NEW YORK — In response to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s astonishing claims that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of sexual abuse and decided to lift sanctions against him supposedly imposed by Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released a statement on Monday saying the allegation “brings particular focus and urgency” to the USCCB’s pledge for a full investigation into the former archbishop of Washington.
“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.
On Saturday, Viganò — who served as the papal nuncio to the United States from 2011-2016 — released an 11-page testimony in which he claimed to have warned Francis of McCarrick’s past. The memo went on to name no fewer than 32 high ranking churchmen, all of whom, according to Viganò, had taken part in the alleged cover-up or are involved in their own scandals.
The credibility of his account, however, has been the subject of much scrutiny given the lack of evidence he presents within the document, his own checkered history of handling sex abuse cases, and his personal history of conflict with Francis and many of the individuals he names in the report.
Earlier this month, the USCCB announced they would request an official Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s past, as well as take new measures to hold bishops involved in abuse or its cover-up accountable.
“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: Seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops,” wrote DiNardo.
“Inspired by his recent letter to the people of God, and his motu proprio of two years ago, As a Loving Mother, I am confident Pope Francis shares our desire for greater effectiveness and transparency in the matter of disciplining bishops. We renew our fraternal affection for the Holy Father in these difficult days,” he continued.
Aboard the papal plane on Sunday heading home from the World Meeting of Families in Ireland, Francis dismissed the Viganò letter telling journalists, “You read the statement attentively, and you make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this.”
Since the letter’s release, three of the U.S. cardinals mentioned by Viganò have released statements questioning both the facts of his testimonial and also welcoming a Vatican investigation into the matter.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago was the first to respond on Sunday, issuing a detailed statement responding to each individual charge against him by the former papal envoy, adding “As for the rest of the ‘testimony,’ a thorough vetting of the former nuncio’s many claims is required before any assessment of their credibility can be made.”
In a statement on Monday, the Archdiocese of Washington said “Cardinal Wuerl has indicated that during his entire tenure as Archbishop of Washington no one has come forward to say to him, ‘Cardinal McCarrick abused me’ or made any other like claim. The only ground for Cardinal Wuerl to challenge the ministry of Archbishop McCarrick would have been information from Archbishop Viganò or other communications from the Holy See. Such information was never provided.”
“Perhaps the starting point for a serene and objective review of this testimony is the inclusion of Archbishop Viganò’s tenure as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in the mandate of the Apostolic Visitation already called for by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” read the statement.
In a similar statement, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey said the testimonial “cannot be understood as contributing to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse.”
“The factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology of the ‘testimony’ serve to strengthen our conviction to move ahead resolutely in protecting the young and vulnerable from any sort of abuse, while guaranteeing a safe and respectful environment where all are welcome and breaking down the structures and cultures that enable abuse,” Tobin continued.
“Together with Pope Francis, we are confident that scrutiny of the claims of the former nuncio will help to establish the truth.”