News Analysis

Is Viganò overstating his case?

Last summer’s celebrity ecclesiastical whistleblower, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, is back in the news. On July 3, LifeSite published excerpts omitted from a Washington Post report of a lengthy email interview with Viganò. A note had accompanied the Post’s story, informing readers: “Selected passages containing unverified allegations have been removed.”

In the now published remarks, Viganò spoke about two cases, both of which had already appeared in media reports.

The first case Viganò mentioned concerned the Preseminario Pio X, a minor seminary built inside Vatican City in the 1950s, with a bequest from the Diocese of Como, for the promotion of vocations to the priesthood. The students of the institution serve Masses in St Peter’s Basilica.

In 2012, the then Pio X student Kamil Jarzembowski accused an older student of serial sexual assault against another boy who was also a seminarian and Jarzembowski’s roommate. Jarzembowski alleged that several of the assaults took place in his dorm room, with Jarzembowski himself present.

Under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Vicar General for Vatican City, the superiors of the seminary (and eventually a bishop connected with the institution) looked into the situation. None of them found anything to substantiate the allegations. The Gendarmerie (the Vatican police) did not investigate the claims when they were first lodged. Jarzembowski left the seminary and the man he accused received Holy Orders.

Cardinal Comastri told the Italian wire service ANSA that he ordered two internal investigations, which found nothing amiss. He said he eventually asked the Bishop of Como to look into the matter, since Como oversees the minor seminary through its Don Folci Association. More than six months later, Como’s Bishop Diego Coletti submitted a four-page report that also found nothing to substantiate the allegations. Comastri said that Coletti “proposed that the case be archived” but claims he did not follow that last proposal. He did say he ordered one boy to be sent away from the pro-seminary and back to Como. Comastri also had the pro-seminary’s senior staff replaced – “In order to be even more tranquil,” Comastri told ANSA, “so that there would be fresh air.”

“Could I have done [anything] more?” Comastri went on to say.

In November 2017, shortly after the news stories reached the public, the Vatican announced that it had reopened the case. “In view of the new elements that have recently emerged,” the Press Office said, “a new investigation is underway, to shed full light on what really happened.”

In response to requests from the Catholic Herald, the Press Office of the Holy See confirmed that investigations are ongoing, but offered no further details.

The seminary story pre-dated the major reforms to Vatican City’s criminal and criminal-procedural law, which took place earlier this year. That law makes all Vatican officials mandatory reporters of child abuse – phrased to encompass even suspicion of untoward activity of any kind – and requires that prosecutors investigate reports. If it is a mistake to forget about the reported scandal and move on, it is also an error to treat Viganò’s statements as fresh allegations.

Archbishop Viganò’s second story concerned Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the current Substitute for General Affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State. The Sostituto, as this post is known, is a very significant one in the Curia, but not the “number three spot” in the curial pecking order, as is sometimes claimed. Rather, it is comparable to a Chief of Staff. Viganò claimed that Pope Francis had promoted Peña notwithstanding serious questions regarding his past. Viganò made a particularly grave allegation related to an incident in Venezuela in 1992, which he said Vatican officials have known about since 2002. Like the Washington Post, the Herald was unable to verify the claim.

Archbishop Viganò, however, did not simply invite journalists to take a closer look at the two cases. He adduced them in illustration of a net judgment: “Not only is Pope Francis doing close to nothing to punish those who have committed abuse, he is doing absolutely nothing to expose and bring to justice those who have, for decades, facilitated and covered up the abusers.”

Those last two assertions are a serious overstatement. In addition to the aforementioned new law for Vatican City, Pope Francis has punished abusers, including a pair of notorious Chilean bishops and the disgraced former cardinal, Ted McCarrick. Even if, overall, his response has been inadequate, Francis has not done “absolutely nothing” to expose the rot.

Viganò’s first foray into the public conversation over the leadership crisis besetting the Church was far from perfect. That first letter did, however, also offer a series of allegations that were new to the public, very serious and in principle verifiable. In point of fact, the bones of those allegations as they regarded the protection of Ted McCarrick and the knowledge of his character and proclivities received confirmation in later reporting.

It’s hard to know what to make of these latest allegations, however. Over the past year, Archbishop Viganò has often been his own worst enemy. The statements of his which LifeSite published after the Washington Post refused to run them are further confirmation not only of his willingness to be unpopular, but also of his capacity for enmity, even as they offer precious little in advancement of the cause he claims to serve.