What just happened? That’s the question everyone has been asking ever since Tuesday of last week, when Noticieros Televisa aired an in-depth exclusive interview with Pope Francis, and Crux and CBS jointly published stories backed by a document dump from a cleric who was ordained by Theodore McCarrick for Newark in the mid-1990s and has spent most of the past two decades in Rome.
Mgr Anthony Figueiredo, the priest responsible for releasing the documents, set up a website on which he presented his reasons for leaking the texts, which he acquired over years of occasional service as Roman point man and Guy Friday to Uncle Ted. The big takeaways from “the Figueiredo Report” (thefigueiredoreport.com) thus far are that there were restrictions on McCarrick, of which several senior churchmen were aware. According to Mgr Figueiredo, they include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in DC, who nevertheless continues – through a spokesman – to deny that he knew of them. The restrictions were quietly imposed and rarely enforced.
McCarrick emerges as a canny operator, who wagered – correctly, it appears – that Vatican officials would let him flout the strictures on travel and public ministry, rather than risk public scandal by attempting to enforce them. He also appears as a cloying sycophant, increasingly unable to wield any sort of influence or even reach the corridors of power. McCarrick’s obsequious letter attempting – and failing – to secure the appointment of a particular priest to a see in the remote state of Alaska was particularly striking. Though the disgraced former cardinal archbishop of Washington’s star had certainly fallen by the time he was seeking that appointment, the episode does make one wonder how powerful he really was when his star was at its apex.
Mgr Figueiredo also promised that this round of documents would be a first instalment. In the meantime, “The important point,” Figueiredo told the Catholic Herald, “is to keep to the contents of the present report and what I state there.” In other words: there’s plenty to parse out and track down already. Questions such as “Why this?” and “Why now?” may not be postponed indefinitely. Those questions and their answers will both inevitably inform inquiry into the question, “What do we have here?” In the application of the journalist’s Five Ws (who, what, when, where and why) to this story, “What?” is the first in order.
During his wide-ranging interview with Valentina Alazraki, Televisa’s veteran Vaticanologist, Pope Francis dangled a couple of big, juicy, What-flavoured carrots in front of reporters. One came when Pope Francis told Alazraki he knew “nothing”, adding “obviously” (“Claro” – literally, “it is clear”), before repeating “nothing” twice more. He went on to say that he did not recall whether last summer’s whistleblower, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Apostolic Nuncio to the US, spoke to him about McCarrick’s character and proclivities. “What the Pope said about not knowing anything is a lie,” Viganò told LifeSite. To call that a serious charge is to make oneself a shoo-in for the Understatement of the Year.
In the wake of the Pope’s protestations, George Weigel, the veteran Church-watcher and biographer of Pope John Paul II, told EWTN that Archbishop Viganò had mentioned his audience with Francis and discussed the contents of their exchange on several occasions. In a May 30 appearance on The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, Weigel said: “As we discussed at the time of the first Viganò testimony – which is not without some problems, but on this key point – Archbishop Viganò has told me that same account, three different times: once, shortly after it happened; twice, some years after that.”
Memory is a slippery thing. Both Archbishop Viganò and Pope Francis could very well be telling the truth. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State of the Holy See, reminded reporters last week that the Vatican “has said many times that they are making an investigation, which consists of gathering together all of the documentation regarding this case” and that “once this work is done, there will be a declaration”. But he gave no indication regarding when we might expect the report.
Nothing to do with McCarrick specifically or the crisis more broadly found its way into the in-flight presser aboard the plane carrying Pope Francis from Romania to Rome on Sunday after his weekend pilgrimage. Anglophone journalists reportedly planned to ask a question in that vein, but they didn’t get a chance – the second time in recent months they were passed over.
Alazraki also asked Francis to name something he thinks he did badly. The Pope mentioned his handling of the crisis in Chile. “Back then I made several [mistakes],” he said. “A few of them – thank God – you don’t know about: otherwise, you would have criticised me harshly.” [sino me hubieran sacado el cuero, literally “otherwise, they’d have given me the leather (ie a hiding).”] Regardless of the Pope’s intention in saying that, there is no way reporters will take that as anything less than a triple-dog dare.
One thing is certain: the ability of the Church’s hierarchical leadership to outface the disastrous and largely self-inflicted damage to their credibility, will be in doubt so long as Church leaders fail to deliver on their promises of transparency.