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On Viganò, the Vatican Fires Back – but It’s a Blank

Yesterday [6 October], the Holy See issued a statement, in Italian and English, probably intended to be a response to the testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, which was published on the night of 25-26 August. We say “intended to be” because in the text of the statement, there is no reference to the ex-nuncio, neither to the first nor to the second of the documents published by him. The statement announces an investigation that will be based on the examination of the available documents in the Vatican archives on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is now leading a life of prayer and penitence in a monastery in the USA. Here is the entire text of the document:

After the publication of the accusations regarding the conduct of Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick, the Holy Father Pope Francis, aware of and concerned by the confusion that these accusations are causing in the conscience of the faithful, has established that the following be communicated:

In September 2017, the Archdiocese of New York notified the Holy See that a man had accused former cardinal McCarrick of having abused him in the 1970s. The Holy Father ordered a thorough preliminary investigation into this, which was carried out by the Archdiocese of New York, at the conclusion of which the relative documentation was forwarded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the meantime, because grave indications emerged during the course of the investigation, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of Archbishop McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, prohibiting him by order from exercising public ministry and obliging him to lead a life of prayer and penance.

The Holy See will, in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick. Moreover, with reference to other accusations brought against Archbishop McCarrick, the Holy Father has decided that information gathered during the preliminary investigation be combined with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context, and to evaluate them objectively.

The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead” (Philadelphia, 27 September 2015). Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact, represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.

The Holy Father Pope Francis renews his pressing invitation to unite forces to fight against the grave scourge of abuse within and beyond the Church, and to prevent such crimes from being committed in the future to the harm of the most innocent and most vulnerable in society. As previously made known, the Holy Father has convened a meeting of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences from around the world for next February, while the words of his recent Letter to the People of God still resonate: “The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within” (20 August 2018).

There are several interesting points to highlight in this text. The first is the fact that the entire story of Theodore McCarrick is said to begin in September 2017, with the opening of the judiciary case (on the part of the civil law) against the cardinal and the consequent notification sent to the Vatican from the Archdiocese of New York – almost as if to give the impression that as soon as something was known, action was taken. The central point of the McCarrick story is precisely this: that many people knew for many years, including people in the Vatican, as Archbishop Viganò testified. But the victims were not minors, and as a result, the civil law was not called into the matter, and so… [nothing happened]. The words of Cardinal Maradiaga, a close adviser of the pope, are indicative of this attitude, when he spoke in a recent interview of “something of the private order” and of a “fact of an administrative nature” in relation to the sexual aggressions committed against seminarians and young priests on the part of “Uncle Teddy.”

“In due course” – that is, we don’t know when – the results of the investigation on McCarrick will be made known, and it will be completed “with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See” on the ex-cardinal. The statement declares that the relevant facts will be placed “in their historical context and evaluated objectively.” One wonders what a prudential phrase of this sort means. Perhaps we can find the explanation in the phrase immediately following: “The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.”

We may be wrong, but the first thing we thought was: In the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, was a cardinal taking seminarians and young priests to bed part of the approach of the times, which is only now judged to be inappropriate? And likewise, since today’s approach is not like that of “back then,” is it now necessary for us to be understanding about silences and cover-ups, historicizing them? We hope we are mistaken, but we cannot see any other logical explanation for using such a phrase other than initiating an attempt to protect complicity and silence.

Abuse and its cover-up were already not tolerated during the time that Archbishop Viganò worked in the Secretariat of State, and in fact, he wrote for his superiors Cardinals Sodano and Sandri a series of recommendations for the punishment of McCarrick. If he did that, and was able to do it, it is because already at that time, such behavior was reprehensible and deserving of immediate punishment.

The statement then speaks of the meeting in February 2019 of all of the heads of the bishops’ conferences to deal with the problem of abuse. More than forty days have passed since the publication of the first testimony of Archbishop Viganò. This is the first document from the Holy See that, without referring to the ex-nuncio, affirms the intention of concerning itself with the McCarrick case. The impression we get from it is a weak and intentionally slow response. If documents exist – as they most certainly do – on the ex-cardinal at the Congregation for Bishops and at the Secretariat of State, in forty days, has there not been time and ample opportunity to organize a concrete and precise response to the accusations of Viganò? It does not seem very credible.

So why postpone releasing the results of this investigation to a future unspecified time? And all the while, the central question still remains unanswered – and here there is no need to go rummaging in the archives. Is it true or not that on June 23, 2013, the then-nuncio of the USA clearly told the pope who McCarrick was and what he had done and why Benedict XVI had sanctioned him? There is no trace of this in the statement, but it is the large, dramatic, unresolved knot.

Originally published at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino.

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