Pope Francis stands accused this morning of covering up the crimes of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, one of the most senior and sinister sex abusers in the history of the Catholic Church.
The allegation comes from the Vatican's former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who has called on the Pope to resign.
In a devastating 11-page written testament, Viganò says Francis lifted severe sanctions imposed on McCarrick for sexual wrongdoing by Pope Benedict XVI, the existence of which has not been made public until now.
Viganò writes that he told Francis in person in 2013 that McCarrick 'had corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance'.
But, says the former nuncio, the new Pope decided instead to cover up for the retired Archbishop of Washington – and made him one of his most trusted advisers.
‘He knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator,' writes Archbishop Viganò. 'He knew that he was a corrupt man, [but] he covered for him to the bitter end.’
Only when the media revealed last month that McCarrick was suspected of the abuse of a minor did Francis take action ‘to save his image in the media’.
According to Viganò, at some point before 2010 Pope Benedict had ordered McCarrick to retreat to a life of prayer and penance and banned him from saying Mass publicly. Benedict had been told that McCarrick was guilty of ‘gravely immoral behaviour with seminarians and priests’.
In his testimony, published last night by the National Catholic Register, Viganò says that in 2008, when he worked for the Secretariat of State and before he was made nuncio to the US, he told the Vatican 'to intervene as soon as possible by removing the cardinal’s hat from Cardinal McCarrick'. Earlier warnings were ignored by Rome.
Vigano's 2008 memo also went unheeded until the Vatican received further confirmation of McCarrick's crimes.
‘Benedict did what he had to do', says Archbishop Viganò, 'but his collaborators – the Secretary of State [Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone] and all the others – didn’t enforce it as they should have done, which led to the delay.
‘What is certain is that Pope Benedict imposed the above canonical sanctions on McCarrick and that they were communicated to him by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Pietro Sambi.’
The Pope Emeritus is reported to have confirmed that he imposed these sanctions. It remains unclear, however, why he did not make them public at the time. There is also some doubt as to when – and whether – they took effect.
When Viganò later became nuncio to the US – that is, the Pope's chief representative in the country – he claims he confronted McCarrick. ‘The cardinal, muttering in a barely comprehensible way, admitted that he had perhaps made the mistake of sleeping in the same bed with some seminarians at his beach house, but he said this as if it had no importance,’ writes Viganò.
There then follows the most serious allegation made against a pope in living memory. Archbishop Viganò says that, when he met the newly elected Pope Francis in Rome, Francis asked him: ‘What is Cardinal McCarrick like?’
I answered him with complete frankness and, if you want, with great naiveté: “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 Pope did not make the slightest comment about those very grave words of mine and did not show any expression of surprise on his face, as if he had already known the matter for some time, and he immediately changed the subject. But then, what was the Pope’s purpose in asking me that question: “What is Cardinal McCarrick like?” He clearly wanted to find out if I was an ally of McCarrick or not.
Soon afterwards, McCarrick was triumphantly rehabilitated and began travelling the world as a papal emissary. He also became a 'kingmaker for appointments in the Curia and the United States', according to Viganò.
The testimony claims that McCarrick, together with Francis's close ally Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras (now facing allegations of financial corruption) and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current Archbishop of Washington, 'orchestrated' the unexpected appointments of Cardinal Blase Cupich to Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin to Newark.
Viganò concludes by calling for the Pope's resignation :
Francis is abdicating the mandate which Christ gave to Peter to confirm the brethren. Indeed, by his action he has divided them, led them into error, and encouraged the wolves to continue to tear apart the sheep of Christ’s flock.
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 for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.
The Viganò testament is ferocious in tone: it is clearly written by a conservative who strongly disapproves of the US ‘liberal establishment’ of Cardinals Wuerl, Cupich, and Tobin.
But the document’s detailed allegations cannot to be dismissed on grounds of bias. Either they are true or they are false. If they are true, then Pope Francis has actively promoted the career of a sex abuser, knowing of the allegations against him – and sabotaged Pope Benedict's attempt to protect the Church from any further crimes by Theodore McCarrick.
It is very hard to overstate the gravity of the crisis facing the Pope and members of the senior hierarchy of the United States today. They have been implicated in an alleged conspiracy to protect a sex criminal.
The charges made by Viganò are so extensive, and so serious, that legal proceedings arising from them are likely to be on a gigantic scale – and will take years rather than months to address.
Long before they are concluded, there is a strong possibility that the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinian who took the name of Pope Francis, will have come to a spectacular and disastrous end.