Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The track record supports the Vigano testimony

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 05, 2018

At several points in his bombshell testimony, Archbishop Vigano explained where the corroborating evidence could be found: in files at the Vatican or the offices of the apostolic nuncio. If those files are made public—or even vetted by a reliable, objective investigator—we would all soon know whether the archbishop’s remarkable account is accurate.

But while we wait for the Vatican to open those files (and since we realize we might wait forever), all we can do is compare the claims of Archbishop Vigano with what we do know. The more closely they match, the more plausible the archbishop’s witness appears.

Even someone who is inclined to believe the testimony of Archbishop Vigano (as I am) must acknowledge that on several points, his account of the McCarrick scandal seems—at first glance, at least—inconsistent with known facts. In each case, there is a possible explanation for that inconsistency. Let’s take a look at those problem areas, and see if the explanations match what we know about the people involved.

Inconsistency #1: the “secret sanctions”

  • Archbishop Vigano reports that Pope Benedict XVI restricted McCarrick’s ministry. But there is no public evidence of any such disciplinary action.
  • Explanation: Pope Benedict imposed the restrictions secretly.
  • Is that explanation consistent with Pope Benedict’s track record? Yes.

Earlier in his pontificate, Pope Benedict had restricted Father Marcial Maciel to a life of prayer and penance, but made no announcement of that action. The disciplinary action became public knowledge only after the fact. McCarrick was already retired, so there was no need to remove him from office; he could simply have been ordered to keep a low profile.

Inconsistency #2: McCarrick’s public appearances

  • In fact, McCarrick did not keep a low profile. He did move out of a seminary, and at least one major appearance was cancelled. But he appeared at many other public events.
  • Explanation: McCarrick simply ignored the Pope’s directives.
  • Is that explanation consistent with the former cardinal’s track record? Yes.

In 2004, when the US bishops were engaged in a heated debate about whether politicians who promote abortion should be allowed to receive Communion, Cardinal McCarrick—who had been appointed to chair a special committee on the subject—reported that then-Cardinal Ratzinger had said, in a private letter, that individual bishops should decide the question for their own dioceses. In fact, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger had stated quite clearly that pro-abortion politicians should be denied the Eucharist. In 2009, at a burial service for Senator Ted Kennedy, McCarrick read a laudatory letter from the Vatican Secretary of State, deliberately creating the impression that it was a message from Pope Benedict, who in fact had studiously avoided any public comment. Clearly the American prelate was willing to flout the wishes of Pope Benedict.

Inconsistency #3: The lack of enforcement

  • Although he reports that he told Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl not to allow public appearances by McCarrick, Archbishop Vigano apparently did not enforce any papal sanctions. In fact he himself appeared at public events along with McCarrick.
  • Explanation: As an archbishop, Vigano did not have the authority to issue orders to a cardinal. And as papal nuncio, he reported to the Vatican Secretary of State. Archbishop Vigano reports that the Secretariat of State protected McCarrick.
  • Is that explanation consistent with the track record of the Secretariat of State? Yes.

Particularly under Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretariat of State was notorious for protecting Father Maciel. Like Maciel, McCarrick was an extremely successful fundraiser, who used his prowess to curry favor with the most powerful Vatican officials. Although Cardinal Sodano had retired by the time McCarrick was reportedly disciplined, he remained influential, and according to Archbishop Vigano his successor, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, took a similar line.

Inconsistency #4: The Pope’s reliance on McCarrick

  • Archbishop Vigano says that he warned Pope Francis about McCarrick’s corruption. But Pope Francis made the American prelate a trusted counselor.
  • Explanation: At the time, McCarrick was charged with targeting seminarians, who were legal adults. (Only recently have complaints involving minors emerged.) Pope Francis may not have thought that homosexual activity with adult partners should disqualify a cleric from high office.
  • Is that explanation consistent with the Pope’s track record? Yes.

In 2013, the Pope appointed Msgr. Battista Ricca to a very sensitive post, making him prelate to the Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), at a time when the IOR was under heavy criticism. When he was questioned about Msgr. Ricca’s background, which included notorious homosexual escapades, the Pope issued his famous rhetorical question: “Who am I to judge?” The Pope drew a sharp distinction between consensual sexual activities—“They are not crimes, right?”—and sex with minors—“Crimes are something different; the abuse of minors is a crime.”

Is it conceivable that the Vicar of Christ thought that a man who had seduced his seminarians should be freed from restrictions—and not only forgiven, but trusted as an adviser? That is the essence of Archbishop Vigano’s testimony. Unfortunately, the available facts give us no reason to dismiss the charge.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: vjenkins71201 - Sep. 10, 2018 2:05 PM ET USA

    Let us hope and pray that the truth is uncovered so that action can be taken.

  • Posted by: Carole Foryst - Sep. 08, 2018 7:33 AM ET USA

    To westbrook5465, can we rely on an Apostolic Visitor to clean up fundamental problems underlying the current crisis? For that to happen we have to make certain assumptions: the Pope will eventually respond to Dinardo‘s request; that he will send a capable, qualified courageous investigator who is untainted by any scandal so his work will be viewed as credible and objective; and that the Pope will give his appointee a mandate stating the goal of cleansing the Church in the US. Are these assumptions valid? If no, what is the purpose of an Apostolic Visitor? If yes, a visitor would be a good beginning in the US, but his work product would not affect the entire Church including the Vatican. The whole Church is so damaged by repeated scandals that solutions must resolve the problems.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 08, 2018 6:39 AM ET USA

    The evidence suggests that Card. Bergoglio was promoted by the Gallen Mafia to advance the progressivist (heretical modernist) cause; as Francis he names progressivist cardinal electors; he manipulated a Roman Episcopal Synod (2014); he agrees with heretical interpretations of the Amoris L footnote; he relied on McCarrick to name USA archbishops; he advances the lavender mafia. It seems a stretch to think he might repent and become the reformer that the Church needs to get through this crisis.

  • Posted by: westbrook5465 - Sep. 07, 2018 8:59 AM ET USA

    While I understand the desire to get to the bottom of the Francis v. Vigano conflict, I agree with Dr. Jeff Mirus that, "We should consider it better—far better—for Pope Francis to [...] become as effective a reformer as he can possibly be, rather than to resign." The palace intrigue is less important than whether or not Francis agrees to the USCCB's request for the appointment of a Apostolic Visitor is it not?

  • Posted by: Eric - Sep. 06, 2018 4:23 PM ET USA

    Responding to Retired01, I feel it could be a long wait. I fear that corrupt Vatican officials are shredding all evidence as we speak.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Sep. 05, 2018 2:38 PM ET USA

    This analysis makes sense. We need, however, to wait for the Vatican to open these file. Hopefully, the opening of these files will not have to wait as long as Pope Francis' response to the dubia.

  • Posted by: Eric - Sep. 05, 2018 2:35 PM ET USA

    As always Phil you get to the heart of the matter. Sadly our Holy Father has decided to remain silent on the subject (even indirectly comparing himself to Christ before Pilate). I'm starting to believe that our Pope has let his status go to his head and believes he is answerable to no one except God. That, and he appears, to have a slavish devotion to his close advisers who appear not to be advising him very well.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Sep. 05, 2018 2:23 PM ET USA

    agree 100%. Add to that the appointments of Bishop Paglia, and Cardinals Ferrell and Tobin. I wouldn't trust any of them as far as I could throw them.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 05, 2018 11:47 AM ET USA

    With the paper evidence remaining hidden, this meticulous scrutiny actually shows more filth and sinful patterns that must be cleaned up. Excellent analysis!