The former nuncio’s intervention will change the American Church
On Saturday, the National Catholic Register published a “testimony” written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former apostolic nuncio to Washington, DC. Viganò (pictured) denounced what he described as a conspiracy at the highest levels of the Church to cover up Theodore McCarrick’s long history of sexual abuse. His claim that Pope Francis knew about the disgraced former cardinal’s past misconduct and yet restored him to active ministry dominated headlines around the world.
But several leading American bishops were also named – many of whom had already been accused of covering for McCarrick. The fallout from Viganò’s letter will inevitably change the balance of power in the American Church.
Viganò’s gravest charges were levelled against Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor as Archbishop of Washington and a close Francis ally. Viganò claimed that Wuerl had full knowledge of his predecessor’s misconduct with seminarians and young priests, and of Pope Benedict XVI’s reputed order that he be removed from active ministry. Nevertheless, Viganò alleged, Wuerl allowed him to reside in a seminary in his diocese.
Wuerl categorically denies these claims. “In spite of what Archbishop Viganò’s memo indicates, Cardinal Wuerl did not receive any documentation or information during his time in Washington regarding any actions taken against Archbishop McCarrick,” spokesman Ed McFadden told the Catholic Herald.
But McFadden did confirm another major claim in Viganò’s letter. The former nuncio said he had seen an announcement in an archdiocesan publication inviting young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood to meet McCarrick. Viganò brought this to Wuerl’s attention, reminding him of the disciplinary measures imposed by Pope Benedict. According to Viganò, Wuerl “expressed his surprise to me, telling me that he knew nothing about that announcement and that he would cancel it” – suggesting he knew of McCarrick’s past misconduct.
McFadden told the Herald that Wuerl did, in fact, cancel the event “at the nuncio’s request”. In a follow-up statement, however, McFadden added that no context for the request was given. It’s customary for bishops to follow all such requests from nuncios. When Wuerl asked why Viganò requested the event be cancelled, the nunciature did not respond, McFadden said.
Viganò also claimed that Cardinal Joseph Tobin was not among those recommended for Newark by the nuncio.
Tobin was a relatively obscure prelate until his appointment to Newark in November 2016 and then made him a cardinal the following month. Few bishops have risen through the ranks of the American hierarchy so quickly.
Viganò alleges that Tobin’s appointment was “orchestrated by [Cardinals] McCarrick, Maradiaga and Wuerl, united by a wicked pact of abuses by the first, and at least of cover-up of abuses by the other two”. These three cardinals, all of whom deny wrongdoing, are said to have been highly influential within the Vatican.
Viganò claims that this “pact” is also responsible for the appointment of Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago. In 2014, Francis also plucked Cupich out of obscurity and installed him in America’s the third-largest diocese. Then, in 2016, the Holy Father appointed him to the College of Cardinals.
Responding in a statement, Cupich said he did not know who brought his name to the Holy Father. “Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants pastoral bishops, and I work each day to live up to that expectation,” he wrote.
The statement echoed McCarrick’s words, found in Viganò’s testimony: “the bishops in the United States must not be ideologised, they must not be right-wing, they must be shepherds….” Cupich seemed to admit that he fits McCarrick’s criteria while neither confirming nor denying that the former prelate influenced his appointment.
One of those “right-wing” bishops Francis allegedly disapproves of is Archbishop Charles Chaput. According to Viganò, the Pope told him that prelates “must not be right-wing like the Archbishop of Philadelphia”. Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, told the Catholic Herald: “The archbishop enjoyed working with Archbishop Viganò during his tenure as apostolic nuncio to the United States and found his service to be marked by integrity to the Church. However, he can’t comment on Archbishop Viganò’s recent testimonial as it is beyond his personal experience.”
It’s worth noting that Chaput was appointed archbishop in 2011. Philadelphia is the country’s sixth-largest diocese, and its archbishops are generally elevated to the College of Cardinals shortly after their appointment. But Chaput does indeed have a reputation for theological orthodoxy and he he has clashed with both the Holy Father and the “Francis Party” in the American hierarchy.
Now, it is the Francis Party which is under pressure, having to explain its links to the disgraced McCarrick. Uneasy lies the head that wears a red hat granted by Pope Francis.