Settimo Cielo Catholic Hewrald
In recent days there has come back with a vengeance the case of Theodore E. McCarrick, the American cardinal first stripped of the scarlet and finally expelled from the clerical state last February, after having been found guilty by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
Reigniting attention over his case were two concomitant facts: a few statements by Pope Francis during an interview with Valentina Alazraki of the Mexican TV network “Televisa” previewed by “Vatican News” on May 28 and, on the same day, the publication of a “Report” on the relations between McCarrick and senior Church authorities written by a former secretary and confidant of his, the priest Anthony J. Figuereido.
Both of these elements, far from moving the case toward a solution, are making it more serious than ever, elevating it as the highest emblem not so much of the scourge of sexual abuse committed by sacred ministers – abuse that for McCarrick has been verified and condemned – but of the cover-up granted to some of the abusers by Church authorities, up to the highest levels. Cover-ups that in McCarrick’s case appear very extensive and far from being clarified.
Figuereido bolstered the ten pages of his report with citations from letters, e-mails, and documents never seen until now and upheld as authentic by experts consulted for the occasion.
Once again there is above all the news that the restrictions imposed on McCarrick during the pontificate of Benedict XVI were transmitted to him not only verbally, but were put down in writing in a 2008 letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, at the time the prefect of the congregation for bishops, a letter that McCarrick himself wrote he had immediately “shared” with the archbishop of Washington at the time, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Wuerl has always denied that he knew anything at all about the abuse committed by McCarrick or the restrictions imposed on him, in practice the obligation to retire to private life. And besides, McCarrick always avoided obeying such restrictions, both during the pontificate of Benedict XVI and afterward, when on the contrary he intensified his trips all over the world, including to China, in accord with the Vatican secretariat of state and Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Another bit of news from the report is the defense of himself that McCarrick made with respect to the accusations of sexual abuse, in a 2008 letter to then-secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone. He admitted that he had imprudently “shared a bed” with priests and seminarians “when the Diocesan Summer House was overcrowded,” but without ever having or attempting sexual relations with them, because he considered them “as part of my family,” just as he had often done with his “cousins and uncles and other relatives,” going to bed with them too but always innocently.
As is well known, this defense of himself by McCarrick – who still to this day is not known to have expressed any remorse in public – was invalidated eleven years after the guilty verdict of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
But what remains to be clarified is precisely the responsibility of many senior Church authorities who knew about his offenses and did not do what they were supposed to.
The position, for example, of Cardinal Wuerl is today more difficult than before, seeing the revelations of Figuereido’s report.
But above all there has been no clarification of the behavior of Pope Francis. Who in the interview with “Televisa” sought to justify his conduct, while however leaving open many, too many questions.
The one who accused Pope Francis of having covered up for McCarrick was the former nuncio in the United States Carlo Maria Viganò, in his “Testimony” made public on the night between last August 25 and 26.
That night Francis was in Dublin, to close the world meeting of families. With the result that a few hours later, at the press conference on the flight back to Rome, he was asked about it by NBC journalist Anna Matranga.
Viganò had reported that on June 23 2013, in a brief face to face meeting, Pope Francis had asked for his judgment on Cardinal McCarrick, and he had replied that “at the congregation for bishops there is a file this big on him. He has corrupted generations of seminarians and priests, and Pope Benedict required that he retire to a life of prayer and penance.” Adding: “The pope did not make the slightest comment on those very serious words of mine, and did not show on his face any expression of surprise, as if he had already known about the matter for some time, and he immediately changed the subject.”
When Anna Matranga asked him “if this were true,” Francis replied: “I will not say one word on this.” The pope instead invited the journalists to “study” for themselves the credibility of Viganò’s accusation. And he added: “When a bit of time has gone by and you have drawn your conclusions, perhaps I will speak.” Finally, asked once again to respond, he promised, without the “perhaps” this time: “You study, and then I will speak.”
A few weeks later, in a statement on October 6, Francis made it known that he had ordered “a careful further study of the entire documentation present in the archives of the dicasteries and offices of the Holy See” concerning McCarrick. And he pledged that “the Holy See will not fail, in due time, to make known the conclusions of the case.”
But more than nine months have gone by since the case erupted, and nothing of that has yet been published.
On May 29, Cardinal Parolin said that the investigation is still underway and “once this work is concluded, there will be a statement,” without however giving a sense that this will take place soon.
But there was no clarification at all in the words Francis had to say about this in the interview with Valentina Alazraki a few days ago, the first he has said in public after the promise made on the plane on August 26.
To the questions of Valentina Alazraki, the pope replied first of all by justifying his silence and his initial decision to invite journalists to “study” for themselves the indictment by Viganò.
This because – he said – “I had not read the whole letter, I took a quick look at it and I already knew what it is.”
Actually, on the plane on August 26, Francis had said that he had read the whole thing. But now he has intimated that his negative prejudice on Viganò’s indictment concerned the person of the ex-nuncio, in his view a lowlife, seeing that “three or four months later a judge in Milan found him guilty,” seeing that “some have even written that he had been paid,” and above all seeing his “doggedness,” in the face of which the only response to make was silence, as Jesus did “on Good Friday.”
Properly speaking, that of Milan was not a “guilty verdict” on Viganò, but the settlement in civil court of a dispute among brothers concerning the distribution of a substantial inheritance. An age-old family dispute that the pope said he had known about for some time but had always kept quiet about in public so as not to “sling mud” at the ex-nuncio. And as for the suspicion of a secret pay-off, Francis immediately added: “I don’t know, not as far as I know.” The fact is, however, that he has now said both things in public, and badly, completely contradicting himself.
To the crucial question of whether he knew about McCarrick’s misdeeds or not, Francis replied as follows in the interview with “Televisa”:
“About McCarrick I didn’t know anything, of course, nothing, nothing. I have said a number of times that I didn’t know anything, I had no idea. And when [Viganò] says that he spoke to me that day, that he came… I don’t recall if he spoke to me about this, if it is true or not. I have no idea! You know that I knew nothing about McCarrick, otherwise I would not have remained silent, right?”
In a man with an uncommon memory like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, this lapse appears anomalous. And Viganò replied immediately, from the secret place where he is in hiding, accusing the pope of lying.
Whom to believe, at this point? Viganò or Francis? The answer can be given only by the documents kept at the Vatican, the nunciature, and the dioceses in which McCarrick served: New York, Metuchen, Newark, Washington.
Because, if it were true that Francis never knew a thing about McCarrick’s bad behavior, it remains to be explained how this could have happened, when at the Vatican and in the United States there were so many senior churchmen who were aware of it, for many years.
If by-the-book canonical proceedings had gone forward against McCarrick last year, this whole cover-up would have inexorably come to light.
Instead the shortcut of an administrative decree was chosen, concentrated only on the person of the reprobate.
All that remains is to wait for the publication of the results of the documentary investigation announced last October 6 and confirmed in recent days by Cardinal Parolin