Pope’s cover-up cri­sis turns bat­tle lines into first salvo

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

The au­thor of the bomb­shell ac­cu­sa­tion of sex abuse cover-up against Pope Fran­cis de­nied Wednesday he acted out of re­venge or anger, break­ing his si­lence as his claims con­tin­ued to di­vide a Catholic Church al­ready po­larised un­der Fran­cis’ re­formist agenda.

While the Vat­i­can is no stranger to scan­dal, leaks or plots, Arch­bishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s j’ac­cuse has weak­ened a pa­pacy al­ready un­der fire for Fran­cis’ poor record on deal­ing with sex abuse cases, and has in­ten­si­fied a long-sim­mer­ing ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle be­tween right and left for the soul of the Catholic Church.

Vigano told an Ital­ian jour­nal­ist he was “serene and at peace” af­ter pub­lish­ing his al­le­ga­tion-laden dec­la­ra­tion, al­beit sad­dened by sub­se­quent at­tempts to un­der­mine his cred­i­bil­ity.

“I spoke out be­cause by now the cor­rup­tion has ar­rived at the top of the church hi­er­ar­chy,” Vigano was quoted as say­ing.

For the church’s con­ser­va­tives, Vigano’s 11-page man­i­festo, pub­lished on Sun­day, is a coura­geous de­nun­ci­a­tion of sex abuse cover-up and cor­rup­tion. For Fran­cis’ re­formist sup­port­ers, it’s an an­gry di­a­tribe from a ho­mo­pho­bic bishop em­bit­tered that he never got the car­di­nal’s red hat he so craved.

Both sides, how­ever, agree Vigano’s ac­cu­sa­tions re­quire a re­sponse given that, as the for­mer chief Vat­i­can diplo­mat in the US, he was in a po­si­tion to know cer­tain in­for­ma­tion. Fran­cis’ de­ci­sion to punt – “I won’t say a word on this,” he de­clared Sun­day – hasn’t helped his cause or sat­is­fied the faith­ful.

“I do think this is a cri­sis in trust and author­ity that comes re­ally close to the Lutheran Re­for­ma­tions in the early 16th cen­tury,” said Christo­pher Bel­litto, church his­to­rian at Kean Uni­ver­sity in New Jer­sey. “It’s like a mar­riage: When trust is ques­tioned you can go for­ward, but it’s not the same.”

In his let­ter Vigano ac­cused a long list of US and Vat­i­can of­fi­cials – in­clud­ing Popes Bene­dict XVI and Fran­cis – of cov­er­ing up for ex-Car­di­nal Theodore McCar­rick, the re­tired arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, whose pen­chant for sleep­ing with sem­i­nar­i­ans was ap­par­ently an open se­cret in some church cir­cles for over a decade.

Fran­cis last month re­moved McCar­rick as a car­di­nal and or­dered him to a life­time of penance and prayer af­ter a US church in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­ter­mined that an al­le­ga­tion he groped a teenage al­tar boy in the 1970s was cred­i­ble.

Up un­til then, the only ac­cu­sa­tions against McCar­rick had in­volved sleep­ing with adult sem­i­nar­i­ans — a clear abuse of power that was per­haps qui­etly tol­er­ated in the pre-#MeToo era, but doesn’t fly now.

Vigano said he in­formed Fran­cis of McCar­rick’s his­tory with sem­i­nar­i­ans at a meet­ing on 23 June 2013, and ac­cused the Pope of turn­ing a blind eye and ef­fec­tively re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing McCar­rick from the sanc­tions he claims Bene­dict had im­posed in 2009 or 2010.

There is am­ple ev­i­dence, how­ever, that any sanc­tions, if they ex­isted, were never fully en­forced since McCar­rick trav­elled widely for the church in those years and par­tic­i­pated in of­fi­cial church func­tions, in­clud­ing along­side Vigano, who was re­spon­si­ble for en­forc­ing the sanc­tions.

Vigano in­sisted Fran­cis must re­sign, given the ex­plo­sion of the McCar­rick scan­dal in the US and a string of other gay sex abuse and cover-up cases in the church in Chile, Hon­duras and Aus­tralia that have im­pli­cated sev­eral of Fran­cis’ top ad­vis­ers.

Mas­simo Franco, a colum­nist for Italy’s lead­ing daily, Cor­riere della Sera, says the si­lence from the Vat­i­can is telling.

“I think that in this case, if these al­le­ga­tions were ‘fake news,’ I think some­one would have spo­ken out on be­half of the Pope,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “What is strik­ing is the gen­eral si­lence.”

The Vat­i­can de­clined to com­ment Wednesday beyond Fran­cis’ re­marks on Sun­day night, when he was asked by a re­porter on a flight home from Ire­land if Vigano’s claims were true.

“I think the text speaks for it­self, and you have suf­fi­cient jour­nal­is­tic abil­ity to draw con­clu­sions,” he said. “If time passes and you’ve drawn your con­clu­sions, maybe I’ll speak.”

For many Vat­i­can watch­ers, the fall­out since has laid bare the ide­o­log­i­cal ten­sions that have af­flicted the church through­out its 2,000-year his­tory, but which in­ten­si­fied un­der Fran­cis – and ex­ploded into the open this week.

The bat­tle lines were drawn in 2016 when Fran­cis is­sued his open­ing to di­vorced and civilly re­mar­ried Catholics. Later that year four car­di­nals for­mally asked him to ex­plain if he was chang­ing church teach­ing on mar­riage in a rare pub­lic re­buke. Vigano’s man­i­festo marked the first di­rect shot.

Com­men­ta­tor Philip Lawler wrote in First Things, a con­ser­va­tive US Catholic mag­a­zine, this week that while the prospect of “open war­fare among bish­ops” is an en­tic­ing story line, the di­vi­sions are roil­ing rank-and-file Catholics who are “ex­hausted and en­raged by the se­rial rev­e­la­tions of cover-ups and cor­rup­tion” in the church.

Pro­gres­sive church his­to­rian Al­berto Mel­loni, how­ever, wrote in Italy’s left­lean­ing La Repub­blica daily that Vigano’s mis­sive had “noth­ing to do with pe­dophilia” and ev­ery­thing to do with unit­ing var­i­ous anti-Fran­cis forces, from the tra­di­tion­al­ists to the more moderate Catholic po­lit­i­cal right, for the sake of a fu­ture con­clave to choose Fran­cis’ suc­ces­sor.

Bel­litto, the his­to­rian at Kean Uni­ver­sity, said such machi­na­tions were noth­ing new.

“It’s as old as Chris­tian­ity it­self,” he said. “What we’re in now is noth­ing other than a high-tech ver­sion of ‘I’m more Chris­tian than you are.’”

US bish­ops, as well as or­di­nary Catholics, have called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find out who knew about McCar­rick’s mis­deeds and when, and ex­pose how he was able to rise through the ranks. Vigano’s bomb­shell al­le­ga­tions might com­pli­cate the re­quest given that the Pope is now per­son­ally in­volved.

That said, Vigano pro­vided no ev­i­dence that Fran­cis had lifted any sanc­tions, say­ing only that McCar­rick emerged from a meet­ing with the Pope in June 2013 and an­nounced he was go­ing to China. Such a trip would have been com­pletely in keep­ing with McCar­rick‘s rig­or­ous travel sched­ule be­fore 2013 when he was al­legedly un­der Bene­dict’s sanc­tions.

But Vigano said McCar­rick had be­come a close ad­viser to Fran­cis, who was seek­ing to ap­point more pas­torally minded bish­ops like him­self to the US church, which he be­lieved had be­come too ide­o­log­i­cally driven by right-wingers.

Franco, the Cor­riere della Sera colum­nist, said the McCar­rick af­fair showed once again the dan­ger posed by Fran­cis’ pen­chant for keep­ing friends with bag­gage like McCar­rick and other com­pro­mised car­di­nals as ad­vis­ers, rather than re­ly­ing on of­fi­cial church chan­nels for his in­for­ma­tion.

“I don’t want to say it was a will to ig­nore or to un­der­value,” he said. “But it’s a boomerang in the end.”

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