Pope Francis: The Catholic Church’s civil war
Just when “it seemed the news couldn’t get more troubling for American Catholics,” said James Downie in WashingtonPost.com, they have been hit with “another hammer blow.” On the heels of the horrific revelations about the widespread, organized rape of children by priests in Pennsylvania, and the church’s ensuing cover-ups, Pope Francis himself has now been credibly accused of enabling an abuser. In an 11-page “testimony” sent to Catholic publications, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò says that in 2013 he personally informed Francis of a “dossier this thick” full of allegations that prominent U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually harassed and abused young male seminarians. Viganò further claims that Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, had sanctioned McCarrick—ordering him to “withdraw to a life of prayer and penance”—but that Francis later lifted those sanctions, removing McCarrick from the ministry only this summer, when a 45-year-old claim of child abuse was substantiated. So far, Francis’ only comment is that Viganò’s letter “speaks for itself,” said Robert George in The Wall Street Journal, but Catholics deserve answers. If Francis turned a blind eye to McCarrick’s “grave sexual offenses” for at least five years, then “this papacy must end.”
Let’s not rush to judgment, said Michael O’Loughlin in NewRepublic.com. Viganò’s claim that Benedict imposed sanctions on McCarrick that Francis ignored is shaky at best; during the time of his supposed ban, McCarrick continued to make public appearances, and Benedict reportedly remembers issuing “no formal decree, just a private request” to McCarrick. In addition, Viganò clearly has an “ulterior motive” for his attack on Francis. He’s a central figure in the church’s conservative wing, which has been appalled by Francis’ efforts to modernize the church, including his focus on social justice and climate change, and most of all “his (relatively) more progressive views on homosexuality.” This is nothing less than an “attempted coup” by Viganò and other members of “his ultraconservative cabal,” said Timothy Egan in The New York Times. “The old guard” was infuriated when Francis said of gay Catholics “Who am I to judge?” and when he opened the door to divorced Catholics receiving communion. The conservatives think that linking Francis to the child-abuse scandal is their “best shot” at bringing him down.
Yes, but “is it true?” asked Elizabeth Bruenig in WashingtonPost.com. Viganò is alleging a series of official communications by two successive popes, and Francis owes it to Catholics to release all relevant documents so we can learn the truth. Instead, said Warren Henry in TheFederalist.com, Francis and his fawning handmaidens in the media are trying to “ride out” this scandal using Bill Clinton’s playbook from the 1990s. They have already demonized his accuser (Viganò) and alleged a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Now some are even arguing that because McCarrick primarily had sex with seminarians over 18, it was consensual, so there was no crime for Francis to have covered up.
Let’s talk about actual crimes, then, said Lili Loofbourow in Slate.com. What’s more important—“the palace intrigue” over what Viganò may or may not have told Francis in 2013 or the boys whom priests in Pennsylvania marked with special gold crosses to signal to other clerical predators they’d been “groomed” for additional abuse? Or the 7-year-old girl a priest raped while she was in the hospital? Or “tens of thousands of children worldwide” abused by priests? Finding out what Pope Francis knew or didn’t know about Cardinal McCarrick “won’t cure what ails the Catholic Church.” ■