Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has called on Pope Francis to resign. In an 11-page letter published on Sunday, he accused the Pope of covering up sexual abuse and misconduct.
Viganò’s statement centers around one figure, Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July after a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations. Viganò claims that Francis knew about McCarrick’s behaviour for years — and covered for him.
According to Viganò, Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, removed McCarrick from his normal duties, and sentenced him to a life of prayer and penance. Pope Francis not only lifted those sanctions, but made McCarrick his “trusted advisor”, ignoring allegations of McCarrick’s “gravely immoral behaviour with seminarians and priests.” Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator. He knew that he was a corrupt man, [and] he covered for him until the bitter end,” the statement reads.
Viganò insists that Francis must resign. “In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal church, he 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 for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”
These allegations are yet another blow in the storm of scandal that has descended upon the Catholic church. In May, 32 Chilean bishops resigned after it came to light that they had covered up sexual abuse. Earlier this month, a U.S. grand jury report concluded that 300 priests had abused over 1 000 children in Pennsylvania over the past 70 years.
At the beginning of his papacy, Francis had promised to do more to address sexual abuse within the church. Up to this point, he’s done little to follow up on that commitment.
Francis refused to confirm or deny Viganò’s claims. “I will not say a word about that. I think that the communique speaks for himself,” Francis said, as quoted from Al Jazeera. “You have sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions. When a little time has passed and you have the conclusions, perhaps I will talk.”
At first glance, Francis’s refusal to comment seems like a passive admission of guilt. However, his reticence could also be seen as a refusal to descend into the political infighting that threatens the stability of the Vatican.
Francis is a progressive pope. He welcomes divorcees, women who have had abortions, and nonbelievers. When asked what he thought of gay priests, he famously said, “who am I to judge?” His open-mindedness has made him a hero to the political left, but has, at the same time, inspired a conservative insurgency within the church. Experts warn that Viganò, a conservative with an especially virulent anti-gay agenda, may be using the scandals to topple Francis from his position of power.
Moreover, Viganò’s statement was released statement at a particularly critical moment — that being, during Francis’ historic tour to Ireland, in which he apologized for the church’s abuses over the past century and asked God for forgiveness. Some analysts suggest that the timing of the statement is indicative that Viganò may have had ulterior motives.
According to Al Jazeera, Colm O’Gorman, an activist, church abuse survivor, and director of Amnesty International Ireland, said that “we need to be careful because Viganò has an agenda of his own. There’s an ideological battle going on inside the church — that’s part of what’s at play here… I am surprised it’s emerged from such a high level within the hierarchy of the church. But it’s something the Vatican is going to have to respond to.”
As the New York Times reports, John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown likewise stated that, “we need to find out who knew what when, and what they did or did not do to protect young people. The weaponization of the sexual abuse scandal uses the suffering of the vulnerable to advance ideological agendas and makes a horrible situation worse.”
The situation is complex and fragile. On the one hand, if Francis truly had covered up McCormick’s abuse, he is thereby morally obligated to come forward. On the other hand, political infighting threatens to distract from the real issue — how to protect children from further abuse. And in the midst of all of this, Francis faces a daunting task, as he must uproot a decades-old tradition of secrecy, silence, and inaction while struggling to unite a divided church.