Pope Francis has dismissed claims from a former Vatican ambassador that he was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
Francis urged members of the media to make a judgment about an explosive document released by Archbishop Carlo Vigano but that he will not respond to what it alleges.
“I will not say a single word on this,” he told reporters on board the papal plane from Dublin to Rome. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”
During an in-flight press conference lasting 44 minutes, the Pope said he had read Archbishop Vigano's 11-page testimony on Sunday morning, adding “I must tell you sincerely that, I must say this, to you and all those who are interested, read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.”
Francis then added to the journalist who asked the question on the flight: “I await your comment on the document, I would like that.”
His decision not to engage with the contents of Archbishop Vigano’s document, in which he takes the highly unusual step of calling on the Pope to resign, is in keeping with Francis’s response to criticism from high-profile clerics inside the Church. He has repeatedly refused to respond to four cardinals who publicly released a list of queries, known as “dubia,” about his family life document “Amoris Laetitia”.
In his document Archbishop Vigano claims to have told the Pope about sexual misconduct allegations against the former Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal McCarrick in 2013 who he also said had been put under “sanctions” by Benedict XVI in retirement. Church observers point out that Archbishop McCarrick kept up a busy schedule of pastoral engagements and was seen greeting Benedict XVI just before the Emeritus Pope stepped down from office.
The press conference came at the end of Francis two-day visit to Ireland where he repeatedly apologised for the clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up along with the appalling treatment of mothers and children in Catholic institutions.
The Pope said that his meeting with eight abuse survivors yesterday evening had made him “suffer a lot” and that he had not heard of the Church’s involvement in the Magdalene laundries, where single mothers were consigned into slavery, and their children put up for adoption.
He also revealed more about what Ireland’s minister for children, Katharine Zappone, had told him at the airport discovery of mass graves at the Tuam mother and baby home currently under investigation by the state.
“She told me she’d send me a memo and she has,” the Pope said. “I haven’t been able to read it yet. She was very balanced in telling me: ‘There’s an issue, the investigation has not yet finished,’ but she made me understand that the church has something to do with this.”
He added: “This is an example of constructive collaboration, but also of, I don’t want to say protest… of complaint that once the Church maybe (had not ) been helpful… She was a very dignified lady that touched my heart, and I have the memo there that I will study when I go home.”
Francis also addressed the question of abortion and homosexuality on the flight home, with his trip coming just a few months after a referendum to change Ireland’s abortion laws.
“The problem of abortion is not religious,” he emphasised. “We are not against abortion for religion [religious reasons], no. It’s a human problem, and it should be studied anthropologically. To study abortion, beginning with the religious fact is to skip over thought. The problem of abortion should be studied anthropologically.”
Francis went on: “There is always the anthropological problem of the ethics of eliminating a human being to resolve a problem. But this is already to enter into the discussion. I just want to underscore this: I will never allow that the discussion on abortion begins on the religious fact. No, it's an anthropological problem, it’s a human problem. This is my thinking.”
The Pope also highlighted the need for parents of gay children to have a dialogue with their offspring and not condemn them.
“Your question is clear: what would I say to a father who sees that his son or daughter has that tendency? I would say first to pray, don’t condemn, dialogue, understand, make space for them. Let them express themselves,” he said.
“There are many things one can do with psychiatry, to understand things. Another thing is when it shows itself after 20 years of age or so. But I’ll never say that silence is a remedy. To ignore a son or daughter with homosexual tendencies is a lack of paternity and maternity. You are my son or daughter, as you are, I’m your father, mother, let’s talk…don’t throw them out of the family.”
Francis concluded the press conference saying that he had “found much faith in Ireland” and that the “people can distinguish from the truth and half-truths”. The Pope added that the country “is in a process of healing, and some positions are further from faith, but the Irish people have faith, lots of faith.”