“Accusers”, Archbishop Viganò, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 27, 2018

Do we really have to explain these things? I received a clearly unfriendly email from one of our registered users arguing that the Pope had rightly dismissed the Viganò testimony without addressing its claims, because this testimony was a series of baseless and mean-spirited charges formulated in collaboration with right-wing extremists. Of course he cited the National Catholic Reporter.

Then, when I suggested that his news source was notoriously unreliable in Catholic matters, he responded:

I have one simple question for you, is the 11 page testimony of Arch. Vigano inspired by the Holy Spirit? …. [T]he heart of the testimony is accusatory with No Proof…. This is where I admire the Wisdom of Pope Francis, he knew that Arch. Vigano testimony was definitely not inspired by the Holy Spirit so by itself the testimony will contain errors & lies. Who is the author of lies?... The Holy Spirit does not accuse, it convicts. So, Arch. Vigano’s testimony contains accusations…. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who inspired him.

Say what?

To his credit the correspondent gave one example: Viganòs incorrect recollection of Pope Benedict’s sanctions against Cardinal McCarrick, which Pope Francis later ignored. But this matter was easily checked, and what did the investigation reveal? Pope Benedict did not apply a formal sanction but an informal one, privately directing McCarrick to give up his public life as a Cardinal in the Church, devoting himself to prayer and penance. Also, this was done a little earlier than Viganò had remembered. This actually strengthens the credibility of Viganò, in that while his recollection was flawed in details, it was substantially correct.

But the whole point about the Viganò testimony is that it is almost all easily checked against documentary evidence, if the Pope will simply direct that it be checked. And bishops from all over the world have said that it should, in fact, be checked. A quick survey of our own news headlines alone over the past month shows episcopal requests coming from Austria, The Philippines, Switzerland, and multiple points in the United States. Moreover, we already have some corroborating evidence from sources as diverse as Edward Pentin (partially), Cardinal Sandri and Vatileaks.

As Phil Lawler pointed out yesterday, it is a bad sign that even the Catholic journalists who habitually cover the Vatican are beginning to grumble about Pope Francis’ refusal to address these issues.

Accusations not inspired by the Holy Spirit?

Yet some would dismiss the Viganò testimony as unworthy of attention because it is accusatory. And where does this bizarre idea come from? It comes straight from several daily Mass homilies by Pope Francis himself, in which, immediately following the release of the testimony, the pontiff began preaching on Satan, the great accuser (Rev 12:10). As usual, he made some points that are good for the spiritual life (such as accusing ourselves, or reflecting on our own weaknesses, before we accuse others). But at the same time, this was at best an incredibly tone-deaf series of homilies. At worst, I will simply note that many received them as self-serving excuses for choosing not face the abuse problem frankly and openly.

Satan, of course, accuses us of being good for the wrong reasons (see the Book of Job); that is, he accuses us of acting out of bad motives. But Our Lord also told those who rejected Him that He Himself would not have to accuse them before the Father, because “it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope” (Jn 5:45). Indeed, it is one thing to make selfish, false accusations for some personal motive; it is another to have the courage to tell the truth, root out evil, and seek for others a justice that is being denied. The former are obviously not prompted by the Holy Spirit. But for the latter, most of us need to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to find the courage we need to do what is right.

In any case, what can it possibly mean that the Holy Spirit does not accuse but convicts? The Holy Spirit has the goodness and the power to secure us in the truth (which, in the spiritual context, is what it means to “convict”), but are we to imagine that He does not prick our bad consciences to shake us out of our lethargy? I am currently reading the Book of Isaiah, and one of the most notable things about that great prophet is how often he utters testimony from God that Israel must wake up, recognize its sins, and turn again to God to be saved. Isaiah is just one example of what the Holy Spirit can inspire, given half the chance.

That such balderdash can be talked and written, as credibly coming from a Pope, is one of the saddest yet most consistent features of this unfortunate pontificate. But it gets worse. My correspondent (and, it would often seem, Pope Francis himself) falls into the classic trap of the dominant culture in dismissing those who challenge it. They seize the moral high ground by asserting that their critics are ill-motivated, untrustworthy liars. In other words, they do exactly what they are ostensibly condemning.

They accuse.

The gambit goes like this: The Viganò testimony meets with resistance because it contains claims about the bad behavior of others (and, in particular, about those we should both admire and trust). So how can these others, whom we should admire and trust, seize the moral high ground and ignore the charges? Simple: They accuse Viganò of being a mean-spirited liar in league with whatever group is symbolic of the lowest form of human life (in this case, right-wing extremists!). And, if they are Churchmen, they spin a new theology which conceals the reality of their own accusation on the principle that the first to accuse gives himself away, self-evidently rendering his own testimony void.

Absolutely, incredibly, and absurdly astonishing! And somebody believes this? And somebody fails to see how ridiculous it is?

Perhaps all I can really say is this: When our intellects go dark, it is neither the Holy Spirit nor the Devil nor even right-wing extremists who make them so. For that to happen, we must be scrupulously careful to believe only what we want to believe. In other words, we have solely the perversity of our own wills to blame.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 02, 2018 12:12 PM ET USA

    Admonishment should not be confused with accusation. Admonishment is a call to conversion, while accusation seeks to condemn - that's what the devil does. Great reminder of the admonishments (not "accusations") by the prophet Isaiah. Jeremiah, Amos, and all other prophets got themselves in trouble for admonishing the people. Our Savior Himself frequently admonished the Pharisees for being hypocrites and "as whitewashed tombs filled with all kind of filth." It was always His call to repentance.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Sep. 29, 2018 4:32 AM ET USA

    It's not nice to pick on the mentally ill, Doctor.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 29, 2018 1:23 AM ET USA

    Let me add a few more choice words to ILM's definition: ultraconservative, rigid, black and white, judgmental, lover of doctrines and rules, doctor of the law, accuser of others instead of himself. Did I leave any out?

  • Posted by: ILM - Sep. 28, 2018 1:30 AM ET USA

    Definition of a right wing extremist: someone who accepts the Church’s teachings on birth control, abortion, sex only within marriage, and marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Sep. 27, 2018 10:49 PM ET USA

    Well stated, and a good description of the methods and motivations of the evil we face. Intellects gone dark seem to be increasing in their number, and in the depths to which they are willing to retreat in order to not be confronted by a reality that does not conform to their own perverted view of the world. The Great Accuser is truly the instigator of these poor souls.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Sep. 27, 2018 2:46 PM ET USA

    In this case, the Holy Father has done just what a worldly leader would do when accused of wrongdoing: he accuses the accuser, intending to blunt the criticism by demeaning the person expressing it. But that similarity with worldly leaders is a problem in itself! Wouldn't a truly humble Christian leader take the reproof charitably, search his soul honestly, and present the evidence clearly to his flock? In short, shouldn't he be DIFFERENT from worldly leaders?