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The Vigano bombshell: some perspectives

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 28, 2018

The testimony of Archbishop Vigano is, from my perspective as an editor, the most important Catholic news story since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. (And by the way those stories now seem related.) The past few days have seen an unprecedented outburst of editorial commentary, and we’ve been struggling to keep abreast of both the news and the many different commentaries. On our news page, you’ll find responses from a number of bishops, ranging across the spectrum. Herewith a few of the most noteworthy editorial commentaries:

Before giving readers that quick sampling of commentary, though, let me offer one critical suggestion. The key question is NOT whether Archbishop Vigano is a nice person, whether he has his own private goals (who doesn’t?), or whether he dislikes Pope Francis. The question is whether the charges contained in his testimony are true or false. Solid journalism will seek to answer that question; anyone who asks different questions should be treated with suspicion.

  • “The questions raised by Vigano cannot be un-asked,” I wrote in my own commentary, for First Things. “They can only be answered or ignored.” If Vigano’s testimony is accurate, then Pope Francis stands accused of exactly the sort of behavior that he himself has repeatedly condemned.
  • But if the Pope is guilty as charged, what then? Archbishop Vigano called for the Holy Father’s resignation. For what it’s worth, I disagree. So does Ross Douthat, who writes for the New York Times: “One papal resignation per millennium is more than enough.” His alternative:
    Instead the faithful should press Francis to fulfill the paternal obligations at which he has failed to date, to purge the corruption he has tolerated and to supply Catholicism with what it has lacked these many years: a leader willing to be zealous and uncompromising against what Benedict called the “filth” in the church, no matter how many heads must roll on his side of the Catholic civil war.
    Douthat, by the way, provides an even-handed reading of both Vigano’s testimony and his critics’ responses, illustrating how it is possible that different actors, from their different perspectives, had different understandings of events Still the weight of available evidence pushes the scales toward Vigano’s account.
  • Back at First Things, my friend Father Gerald Murray acknowledges that the Vigano revelations provide valid reasons to criticize the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, too. “When Benedict found McCarrick to be guilty as charged, the rest of the Church should have been told.” He stresses the importance of demanding answers to the questions that have now been raised, noting that insistent demands for answers have already produced some long-overdue results. For instance:
    Recall that Juan Barros would still be the bishop of Osorno, Chile, if the laity in particular had not kept insisting on the need to answer the question, “Why is this undeserving man who failed to protect victims of sexual abuse by an important cleric (Fr. Fernando Karadima) still the bishop of a diocese?”
  • In the New York Post, Sohrab Ahmari observes that The Catholic abuse scandal now leads all the way to the Vatican. “If Vigano is telling the truth about these things,” he reasons, “then the moral catastrophe he describes is horrifyingly real. Everything else is noise.” He goes on to give examples of the “noise”—the obfuscations and irrelevant arguments that have been put forward in the past week—and advises readers to “tune out the noise”—and to pray.
  • And speaking of prayer, let me call attention to something that is not an editorial commentary, not even a press release, but a simple announcement, hidden away in a parish bulletin, by Bishop Robert Reed, an auxiliary in the Boston archdiocese. Bishop Reed apparently did not intend this statement for wide circulation.
    These days I find myself deeply disturbed by what is happening in the Church. I know that bishops must act decisively and that action needs to be thorough, transparent, professional, and in cooperation with competent laypeople.
    But still, I ask the question: what can I do?
    All I know is that I can pray and do penance. To that end, and as your pastor, I commit myself to a full day and night of public penance.
    On Monday, September 24, 2018, I will celebrate the 9 o’clock Mass in Saint Ann Church as I usually do. Following that Mass I will expose the Blessed Sacrament and remain there in prayer and fasting until the next morning, concluding this period of prayer and penance with the celebration of the 9:00 Mass on Tuesday.
    All throughout this period, the church will remain open. You are most welcome to join me in prayer...

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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