[Editor’s note: Crux will update this story as it develops.]
DUBLIN – Just hours after Pope Francis condemned the “repugnant crimes” of sexual abuse by clergy during his two-day trip to Ireland, news broke in the United States that a former papal ambassador to the country is accusing Francis of having known about abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and failing to act.
More than that, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò asserts that Francis actually repealed sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the late 2000s, despite the fact that Viganò personally briefed Francis in June 2013 about McCarrick and the charges of misconduct and abuse.
The news was first reported by veteran Catholic journalist Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register in tandem with another conservative outlet, LifeSiteNews.
CBS News spoke by telephone to Vigano on Sunday, who confirmed he wrote the statement and said he was speaking now “to combat the grave situation in the church, to protect the church and also to stop future abuse.” He told CBS News producer Anna Matranga that he had no agenda and was stating facts.
In an 11-page statement on Saturday, the 77-year-old Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign. Pentin has made the full text of the statement available here.
“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example to Cardinals and Bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them,” he wrote.
Viganò served as the Papal Nuncio to the United States from October 2011 to April 2016, serving both Popes Benedict and Francis.
In the statement, Viganò said he met the newly elected Pope Francis on June 23, 2013, about McCarrick, the former archbishop of both Newark and Washington D.C., who resigned last month over claims he sexually abused seminary students and an altar boy.
Viganò said he told Francis about the allegations: “Holy Father, I don’t know if you know Cardinal McCarrick, but if you ask the Congregation for Bishops there is a dossier this thick about him. He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.”
The reference is to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, responsible for assisting the pope in the supervision of Catholic bishops around the world.
Viganò offered details about the penance he says was imposed by Benedict.
“The cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living,” Viganò wrote, “he was also forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”
Viganò says that he doesn’t know exactly when those measures were decreed, but that it occurred in 2009 or 2010.
Also according to Viganò, earlier efforts by other papal envoys to the United States to bring the charges against McCarrick to Rome’s attention were obstructed in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, blaming Italian Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Tarcisio Bertone – the Secretaries of State for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, respectively.
Viganò also claims that Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., knew about the accusations against McCarrick, saying “I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions” and says that “the Cardinal lies shamelessly.”
In a recent interview, Wuerl vigorously asserted that he had been unaware of either the abuse charges against McCarrick or previous settlements for misconduct with seminarians in the dioceses of Metuchen and Newark in New Jersey.
“All the time that [McCarrick] was here and certainly all the time that I’ve been here, there was never any news,” Wuerl said. “If I could tell you no one ever came to me and said this person did this to me. No one. No one.”
In a statement to the Catholic News Agency, the cardinal’s spokesman Ed McFadden said, “Cardinal Wuerl did not receive documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Viganò.”
McFadden said that “Cardinal Wuerl categorically denies that he was ever provided any information regarding the reasons for Cardinal McCarrick’s exit for the Redemptoris Mater Seminary.”
“Archbishop Viganò presumed that Wuerl had specific information that Wuerl did not have,” the spokesman said.
In a new statement to Crux on Sunday, McFadden said that “In spite of what Archbishop Viganò’s memo indicates, Cardinal Wuerl did not receive any documentation or information during his time in Washington regarding any actions taken against Archbishop McCarrick.”
Under Francis, Viganò claims, sanctions against McCarrick were lifted and the former Washington prelate acted as a “kingmaker” for personally making appointments both in the U.S. and in the Vatican. Among other things, Viganò credits McCarrick for having “orchestrated” the appointments both of Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark.
Yet despite the memo’s strong protestations, Viganò himself has been accused of his own mishandling of sex abuse allegations.
According to a 2014 memo, first made public in 2016, as nuncio he quashed an investigation — going as far as demanding that evidence be destroyed — into then-Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis who was being investigated for misconduct with seminarians, as well as cover-up of sexual abuse. In 2015, Nienstedt stepped down as head of the archdiocese.
This is not the first time Viganò has cast himself in the role of a Vatican whistle-blower.
In 2012, letters from Viganò to Benedict XVI and Bertone were at the heart of the initial “Vatileaks” scandal, involving confidential documents stolen from the German pope’s desk and leaked to journalists by his personal butler. In the letters, Viganò protested his appointment as envoy to the United States, claiming he was being punished for attempting to clean up financial corruption in his previous role as the number two official in the Government of the Vatican City State.
Those charges were denied by the Vatican at the time, claiming that they were “the result of erroneous assessments, or fears based on unsubstantiated evidence, even openly contradicted by the main characters invoked as witnesses.”
In a series of tweets after Viganò’s statement was published, Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who was among eight survivors who met with Pope Francis Saturday during his visit to Dublin, said McCarrick came up during the discussion.
According to Collins, the pope “said immediately he knew what was being said was true, he dismissed him and was strong in his condemnation.”
“I’ve no idea if what is in [Viganò’s] letter [is] true or not, just reporting what was said,” she wrote, adding that if what the nuncio said is true, Francis “must be held accountable as anyone should who covers up.”
In a statement on Sunday, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler said that while he has no direct knowledge about the allegations against Pope Francis or others mentioned in Viganò’s letter, he finds them “credible.”
He called for a “thorough investigation … similar to those conducted anytime allegations are deemed to be credible,” and said that anyone found guilty, at any level of the Church, should be held accountable.
Strickland also asked that his statement be included in all Sunday Masses throughout the diocese and linked to Viganò’s letter.
Lucas Heintschel, a spokesman for the diocese of Tyler declined a Crux request for further comment on Sunday, noting “His excellency has said all he wants to say for the time being in the statement which can be found on the Diocese of Tyler website.”