ROME – Two former Vatican spokespersons have contested the latest claim from an ex-papal ambassador who initially accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and who more recently charged him and his aides with misrepresenting a 2015 meeting with Kim Davis.
Fathers Federico Lombardi and Thomas Rosica have cast doubt on the claim by Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that the pope never personally reproached him about the meeting, and they’ve also insisted Viganò bears primary responsibility for not advising the pope adequately on how it would play out in terms of public reaction.
Last Thursday, Viganò released a statement in response to media reports suggesting Francis did not know anything about Davis, the former Kentucky county clerk briefly jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when he granted her a brief private meeting during his trip to the United States in September 2015.
At the time, both Lombardi and Rosica styled the meeting as an initiative of Viganò, suggesting the pope didn’t really know who Davis was or what she had come to represent in American public opinion.
Viganò, however, insisted that he had personally presented the pope a one-page memo describing Davis, and also briefed two of his top aides.
After the pope returned to Rome, Viganò said he was summoned to the Vatican to see the pope and warned by Francis’s top aide that the pontiff was “furious.” Yet in their private meeting, he said, the pope did not mention Davis and was “very affectionate and paternal,” praising Viganò for the organization of the trip.
In a set of notes released late Sunday, Lombardi and Rosica challenge that claim, saying Viganò told them at the time that “the Holy Father in his paternal benevolence thanked me for his visit to the USA, but also said that I had deceived him by bringing that woman to the nunciature [papal embassy],” and added that the pope also said, “You never told me that she had four husbands.”
At the time of the visit to the United States, Lombardi was still the pope’s spokesman and Rosica was acting as an attaché to the Vatican Press Office. They said they met with Viganò at his Vatican apartment after his encounter with the pope.
More broadly, Lombardi and Rosica argue that even though Viganò supplied information to Francis and his aides, he failed to communicate fully the context of the meeting and what reaction it was likely to provoke.
“The fact that Viganò had spoken the night before the meeting with the pope and his collaborators, and received a consensus from them, did not detract from the responsibility of the initiative of the meeting with Kim Davis,” Lombardi said.
“The consequences were mainly [the responsibility] of Viganò himself, who had evidently desired and prepared them, and as nuncio should have known better.”
Viganò also said in his Thursday statement he had arranged with Davis that she would only make her encounter with the pope public after he was back in Rome. Lombardi questioned whether the pope or his aides knew that part of the deal.
“I wonder if this aspect … had been really discussed by Viganò with the pope’s collaborators, since this would have provoked many reactions,” Lombardi said.
“It seems to me only that the meeting had been planned as being a private one with the pope for a person who was presented to him as worthy of appreciation, even if there was much discussion about her,” he said.