. Note, by the way, that the documents of this case, whose publication had been promised, have never been produced," he said.
In an interview from September 2019, McCarrick, who continued to maintain his innocence, commented on Viganò's allegations. "He was talking as a representative of the far right, I think. I don't want to say he's a liar, but I think some of the bishops have said that he was not telling the truth," he said.
A report released by the Vatican on November 10, 2020 included additional information about reports surrounding McCarrick's behavior. The report states that John Paul II had heard rumors about McCarrick engaging in sexual misconduct but did not believe them. It largely supports Viganò's contention about restrictions being imposed under the papacy of Benedict XVI, stating that Benedict had received a complaint concerning sexual molestation by McCarrick against a seminarian and that the Vatican Office for Bishops attempted to impose restrictions on his public activities but that he refused to abide by them. The report singles out Viganò by stating that he called for an "exemplary measure" against McCarrick while working for the Office of the Secretariat of State, but says that Benedict decided to keep the restrictions private. The report mostly fails to support the accusations levied by Archbishop Viganò against Pope Francis. It says that Francis, before becoming pope, had heard of allegations against McCarrick but believed them to be rejected by John Paul II, and that he had heard rumors of immoral sexual behavior by McCarrick but that he did not receive documentation about it until 2017, and that he did not learn of any allegation of McCarrick abusing minors until 2018. It refutes the idea that Francis made McCarrick an important advisor or that he sought to cover for him.
Conspiracy theories and President Donald Trump
In May 2020, National Catholic Reporter reported that a number of German bishops had rejected COVID-19 conspiracy theories spread by Viganò, saying that "populists and other conspiracy theorists ... want to interpret all efforts to contain the pandemic as a pretext to found a hate-filled technocratic tyranny and wipe out Christian civilization." Viganò had circulated an appeal he wrote and posted on the website "Veritas Liberabit Vos" in which he criticized "disproportionate and unjustifiable restrictions" on the "exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement" enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was "social engineering" and "subtle forms of dictatorship" that violated "inalienable rights of citizens and their fundamental freedoms" and were a "disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control". He cast doubt on the "contagiousness, danger and resistance of the virus" He said that "foreign powers" and "shady interests" were interfering in domestic affairs and were part of a "plot to create a world government" that "would result in the permanent imposition of unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms."
In his June 7, 2020 letter to then President Donald Trump, Viganò made "apocalyptic claims about a looming spiritual battle and a globalist conspiracy pursuing a one-world government," according to the Catholic News Agency. Viganò said that Catholic bishops who support George Floyd protests associated with Black Lives Matter, were aligned with the New World Order conspiracy, and that they invoked the Masonic "universal brotherhood" — also part of the new world order plot. He described the protests and the COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns as a Biblical struggle between light and dark, urging President Trump to fight against the deep state in the United States, which included responding to the protests. Viganò alleged that the protests were organized by now President Joe Biden who embodies the deep state goals. President Trump responded favorably to the letter in a Tweet and encouraging everyone to read Viganò's letter.
Journalists from Radio Canada the New York Times and historian and theologian Massimo Faggioli, traced the link between President Trump and Viganò, to the archbishop's appointment in 2011 as Nuncio to the United States. In 2008, when President Obama was elected, ultraconservative American Catholics had increased their influence through their alliance with the Tea Party, according to Faggioli. Faggioli said that in Washington over the next five years, Viganò "forged close ties" with the a "militant fringe" of ultraconservative and traditional Catholics and gradually embraced conspiracy theories. When Pope Francis became Pope, some ultraconservative Catholics in the United States believed it was part of a globalist elite plot to liberalize the Catholic Church. Faggioli said that Trump had popularized and normalized the conspiracy theories, so that when Viganò published of a series of letters with strong conspiratorial overtones from May to October 2020, Trump's "most ardent Catholic supporters" had adhered to Viganò's messages.
In response to the June 2020 letter and other statements, many Catholic leaders further distanced themselves from Viganò and his remarks, which the Catholic News Agency described as "apocalyptic claims about a looming spiritual battle and a globalist conspiracy pursuing a one-world government." Viganò, who refused to recognize Pope Francis, has called for his resignation, and in July 2020 he accused Pope Francis of following the 'homosexual agenda of the New World Order conspiracy theory.
On October 30, 2020, Viganò wrote another letter to President Trump which framed the World Economic Forum's Great Reset initiative within the context of the New World Order global conspiracy theory "against God and humanity". He said the Great Reset was led by the "global élite" who wanted to "subdue" humanity using "coercive measures" to "limit individual freedoms". Viganò said the price of a promised basic universal income from the International Monetary Fund would be the "renunciation of private property". He warned that a digital ID, a health passport, and Bill Gates' vaccination would become mandatory, and refusal to comply would result in internment. Vagano said that the lockdowns in the early months of 2021 were part of the activation of the Great Reset. Vigano said in the October 30 letter that then President Trump represented the "final garrison against the world dictatorship" and that the United States represented "defending wall" in a "war" against globalists, such as the President of the United States Joe Biden, Pope Francis—who Viganò addresses as simply—Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, France's President Emmanuel Macron, and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Sections of this letter were included in an article by The Spectator columnist, James Delingpole—a key proponent of the great reset conspiracy theory—a version of the anti-lockdown conspiracy. One church official said that he was "simply stunned at what is being disseminated in the name of the church and Christendom: crude conspiracy theories without facts or evidence combined with a right-wing populist combative rhetoric that sounds frightening." Viganò did not offer proof to support his claims, according to the CNA.
Statements regarding Vatican II
In June 2020, Viganò said that the Second Vatican Council ushered in a schism where a false Church exists within the Catholic Church alongside what he considers to be the true Church. "The errors of the post-conciliar period were contained in nuce in the Conciliar Acts," he said. Viganò criticized the interreligious activities of Pope John Paul II and especially of Pope Francis, seeking to link actions undertaken during their pontificates to what he perceived to be errors or ambiguities in the council. "If the pachamama could be adored in a church, we owe it to Dignitatis humanae [Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom]…. If the Abu Dhabi Declaration was signed, we owe it to Nostra aetate [Vatican II's Declaration on non-Christian religions]," he said.
Controversy surrounding family estate
On 15 November 2018, it was revealed that a civil court in Milan, Italy had issued a ruling in October 2018 which ordered Viganò to surrender 1.8 million euro of inheritance, plus interest and legal fees, to his brother Father Lorenzo Viganò. He had been managing his brother's inheritance since their father's death in 1961 and was ordered to pay back his brother Lorenzo, a priest of the Italian Diocese of Pavia who has resided in Chicago, and whom he has also long been on bad terms with, compensation for the money which he used allegedly from Lorenzo's share in the inheritance, along with interest and legal fees. The money which Lorenzo received accounted for half of what Viganò collected from the inheritance. Lorenzo had previously filed a lawsuit against Viganò in 2010 as well, but later dropped his first case in 2014 after Viganò agreed to donate $180,000 to a children's hospital in Tanzania where a daughter of their sister Rosanna Viganò was working, and also return to Rosanna 8,600 euro ($11,000) used in 1983 in order to buy an apartment.
Viganò's critics allege he sought to use Lorenzo's health problems, which resulted from a stroke, as a reason to avoid taking the position as nuncio to the United States, saying that he needed to care for his brother, whereas the real reason was that Viganò was seeking to obtain better access to the family's possessions, which he would get by remaining in Rome.
Viganò denied the accusations. His supporters said they were a smear campaign designed to discredit him. The other siblings of the archbishop have come forward in a press release to support him in the case against their brother Lorenzo.
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