This report, originally published by Italian blogger, journalist, and author Aldo Maria Valli, tells the story of how Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, came to publish his now infamous report about the cover-up of clerical abuse in the highest echelons of the Church and a hint of what it has cost him.
As Valli reports near the end of his story, Viganò told him he had “already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time.”
In a report for EWTN, Catholic journalist Edward Pentin confirms this, saying Viganò fears for his safety and that his life is in danger.
A former apostolic nuncio, widely respected for his professionalism and decency, forced to go into hiding at age 78 for simply telling the truth about his fellow apostolic successors. There is perhaps more wisdom in this than there appears to be at first glance. Viganò’s colleague, Monsignor Jean François Lantheaume, whose job it was to inform Cardinal McCarrick of the news that Pope Benedict XVI had levied sanctions against him because of his abuses, said earlier this week, after confirming the veracity of the Viganò report:
These may be the last lines I write… if I am found chopped up by a chainsaw and my body sunk in concrete, the police and the hacks will say that we have to consider the hypothesis of suicide!!!
Perhaps the good monsignor was joking. Perhaps he was only half-joking. But there is certainly an edge to his joke, a fear that the truth will not go unpunished.
What follows is a story that reads like part of an international thriller. Our thanks to Giuseppe Pellegrino for the translation, and to Dr. Valli for allowing us to reprint it in English.
This is How Archbishop Viganò gave me his memoir. And why I decided to publish it.
“Doctor, I need to see you.”
The tone of the voice is calm, but indicates a note of apprehension. On the phone is Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States.
I do not hide my surprise. We have met several times at various public convocations, but we can hardly say that we know each other.
He explains to me that he is one of my most assiduous readers, who appreciates my courage and my clarity, often united to irony. I thank him and I ask, “But why do you want to see me?”
He responds that he cannot tell me on the phone.
“All right, then, let’s meet up, but where?”
Naïvely I suggest at my office, or at the coffee shop down the street, which is my second office.
“No, no, please. As far as possible from the Vatican, far from all indiscreet eyes.”
By nature I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I can tell that the archbishop is seriously worried.
“All right, how about at my house? For dinner? I warn you that my wife will be there and also some of my children.”
“At your house will be perfect.”
“Shall I come to pick you up?”
“No, no, I will come in my car.”
And so he came.
When the archbishop arrives, on a warm summer evening, I see a man who is older than I remembered. He smiles, but immediately one can tell that something is burdening him. He has a weight on his heart.
After introducing my wife and children, and after he blessed the meal, in order to ease the tension a little bit we joke about our common roots in Lombardy (he is from Varese, while my family is from Rho). The archbishop arrived at the agreed upon hour, not a minute late: in Rome this a very rare occurrence.
Then Viganò immediately begins to talk. He is worried for the Church, afraid that at its highest levels there are persons who do not work to carry the Gospel of Jesus to the men and women of our time, but rather intend to create confusion and yield to the logic of the world. Then he begins to talk about his long experience in the Secretariate of State, as head of the Vatican City Governatorate, and as nuncio both in Nigeria and in the United States. He drops many names and speaks of many situations. Even I, who have been a Vatican journalist for more than twenty years, find it hard to follow him at times. But I do not interrupt him because I understand he needs to talk. My impression is that he is a man who is alone and sad because of what he sees happening all around him, but not bitter. In his words there is never one ugly word directed toward any of the many people he speaks about. The facts speak for themselves. At times he smiles and looks at me, as if to say, “What should I do? Is there a way out?”
He says he called me because, although he does not know me personally, he esteems me, above all for the courage and freedom I demonstrate. He adds that my blog is read and appreciated in the “sacred palaces,” even if not everyone can say so openly.
I ask him something about his experience at the Governatorate, and he talks about how he succeeded in saving the Vatican’s coffers a lot of expenses by enforcing the rules and putting order into the accounts.
I comment, “Well, Monsignor, after that clean-out, you certainly did not make any friends!” He smiles again and responds, “I know! But if I had not done it, I would not have been able to respect myself.”
He is a man with a profound sense of duty. At least so it seems to me. After just a few minutes, there is a harmony established between us.
My wife, who is a catechist at our parish, and my daughters remain literally speechless as they listen to certain stories. I always say, only half-joking, that good Catholics should not know how things function in the highest levels of the hierarchy, and this evening’s conversation confirms that. However, I do not for a moment regret having invited the archbishop to my house. I believe that the sorrowful testimony of this man, of this elderly servant of the Church, is telling us something of importance – something which, even in the midst of pain and confusion, can help our life of faith.
The archbishop says, “I am 78 years old, and I am at the end of my life. The judgment of men does not interest me. The one judgment that counts is that of the good God. He will ask me what I have done for the Church of Christ, and I want to be able to respond to him that I defended her and served her even to the end.”
The evening passed in this way. We have the distinct feeling that His Excellency never even noticed what he had on his plate. Between one mouthful and another, he never stopped talking.
When I accompany him to his car, I ask myself, “But, in the end, why did he want to see me?” Out of respect for him, and because of a lack of confidence, I do not ask him, but, before he says goodbye, he says to me, “Thank you. We will meet again. Don’t call me. I will contact you.” And he gets in his car.
I am a journalist, and so in these situations my first impulse is to go to my computer and write down everything he told me, but I refrain. The archbishop did not forbid me from writing anything. Actually, he didn’t say anything about it. But it is out of the question that he made some revelations to me. And so I understand that the encounter was a sort of test. The archbishop wanted to see if he could trust me.
More than a month passes, and he calls me again. The request is the same as last time: “Can we meet together?”
“Yes, of course. Would you like to come to my house again?” I warn him that this time, one more daughter will be there, my eldest, as well as her two sons, our grandchildren.
“It doesn’t matter,” says Viganò. “The important thing is that at a certain point we have some space to speak together, just the two of us.”
And so His Excellency the former nuncio to the United States returned to see us. And this time he seemed a bit less tense. You could tell he was happy to be with this big, somewhat rowdy family. At a certain point, his cell phone rang. A video call from the United States. It’s his nephew: “Oh, sorry, Uncle, I didn’t mean to interrupt you!” Viganò smiles in amusement and shows with his cell phone the whole crowd at the table, including the grandchildren. “What beautiful company!” says his nephew. And then, speaking to me, “I would like to take this opportunity to tell you how much I respect you.”
The tension is dissolved. Our three-year-old grandson buzzes around the archbishop and calls him Carlo Maria. Viganò is amused, and it seems that for a few moments, he forgets his worries.
But once again, after saying the meal blessing, the archbishop is an overflowing river. So many stories, so many situations, so many names. But this time he focuses more on his years in America. He speaks of the McCarrick case, the ex-cardinal known to be guilty of the most serious abuses, and he makes it clear that everybody knew, in the USA and in the Vatican, for a long time, for years. But they covered it up.
I ask, “Truly everybody?”
With a nod of the head the archbishop responds yes: truly everybody.
I want to ask other questions, but it is not easy to insert myself into the uninterrupted flow of dates, memos, meetings, names.
The heart of the matter is that Pope Francis also knew, according to Viganò. And yet he allowed McCarrick to circulate undisturbed, making a joke of the bans imposed on him by Benedict XVI. Francis knew at least since March 2013, when Viganò himself, responding to a question asked by the Pope during a face-to-face meeting, told him that in the Vatican, there is a large dossier on McCarrick, and he needs to read it.
With respect to our previous encounter, there is the new development of the findings that have emerged from the grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania, and Viganò confirms that the image created by the findings is correct. The sexual abuses constitute a phenomenon more extensive than anyone could imagine, and it is not correct to speak of pedophilia, because the overwhelming majority of cases deal with homosexual priests who go hunting for teenage young men. It is more correct, says the archbishop, to speak about ephebophilia, if anything. But the main point is that the web of complicity, silence, cover-up, and reciprocal favors extends so far that there are no words to describe it, and it involves everyone at the highest levels, both in America and in Rome.
We sit there, once again, stunned. Because of my work, we had a sense that there was some of this, but for Catholics like us, born and raised in the womb of Mother Church, it is truly difficult to swallow such a mouthful.
My question is thus the most naïve of all: “Why?”
The response of the archbishop freezes my blood: “Because the cracks of which Paul VI spoke, from which he said the smoke of Satan would infiltrate the house of God, have become chasms. The devil is working overtime. And to not admit that, or to turn our face away from it, would be our greatest sin.”
I realize that we have not yet had a moment to speak alone, face to face, as the archbishop had requested. He has spoken in front of everyone. I ask him if he would like go into another room with me, without my wife, daughters, and grandsons, but he says no, it’s okay just like this. It is understood that he is content as we are. For us it is a bit like listening to a grandfather tell us tales of far-off worlds, and we so wish that at a certain point, he would say that it’s all fiction. But instead, the world of which he is speaking is our world. He speaks of our Church. He speaks of our supreme pastors.
There remains basically only one question: why is the archbishop telling us all this? What does he want from me?
This time, I ask him, and the response is that he has written a memoir in which he recounts all of the circumstances of which he has spoken – including the meeting of June 23, 2013, with the pope, when he, Viganò, informed Francis about the dossier on McCarrick.
“And so,” he says to me, “if you will permit me, I would like to give you my memoir, which demonstrates that the pope knew and that he did not act. And then you, after evaluating it, may decide whether to publish it or not on your blog, which is widely read. I want this to be known. I do not do this with a light heart, but I think it is the only way left to attempt a change, an authentic conversion.”
“I understand. Will you give it only to me?”
“No. I will give it to another Italian blogger, to one in England, to an American, to a Canadian. Translations will be made into English and Spanish.”
Also, this time, the archbishop does not ask me for confidentiality. I understand that he trusts me. We therefore agree that, at his request, we will meet again, and he will give me his memoir.
After a few days he calls me back, and we make arrangements. I cannot say where we met each other, because I gave my word.
The archbishop shows up with sunglasses on and a baseball cap. He asks that my first reading of the document be done in his presence, right in front of him, so that, he says, “if something does not convince you, we can discuss it immediately.”
I read the whole thing. There are eleven pages. He is amazed at how quickly I read it, and he looks at me: “Well?”
I say: “It is strong. Detailed. Well-written. A dramatic picture.”
He asks: “Will you publish it?”
“Monsignor, do you realize this is a bomb? What should we do?”
“I entrust it to you. Think about it.”
“Monsignor, do you know what they will say? That you want revenge. That you are full of resentment for having been dismissed from the Governatorate and other things. That you are the crow who leaked the Vatileaks papers. They will say that you are unstable, as well as a conservative of the worst kind.”
“I know, I know. But that doesn’t matter to me. The one thing that matters to me is to bring the truth to the surface, so that a purification can begin. At the point that we have reached, there is no other way.”
I am not anguished. Deep down inside me, I have already made the decision to publish it, because I feel that I can trust this man. But I ask myself, “What effect will this have on the simplest souls? On good Catholics? Is there not the risk of doing more good than evil?”
I realize that I have asked the question aloud, and the archbishop responds: “Think it over. Make a calm evaluation.” We shake hands. He takes off his dark glasses, and we look each other straight in the eye.
The fact that he does not force me, that he does not appear anxious to see me publish everything, makes me trust him even more. Is this a maneuver? Is he manipulating me?
At home I speak with Serena and the girls. Their advice is always very important for me. What should I do?
These are days of questions. I re-read the memoir. It is detailed, but of course it is Viganò’s version of events. I think readers will understand it. I will propose the archbishop’s version, after which, if anyone has contrary arguments, he will propose other versions.
My wife reminds me: “But if you publish it, they will think that, by the very fact of publishing it, you are on his side. Are you okay with that?”
Yes, I am. Will they judge me to be biased? Patience. After all, I am biased. When I am a reporter, I report the news, and that’s enough. I try to be as aseptic as possible. But in my blog, I am already clearly taking a position, and the readers know well what I think with regard to a certain turn that the Church has taken in recent years. If afterwards somebody will present me with documents that prove that Viganò is lying, or that his version of the facts is incomplete or incorrect, I will be more than happy to publish these as well.
I call the archbishop on the phone. I tell him my decision. We agree on the day and the hour of publication. He says that on the same day at the same hour the others will publish it as well. He has decided on Sunday, August 26 because the pope, returning from Dublin, will have a chance to reply to it by answering questions from journalists on the plane.
He alerts me that the daily newspaper La Verità has now been added to the list of those who will publish it. He tells me he has already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time.
And so it happened. Not that the doubts inside me are over. Did I do good? Did I do evil? I continue to ask myself this. But I am serene. And I re-read the words that Archbishop Viganò wrote at the conclusion of his memoir: “Let’s all pray for the Church and for the Pope, remembering how many times he has asked us to pray for him. Let’s all renew our faith in the Church our Mother: I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church! Christ will never abandon his Church! He has generated her in His Blood and he continuously reanimates her with His Spirit! Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! Mary Virgin Queen, Mother of the King of glory, pray for us!”
–Aldo Maria Valli