It’s important to examine the allegations in Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, writes Greg Daly
1. What’s this Viganò story?
While Pope Francis was in Ireland, Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal nuncio to the US, had several media outlets publish a ‘testimony’ attacking the Pope and a host of prelates, and calling for the Pope’s resignation.
2. When would the Pope have seen this testimony?
At some point on Sunday 26 August. He’d have heard of it when he woke that morning and was questioned about it by journalists on the flight back to Rome.
3. What exactly has Viganò claimed?
He’s made a lot of allegations, but his core one is that Pope Francis lifted sanctions Pope Emeritus Benedict had imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick similar to those in force now, and made him a high-profile and trusted confidante.
4. So that’s an accusation with three key parts, yes?
Yes: that Benedict imposed sanctions similar to those in force now, that Francis lifted these sanctions, and that he’s made him a high-profile and trusted confidante.
5. What are the other allegations?
There are loads, ranging from important communications being ignored or suppressed, action being delayed, knowledge of sanctions being concealed, lying aplenty, and the nurturing and concealing of homosexual networks.
6. Viganò says Francis has done this?
No, rather dozens of cardinals and other senior prelates. In some cases the allegations seem depressingly plausible, though Viganò offers no evidence for the claims.
7. Is it true that Pope Francis hasn’t replied to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations?
Not really, no. He’s said he’ll say nothing about them for now, encouraged journalists to investigate the allegations, and said he might speak later.
8. That looks bad, doesn’t it?
Well, it depends on whether or not you believe that people are innocent till proven guilty, and whether or not you think people making serious allegations should support their claims with evidence – Viganò doesn’t.
9. But if Francis is innocent, surely he could just say so?
I’m not sure the long-standing enemies of the Pope would think a denial would be a case of Rome speaking and the case being closed.
10. Seriously, though, if innocent he could easily clear this up – why won’t he speak?
Since 1990 at least he has believed the best thing to do when faced with a diabolical head-on attack is to emulate Christ, to stay silent, and to pray.
11. Since 1990?
Yes, when in exile in Cordoba he wrote a reflection called ‘Silencio y palambra’ (silence and word) in which he advocated such an approach.
12. Did he say something like this at Mass recently?
Yes, on Monday 3 September, saying “With people lacking good will, with people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family: silence, prayer.”
13. But hasn’t silence enabled abuses over the years?
Yes, but Francis isn’t urging whistleblowers or people who have been hurt to be silent – he’s talking about maintaining silence when attacked by people who seek scandal, division, and destruction.
14. Wouldn’t it be better for the Church if he spoke, though?
Quite possibly, and plenty of good people who believe him innocent think his position imprudent. But then, there were disciples who thought the same of Christ.
15. Couldn’t he just release the documents?
You’re assuming there are documents to release. Archbishop Viganò’s testimony only specifies five, none of which would point to what Francis knew, let alone when.
16. That’s all?
Yes, a letter written on 22 November 2000, a memorandum from June 2006 already shared with civil authorities, a memo of 6 December 2006 to accompany that memorandum, a memo of 25 May 2008, and an letter to Cardinal Parolin written at some point between 2011 and 2016.
17. Do any of these relate to the alleged sanctions?
Only the Parolin letter, which supposedly asked if the sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict were still in force. The others predate Pope Benedict’s supposed sanctioning of McCarrick.
18. Does that mean the others don’t matter?
On the contrary, they do matter, because if they went nowhere and weren’t acted on, it’s important to establish who was responsible and why.
19. How does Archbishop Viganò remember the exact dates of these letters – does he have copies of them?
I’ve no idea. It looks kind of fishy. He may have a contemporary written record of them. It’d be nice if he would share at least his own records with the world.
20. Seemingly the archbishop mentioned a file on McCarrick held by the Congregation of Bishops – what’s in that?
I have no idea. Neither, apparently, does any journalist yet. If it exists it may simply contain the aforementioned communications.
21. Has the Congregation of Bishops played a significant role in this affair?
It seems to have done, with Pope Benedict’s supposed sanctions seemingly being transmitted via Cardinal Bertone through the congregation to the nuncio and then McCarrick.
22. Who knew about the sanctions there?
Archbishop Viganò says Cardinals Battista Re and Ouelett both definitely knew.
23. Would members of the congregation have known about any sanctions?
It seems unlikely that every member would, but it could be worth asking the American members of the congregation from the period when sanctions were allegedly in force – Cardinals Levada and Burke.
Well, he was the second-highest ranking American member of the curia during the period the sanctions were allegedly in force. His absence from Viganò’s testimony is somewhat peculiar.
25. You keep saying ‘allegedly’ and ‘supposedly’ – is it possible there were no sanctions for Pope Francis to lift?
It’s very possible: certainly the story of the sanctions has changed a few times.
26. But doesn’t Viganò say in his testimony that Benedict imposed on McCarrick “sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis”?
Yes, he does, and he lists a lot of people he says were aware of these sanctions.
27. So what’s the problem?
Well, it turns out that while Viganò said in his ‘testimony’ that McCarrick was barred from public meetings, travel, and celebrating public Masses, McCarrick did all these things after 2009-2010.
28. Why 2009-2010?
Because Viganò admitted from day one that he didn’t know when the supposed sanctions were imposed, even though he could quote verbatim someone who was apparently there when McCarrick was told of them.
Msgr Jean-Francois Lantheaume, who was serving in the US nunciature when the late Archbishop Sambi apparently informed McCarrick of Benedict’s decision. Viganò says he was prepared to testify in support of him.
30. And has he done so?
No. He has said: “Viganò told the truth. That is all.”
31. Not a word about when the sanctions were imposed?
Sorry, it seems he told Viganò about the conversation he overheard, but doesn’t seem ever to have told him when it happened. Viganò has seemingly worked that out.
32. Based on what?
Based on the sanctions having been imposed while Viganò was working for the Governorate of Vatican City State, and not during his time before or after that working for the Secretariate of State.
33. What about how McCarrick didn’t attend CUA cardinals’ dinners between 2007 and 2012 – doesn’t this mean he was sanctioned by Benedict?
Only if sanctions were imposed before 2009, which Viganò is clear was not the case.
34. What about how McCarrick was moved from a Washington seminary in 2008 – doesn’t this mean he was sanctioned by Benedict?
Only, again, if sanctions were imposed before 2009, which Viganò is clear was not the case.
35. Okay, I understand the dating, but what reason is there to doubt that sanctions were ever imposed?
To start with, there are mountains of evidence showing that McCarrick did all the things he was supposedly barred from doing, and often.
36. Well, maybe people just couldn’t control him – I mean, does the Church have a police force?
No, of course not, and that’s not a bad point, but it doesn’t explain Viganò speaking fondly of him at award ceremonies, or Benedict greeting him warmly in 2013.
37. Presumably Viganò said something about this in his testimony?
No, afraid not. His silence on the subject in the testimony is almost as striking as the fact that any sanctions clearly were not followed or enforced in any meaningful way.
38. Has he said anything about them since?
Yes, he has responded to criticism by telling Lifesitenews that the sanctions were private ones, perhaps due to McCarrick being retired, and that it wasn’t for him to enforce them.
39. Has he explained why he never said anything in his testimony about how the alleged sanctions weren’t enforced?
No, not a word. He’s been decidedly quiet on this point.
40. Has he said anything about how he was filmed speaking fondly about McCarrick?
Yes, he told Lifesitenews he couldn’t pull out of the event where he met McCarrick, and had no opportunity on the day to remind him about the sanctions.
41. I see – and what about Benedict greeting McCarrick with apparent warmth?
Seemingly it’d have been unimaginable for Benedict – “as mild a character as he was” – to have done otherwise.
42. Would I be right in saying that this arrangement doesn’t sound remotely “similar” to the sanctions imposed by Pope Francis?
You would, and it gets worse.
Because Ed Pentin, the National Catholic Register reporter, who was one of the small group of journalists to break the story, now admits that he was told in July that there was no sanction, “just a private request”.
44. Pentin knew this in July – over a month before the story was launched?
So he says. A source close to Benedict seemingly told him that the Pope Emeritus’ memory of how he handled McCarrick isn’t sharp, but that he believes he just asked him to keep a “low profile”.
45. Is this how the Register reported the Viganò story when it broke?
Not really, no. It reported simply that it had confirmed that Benedict “remembers instructing Cardinal Bertone to impose measures but cannot recall their exact nature”.
46. It left out the fact that the source said the measures seem to have entailed an informal private request, and were far less stringent than the sanctions which Francis has imposed?
It did indeed.
47. It left out how it had a source contradicting Viganò’s explicit claim that Pope Benedict imposed what he calls “canonical sanctions” on McCarrick?
It certainly did.
48. Was this known about when the story was being put together?
It looks like it. Some weeks before Viganò went public it seems that leaders of the Register personally assured EWTN board member Tim Busch that Benedict had confirmed Viganò’s claim.
49. But that’s clearly not true, so how does Benedict feel about this?
He’s not saying, but his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has said the suggestion that Benedict has confirmed the claim is “fake news”.
50. Why wouldn’t Benedict have imposed sanctions on McCarrick?
Well, he didn’t know about child abuse allegations, and he seems to have thought the now elderly cardinal couldn’t hurt any more adults. Clearly he reckoned there wasn’t a safeguarding issue.
51. But there’s more to this than safeguarding, surely?
Oh yes, there are questions of justice too, and indeed healing. But it looks as though the Pope Emeritus thought more harm than good would be done by imposing public sanctions.
52. Does that sit well with you?
It doesn’t sit great, to be honest. I can understand the thinking there, and assume Benedict was and is praying for justice and healing, but still, I don’t think he comes out of this well at all.
53. Anyway, has the Register corrected its original story to acknowledge that it had suppressed a detail that would totally change the story?
No, it says it stands by its reporting.
54. And is Viganò sticking to his story?
He’s been busy tweaking it, including admissions that any sanctions weren’t actually enforced and that he can’t remember whether his instructions from the Congregation for Bishops were written or oral.
55. Can’t remember?
He’s told the Register he received “some instruction”, and that while his “memory isn’t helping” he believes it was a written instruction. It would be in the archives of the nunciature and the Congregation for Bishops, seemingly.
56. Would it be in the archives if it wasn’t written down?
That seems unlikely. Maybe it was written down later.
57. Huh. Who else was involved in spreading this story about to begin with?
Along with Viganò, there were Pentin and Busch, as noted, Diane Montagna of Lifesitenews, and also two Italian journalist-bloggers, Aldo Maria Valli and Marco Tosatti.
58. How do I know Tosatti’s name?
He’s the guy who wrote an article claiming the Pope once directed Cardinal Gerhard Müller to abandon the Mass he was celebrating and see him.
59. Is that likely?
I wouldn’t have thought so. He has also written pieces claiming that Francis was establishing a commission to reverse Humanae Vitae, and one to develop an ‘ecumenical Mass’. Neither has happened.
((For bonus points, Tosatti also told the New York Times and Reuters the timing of the testimony’s release during #WMOF2018 was just down to translation delays, but Valli and “another journalist who received the statement” have said it was deliberately timed for the Irish trip.)
60. Okay, right, let’s back to the core allegations – when did Francis supposedly lift sanctions on McCarrick?
Viganò doesn’t give a date, but indicates that things were fine between McCarrick and Francis from at least June 2013.
61. How so?
He describes meeting an ebullient McCarrick in the Vatican on 20 June 2013, with the then-cardinal saying the Pope had received him the previous day, and also how he spoke with the Pope himself about McCarrick on 23 June.
62. How does Viganò describe that conversation?
He says the Pope asked “in a deceitful way” what McCarrick was like, and he replied that he’d corrupted generations of seminarians and been ordered by Pope Benedict to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.
63. What did he mean by “in a deceitful way”?
Viganò says Francis and McCarrick had had a long friendship, though it seems this isn’t true.
64. He said McCarrick had corrupted seminarians – did he say he took sexual advantage of them?
Apparently not. Granted, he may have thought that was obvious, but it might as easily have been taken as a claim that they were taught morally dodgy stuff.
65. And he says McCarrick’s withdrawal from public life was “ordered” – not asked?
That’s what he says, though it’s contrary to the source close to Benedict who told Ed Pentin it was a request, not an order. He also said the congregation for bishops had a huge file on McCarrick.
66. And did Francis tell him that he was going to lift Benedict’s sanction?
No, seemingly he was expressionless. He may well have been wondering if Viganò was sane, given that all evidence suggested McCarrick most certainly was not sanctioned.
67. Did Viganò tell him that McCarrick had ignored the supposed sanctions?
No, seemingly he never raised this point. He simply said, contrary to all visible facts, that McCarrick had been sanctioned.
68. Did Francis tell him later that he was lifting Benedict’s supposed sanction?
Apparently not. Viganò never mentions him doing so, anyway.
69. But if there was a sanction, even an informal one, that had been communicated through the Congregation for Bishops and the nuncio, surely there must have been some communication of it being lifted?
You’d think so.
There’s not yet been even a shadow of a suggestion that this ever happened. It’s not even that there’s no documentary evidence floating around to support it. Viganò doesn’t even say word was passed to the nunciature that McCarrick’s sanctions had been lifted.
71. So how does Viganò justify his claim that the sanctions – if there were any sanctions – were lifted?
Well, firstly he says McCarrick said something in El Paso on 9 July 2013 akin to something Francis said to Viganò when meeting nuncios on 21 June.
72. That being?
That the bishops of the US must must not be ideologised, and must be shepherds. Viganò seemingly saw this as evidence that Francis was McCarrick’s creature.
Yes, he says in his testimony “I was astounded! It was therefore clear that the words of reproach that Pope Francis had addressed to me on June 21, 2013 had been put into his mouth the day before by Cardinal McCarrick.”
74. Isn’t it more likely that McCarrick was channelling Francis in July than that Francis was channelling him in June?
I think it’s fair to say that at the very least it’s as likely, if not more so.
75. What happened on 21 June 2013?
Francis met the nuncios, and according to Viganò he just had time to introduce himself, before Francis “immediately assailed [him] with a tone of reproach”.
76. Did this really happen?
No, there’s a video showing them meeting, and after Viganò says where he’s based, Francis smiles broadly, saying “Ah, the United States!” He keeps smiling, adds “Thank you for your work, but in the United States you need-“ and then the video ends.
77. Why does it end?
Presumably because Francis was giving him a diplomatic direction, which would be private. But the key thing is that the video shows that he definitely did not immediately launch into Viganò just after Viganò told him he was nuncio to the US.
78. Okay, well go back to McCarrick – is there any other way Viganò justifies his claim that sanctions were lifted?
He says that from Francis’ election on, McCarrick felt free to travel continuously, to give lectures and interviews and became kingmaker for appointments etc.
79. Does he substantiate this?
No. He says McCarrick was responsible for Cardinal Burke being removed from the Congregation for Bishops, and also the appointments of Blase Cupich and Joseph Tobin to Chicago and Newark, but doesn’t say how he knows this.
80. He doesn’t support this in any way?
No. And he also thinks Cupich was appointed to the Congregation of Bishops after becoming cardinal, whereas he was picked to replace Levada on the congregation in July 2016 and it wasn’t till October it was announced he’d get a red hat.
81. Is there any evidence at all for McCarrick supposedly becoming hugely important after Francis became Pope?
The blogger Rocco Palmo says McCarrick wrote pushing for Cardinal Tobin to become archbishop of Newark, but it’s not clear that his push was decisive.
82. Anything else?
The Italian journalist Sandro Magister has claimed McCarrick was with Cardinal Maradiaga a champion of Cupich being appointed to Chicago.
83. So two journalists claim McCarrick mattered to two major appointments?
That’s about it, yes. There’s also a 2014 interview where McCarrick bigs himself up and the journalist interviewing him lets him do so, but there’s not much to substantiate his claims.
84. What does the interview claim?
Well, firstly that he and Francis had known each other for years, back when Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires. It rather omits that they were at odds there.
85. At odds?
Yes, Francis was one of the Argentine bishops opposed to ordaining priests to the dodgy ‘Institute of the Incarnate Word’, try to shut it down, and so McCarrick with Cardinal Sodano’s support took to ordaining IVE priests, even in Argentina.
86. What else does the interview say?
It says McCarrick had been more or less “put out to pasture” by Benedict XVI but by 2014 was “back in the mix, and busier than ever”. He had certainly been pretty busy, but it doesn’t seem that he was much busier than before.
87. Based on what?
Well, seemingly between 2009 and early 2013 McCarrick did something in the region of 24 trips around the world on behalf of Catholic Relief Services alone.
88. But haven’t the number of trips gone up?
I’ve read a couple of articles claiming that, but they tend to shy away from actually counting his trips before and after Francis became Pope and to gloss over just how much he travelled before.
89. Is it true that McCarrick helped get Francis elected?
That’s not mentioned in the testimony but is going around. Certainly McCarrick started claiming this in October 2013 at Villanova, but his claim was news to everyone.
90. Why did it surprise people?
Firstly because he and Francis didn’t have a great history, and secondly because Francis being elected tends to be attributed to his pre-conclave speech and to lobbying by the remnants of the disbanded ‘St Gallen group’.
91. So this was just McCarrick trying to make himself sound important?
That seems to be the size of it. He’s always had a warm welcome for himself, it appears. It suits some to treat his claims as credible.
92. What do we make then of Viganò’s claim that he made McCarrick’s advice his own?
That Viganò’s produced no proof of this, and that there’s precious little evidence for it in general.
93. And the claim that Francis had known from at least 23 June 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator?
He was presented then with vague and apparently nonsensical claims, one of which seems to have been false. That’s it.
94. And the claim that he covered for McCarrick and only acted against him under media pressure to save his own image?
This only has any weight if we accept the prior claim, which the evidence doesn’t support.
95. Cardinal Sodano comes across as a villainous character in this – is that fair?
His protecting of Maciel is widely believed, he was one of the three key figures in the Chilean church in the 1980s, and he protected an order Francis tried to shut down in the 1990s, so I’d say so.
96. Is it plausible that he and Cardinal Bertone were responsible for reports about McCarrick disappearing into thin air or just going nowhere, and indeed that in doing so he helped McCarrick become a cardinal?
It certainly calls for investigation.
97. Archbishop Viganò has said Bertone ‘notoriously favoured promoting homosexuals into positions of responsibility’ – does he give any examples of this?
Yes, Vincenzo de Mauro was appointed and later removed as Archbishop of Vigevano.
98. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, though – does he give any other examples?
No, just one instance already in the public domain. Taken in isolation, it’s not exactly evidence of Bertone’s general behaviour – a dot isn’t a pattern, after all.
99. What about the others who there are allegations about – Cardinals Maradiaga, Wuerl, Sandri, Paglia, O’Malley etc?
Where there are serious specific allegations, and evidence, there should definitely be investigations.
100. Allowing that you’d want to be pulling up tares but not wheat, who would you trust to do such investigations?
God knows. I could give you some names, but good luck finding any acceptable to everyone.
These 100 questions first appeared as tweets from the @GregDalyIC account.