In a new, wide-ranging interview with with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki published today in Spanish by Vatican News (English summary available here), Pope Francis broke his nearly year-long silence on charges made by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that he knew about Theodore McCarrick’s illicit sexual activities and yet continued to work with with the now-laicized former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC. “Although he knew that he [McCarrick] was a corrupt man,” said Vigano in his testimony last August, the pope “covered for him to the bitter end.”
“I knew nothing, obviously, of McCarrick,” the pope says in the new interview. “Nothing, nothing. I said several times that I didn’t know, that I had no idea. You know that I didn’t know anything about McCarrick; otherwise, I would not have stayed quiet.”
Days after the original Viganò testimony was released, the pope was confronted by a CBS News reporter about the allegations during the plane press conference on his flight back from the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. In a response that was widely criticized, he refused to address the charges from Viganò.
“I will respond to your question,” the pope said at the time. “This morning I read that statement. I read it, and I will say sincerely that I must tell you all this – you and all of you who are interested: Read the statement carefully yourselves and make your own judgment. I am not going to say a word about this. I believe that the statement speaks for itself, and you all have sufficient journalistic ability to draw conclusions.”
In his new interview, the pope claims he himself “had not read the whole letter” at the time he told journalists to do so and draw their own conclusions. He then compares himself to Jesus before Pontius Pilate: “in moments of viciousness you can’t speak, because it’s worse. Everything is going to go against you. The Lord taught us that way and I follow it.”
Today, at the same time as the pope attempts to cast new doubt on his knowledge of McCarrick’s activities, a new report has been issued by Monsignor Anthony J. Figueiredo, the former personal secretary to McCarrick, that confirms informal sanctions were imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI — a key assertion made by Viganò in his testimony — as well as the level of involvement McCarrick has had in Church affairs since Pope Francis took office, even after his retirement from Archbishopric in DC.
“Realizing full well that the debate about McCarrick has become highly politicized,” Figueiredo writes, “I wish only to present facts that will help the Church to know the truth.”
Figueiredo, who was arrested last year after he crashed into the vehicle of a pregnant woman while intoxicated, suggests that living with the knowledge he possessed was a contributing factor to the accident, and part of the reason he has decided to come forward:
The hierarchy’s abuse of authority and cover up, in their various and serious manifestations, have inflicted consequences upon me, too. As Pope Francis has noted: “Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction” (Homily, July 7, 2014). Especially as a priest, I regret unreservedly the harms that I caused as a result of them through seeking consolation in alcohol. Now I am deeply grateful for the therapeutic treatment that I am receiving, which has allowed me to embrace a life of sobriety. It is my hope that my openness will encourage and help other priests, religious, and seminarians, who have found themselves trapped in similar abuses of authority and cover up by Bishops and Superiors.
“My desire,” Figueiredo continues, “is for my experience to contribute to a new culture in the Church – a culture in which no victim, young or old, no priest or seminarian, no religious or superior, no bishop or nuncio need fear to speak the truth, a culture in which each knows where to seek help and all are held accountable, a culture in which no secret sins can fester and no corruption mar the Church’s maternal care.”
In his report, Figueiredo, through his access to McCarrick’s personal correspondence, confirms that in August, 2008, the former cardinal wrote to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. In that letter, he recalls the events of a recent meeting with the nuncio, at which he received a letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which limited him in his public ministry.
“By acknowledging in the letter that Archbishop Sambi had presented him a letter from Cardinal Re,” Figueiredo writes, “McCarrick provides evidence that such a letter exists and should be in the archives of the Congregation for Bishops and Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.”
Figueiredo also notes that McCarrick stated that he had “shared the letter with his Archbishop,” who at the time was Archbishop Wuerl. In so stating, Figueiredo argues, “McCarrick indicates that then Archbishop Wuerl was aware of the letter and restrictions in 2008” — a claim Wuerl continues to deny — ” and that a copy might exist in the archives of the Archdiocese of Washington.” In several other areas of the correspondence Figueiredo has in his possession, McCarrick indicates that he is working with Wuerl on cooperating with the restrictions placed on his public ministry and obtaining a new place of residence.
It appears that this is precisely the sort of documentary evidence that Viganò urged Cardinal Marc Ouellet to release in his response to the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. “These documents specify the identity of the perpetrators and their protectors,” Viganò wrote in October, 2018, “and the chronological sequence of the facts. They are kept in the appropriate archives; no extraordinary investigation is needed to recover them.”
Figueiredo’s report goes on to indicate that McCarrick increasingly flouted the restrictions on his ministry and travel, seeking exceptions from his prohibition to visit Rome, travelling internationally, and eventually becoming very involved, particularly after the election of Pope Francis, in travel to China on behalf of the Church.
Figueiredo ultimately concludes:
It is clear that for far too long, a culture has existed in the Church that allowed those like McCarrick to continue their public activity after serious and even settled allegations had come to the attention of Church leaders. Moreover, it is all too evident that Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops – in their cover up – until quite recently have enjoyed the propitious benefit of a more “forgiving” and “lenient” standard of evaluation as compared to those applied to lower ranking clerics and religious. A double standard and non-independent accountability harm the credibility of Church leadership and impede efforts to reestablish fundamental trust in the Catholic clergy.
The saddening nature of the allegations against McCarrick, as well as the silence by Church leaders who ignored or enabled his actions, illustrates anew the moral imperative to all people of good will, and especially leaders of the Church, to address and inform all appropriate persons of this type of behavior at the earliest opportunity, first and foremost for the safety of minors and vulnerable persons, and ultimately for the salvation of every soul. For this very purpose, Jesus Christ came into the world.
Each time new evidence is brought to light, Archbishop Viganò is vindicated further. It’s little wonder, then, that there has been such a desperate attempt to destroy his character and resist his calls for transparency.
Interested readers can see the full report at TheFigueiredoReport.com.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.