Catholics were starting to wonder whether the Vatican would ever respond to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s passionate and sometimes rambling “testimony”, published six weeks ago. Archbishop Viganò claimed that a network of corrupt prelates had protected ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a serial sex abuser. Most sensationally, Viganò said Pope Francis had known about McCarrick since at least June 2013, but had nevertheless brought him into his inner circle. To these extraordinary allegations the Vatican responded with silence. Until now.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, has written a letter to Archbishop Viganò demanding that he “repent” of his “calumny and defamation”. But Ouellet only explains in broad terms what he finds calumnious and defamatory in the Viganò testimony.
Admittedly, the cardinal does provide some helpful clarification. He tells us that Benedict XVI did indeed ask McCarrick “not to travel or to make public appearances”, because of unconfirmed “rumours” about his misdemeanours. That matches what Viganò claimed.
For Cardinal Ouellet, the episode was a tragedy brought about by the lack of “sufficient proof” and McCarrick’s ability “to cleverly defend himself”. For Archbishop Viganò, it was a collusion between prelates who knew about McCarrick’s guilt but did nothing. To decide between these narratives, we need a full account of who knew what and when.
Cardinal Ouellet’s letter does not provide us with this information. For instance, he does not reveal what “rumours” had been heard about McCarrick; or how these were investigated; or whether McCarrick was deliberately given more freedom when Pope Francis succeeded Benedict.
What Ouellet does provide is an example of the overwrought style now increasingly common when bishops speak of the Pope – seen even in the recent statement from the Bishops of England and Wales. (“As we spoke with Pope Francis we realised, more and more, that he simply radiates this joy and peace. He is indeed gifted with a unique grace of the Holy Spirit of God.”) Catholics believe remarkable things already about the Pope: he is, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation” of the Church’s unity. There is no need to exaggerate the point.
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