“The truth emerges,” Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post once said.
It’s a phrase that might usefully be applied to the testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal ambassador to the United States, who in August called on Pope Francis to resign for allegedly ignoring sexual misconduct allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In an explosive 11-page dossier of accusations, he claimed that the Pope had not only ignored formal sanctions that had been placed on McCarrick but had elevated him to a role as trusted adviser; he also made assertions about the pernicious influence of “homosexual currents” in the Vatican.
Since then, Archbishop Viganò has pulled back from his call for the Pope to resign, and has admitted there weren’t formal sanctions on Archbishop McCarrick, only private restrictions.
A new book, “Il Giorno del Giudizio” (“The Day of Judgment”), by two experienced Vatican journalists, Andrea Tornielli (whose interviews with Pope Francis were published in 2016 as “The Name of God is Mercy”) and Gianni Valente, helps to untangle Archbishop Viganò’s claims further, placing them into context and going some way to separating fact from fiction.
The 288-page book, published last week, and so far only available in Italian, draws on sources who worked with Viganò and from inside the Vatican. Although many details of the McCarrick case remain mysterious, this is a forensic and sober analysis that sheds new light on the career of the 88-year-old McCarrick, who was removed from public ministry and the College of Cardinals by Francis when a credible allegation he had abused a minor emerged. What “Il Giorno del Giudizio” tries to demonstrate is that attempts to turn the McCarrick saga into a “J'accuse” against Francis involves twisting facts to suit an agenda. Viganò, Tornielli and Valente claim, built a castle of accusations on grains of truth.
A new claim made in the book is that McCarrick’s sexual misconduct – which included inviting seminarians to share his bed at a beach house – was reported to the Vatican in 1999, a few months before Pope John Paul II appointed McCarrick Archbishop of Washington. Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, according to the authors’ sources, "wrote a heartfelt letter” to Rome in which he referred to “homosexual harassment” by McCarrick. “He declared that McCarrick was charismatic, very good at raising funds,” the book explains. “O'Connor remembered that he had recommended him in the past but that now, in conscience, he felt that he should not be chosen [for Washington].”
The writers add that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who held the post of “sostituto”, a papal chief of staff equivalent from 1989-2000 before becoming Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops two months ahead of McCarrick’s appointment to Washington, was also opposed to the nomination. If true this detail would correspond with Viganò’s claim that Cardinal Re had told him that McCarrick was fourteenth on the list for Washington. The decision to transfer Archbishop McCarrick from Newark to Washington, according to Tornielli and Valente, was made in the “papal apartments” without being discussed by the Congregation for Bishops. By “apartments”, read the Pope John Paul II and his closest aide, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, longtime personal secretary to the Polish Pope, and now the retired Archbishop of Krakow.
Tornielli and Valente report how John Paul II was impressed by McCarrick during his 1995 papal visit to the United States, which had begun in Newark. McCarrick, then Archbishop of Newark, had learnt some Polish after spending two years working with immigrants from Poland. He was solid on doctrine and committed to social action. He would be able to wield the levers of power in Washington and was in the room when President Bill Clinton met John Paul II during that 1995 trip.
Nevertheless, rumours about McCarrick’s behaviour with seminarians persisted with the United States nunciature receiving a letter from the Dominican priest Fr Boniface Ramsey in 2000. What sources tell the authors of the new book is that when confronted McCarrick emphatically denied claims against him, describing them as false and slanderous. No individual seminarians came forward with testimony, and there was a reluctance on John Paul II’s part to believe the concerns. Smearing priests with allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse was a strategy that had frequently been used by the Communist party in his Polish homeland.
Benedict XVI took a tougher line against McCarrick, deciding to place the retired archbishop under restrictions. He was told not to travel, not to celebrate Mass in public, not to give lectures and to avoid taking part in public meetings. But McCarrick flouted the instructions as though they didn’t exist. He would become hostile when challenged and at one point complained during a lunch at the nunciature in Washington saying: “This is a persecution!” His complaints came after a 2008 letter detailing the sanctions, written in English, was sent by Cardinal Re to McCarrick via the then nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. McCarrick was ordered in that letter to move out of the seminary he had been living in – he reluctantly obeyed the instruction. Nevertheless, McCarrick kept up his travels and continued with life as normal. He remained a member of two Vatican bodies, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the powerful APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See), right up until he reached his 80th birthday in July 2010.
After Archbishop Viganò was sent to Washington as papal ambassador to the United States in 2011 nothing changed for McCarrick and, if anything, life became more comfortable for the retired archbishop. Viganò invited McCarrick to the nunciature to attend receptions, McCarrick takes part in the US bishops 2012 “ad limina” visit to Rome, where he concelebrates Mass at the tomb of St Peter, and in the same year, he is described by Viganò as “much loved by us all” at a gala dinner. A year later, at the time of Francis’ election, McCarrick is now 82-years-old, long retired and no longer a voting cardinal. He greets Benedict XVI before the conclave and there are isn't any sign that restrictions are in force.
As a cardinal over the age of 80, McCarrick plays a part in the pre-conclave discussions, but he is not a friend of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, nor, Tornielli and Valente say, does he play any kingmaker role in the 2013 conclave that elects Francis. They point out that six months after the election, at a conference at Villanova University, Philadelphia, McCarrick reveals he had been called by an Italian contact suggesting Cardinal Bergoglio might be elected. The Washington prelate said he had replied: “I don’t think so, because no one has mentioned his name.”
Tornielli and Valente point out that after being elected to the See of Peter, the Pope gave McCarrick no official role, nor did he commission him to travel to China on his behalf, as implied by Viganò in his testimony. McCarrick was conducting his travels as a sole operator and often worked with charities and the US State Department. “Tomorrow, I am going to China,” he allegedly told Viganò after passing him in the lobby of the Pope’s residence. It wasn’t, Tornielli and Valente point out, the same as saying: “The Pope is sending me to China." They also cite an anonymous former collaborator of Viganò to dispute the ex-nuncio’s assertion that McCarrick was an influencer of episcopal appointments in the US, including the nomination of Cardinal Blase Cupich to Chicago. “This thesis … does not correspond to the truth,” the source who worked with Viganò says. Cupich’s name, the source explains, was already circulating and was being proposed as a candidate and the rumour about McCarrick’s influence originates from those frustrated that they no longer influence episcopal appointments in the US.
Finally, on the constraints that McCarrick had been placed under, Tornielli and Valente point out that Francis never changed or altered the restrictions Benedict XVI had laid down. Had these sanctions had been “canonical”, or formal, as Viganò alleged in his testimony, they would have been put into effect after McCarrick ignored them. There is also a question mark over whether Francis had been fully informed of the restrictions he was supposed to have lifted on McCarrick, according Viganò. According to the former nuncio, during a 23 June 2013 conversation with the recently elected Francis, it was the Pope who first mentioned McCarrick and Viganò who informed him of the sanctions. There is no evidence that the nuncio followed this up in writing, nor was there any mention of the Pope being told about the allegation that McCarrick had abused a minor. For three more years Viganò continued as nuncio, ignoring what he later alleged were the canonical restrictions that had been placed on McCarrick.
Tornielli and Valente point out that the retired archbishop’s testimony had the support of certain quarters in the US Church hostile to Francis’ pontificate. Viganò says that the Pope told him he did not want the bishops to be “ideologised” or to be culture warriors with a political agenda. While he was in the US, Viganò adopted many of the flagship issues of the culture warrior issues such as opposition too the legalisation of gay marriage and battling the government over contraception and healthcare. In a chapter titled “The American Schism”, Tornielli and Valente record that 24 US bishops issued statements praising Viganò following his 26 August testimony, without adding much in the way of support for the Pope he was attacking.
The Pope has so far refused to say anything about Viganò’s testimony, simply urging journalists to analyse the claims and come to their conclusions. And he’s ordered an internal inquiry in the Vatican into the McCarrick saga. It is becoming increasingly clear that that will show that mistakes were made, and that different decisions should have been taken. But the attempt by Viganò and his allies to use this story in order to bring down Francis’ papacy seems to have stalled.
“Truth is humble, truth is silent, the truth is not noisy,” the Pope said during Mass a week after Viganò had published his testimony. He added that “with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division” the only response is “silence”.