WASHINGTON — Multiple bishops have responded to a testimony published over the weekend by a former apostolic nuncio to the United States, which called for the resignation of Pope Francis and several cardinals and bishops, who are alleged to have covered up sexual abuse allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
In the testimony, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who served as apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C. from 2011 to 2016, wrote that Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis” and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.
Viganò claimed that this was ignored by Francis, who pulled McCarrick back into public ministry and allowed him to become a “kingmaker for appointments in the Curia and the United States.”
He added that this is how “the Pope replaced Cardinal Burke with Wuerl and immediately appointed Cupich (to the Congregation of Bishops) right after he was made a cardinal.”
In a statement issued Sunday, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago responded, saying that Viganò must be “confused about the sequence of these events,” as he was named to the Congregation of Bishops on July 7, 2016, before he was named a cardinal on October 9, 2016.
Viganò also claims in his testimony that Cupich’s appointment to Chicago and Bishop Joseph Tobin’s appointment to Newark “were orchestrated by McCarrick, Maradiaga and Wuerl, united by a wicked pact of abuses by the first, and at least of coverup of abuses by the other two. Their names were not among those presented by the Nunciature for Chicago and Newark.”
Cupich said he found these words “astonishing” because he had only ever received “supportive remarks and congratulations” from Viganò regarding his appointment to Chicago.
“As to the issue of my appointment to Chicago as well as the question of episcopal appointments in general, I do not know who recommended me for the Archdiocese of Chicago, but I do know that Pope Francis, like his predecessors, takes seriously the appointment of bishops as one of his major responsibilities,” Cupich said.
Furthermore, Viganò asserts that Cupich is “blinded by his pro-gay ideology” because he has stated that the main issue in the sex abuse crisis is clericalism, rather than homosexuality, which Viganò says ignores findings “that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims.”
Cupich said that “any reference I have ever made on this subject has always been based on the conclusions of the ‘Causes and Context’ study by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, released in 2011, which states: ‘The clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior.’”
At the end of his statement, Cupich called for a “thorough vetting of the former nuncio’s many claims ... before any assessment of their credibility can be made.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark is mentioned twice by Viganò, first along with Cupich, in Viganò’s assertion that his appointment to his current position was “orchestrated” by McCarrick, Maradiaga and Wuerl.
Viganò also accuses Tobin of supporting Father James Martin, S.J., a “well-known activist who promotes the LGBT agenda.”
In a statement issued Monday, Tobin and the Archdiocese of Newark expressed “shock, sadness and consternation at the wide-ranging array of allegations ... which cannot be understood as contributing to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse.”
“The factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology of the ‘testimony’ serve to strengthen our conviction to move ahead resolutely in protecting the young and vulnerable from any sort of abuse” and guaranteeing a safe environment for all, the statement said.
“Together with Pope Francis, we are confident that scrutiny of the claims of the former nuncio will help to establish the truth.”
Pope Francis on Sunday responded to questions about Viganò’s testimony by saying that he will “not say a single word about it” and encouraged journalists and Catholics to study the testimony and its claims and draw their own conclusions.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego is also mentioned by Viganò, who claims that his appointment to San Diego was also “orchestrated from above” by Cardinal Parolin. He also alleged that McElroy knew of “McCarrick’s abuses, as can be seen from a letter sent to him by Richard Sipe on July 28, 2016.”
In his response issued in a statement on Monday, McElroy slams Viganò’s testimony as a “distortion” that does not attempt to “comprehensively convey the truth.”
“In its ideologically-driven selection of bishops who are attacked, in its clear efforts to settle old personal scores, in its omission of any reference to Archbishop Viganò’s own massive personal participation in the covering up of sexual abuse by bishops, and most profoundly in its hatred for Pope Francis and all that he has taught, Archbishop Viganò consistently subordinates the pursuit of comprehensive truth to partisanship, division and distortion,” McElroy said.
“We as bishops cannot allow the pathway of partisanship to divide us or to divert us from the searing mission that Christ calls us to at this moment,” he added.
“We must make public our sinful past. We must engage and help heal the survivors of abuse. We must develop new, lay-governed instruments of oversight and investigation in every element of how we confront sexual abuse by clergy at all levels in the life of the Church. And we must reject all attempts to subordinate these goals to ideological or personal projects. For if we do not, we will have betrayed the victims of abuse once again.”
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., of which Cardinal Donald Wuerl is the head, issued a statement reiterating that Wuerl has “categorically denied that any of this information was communicated to him” regarding any sanctions against McCarrick and his ministry.
“Archbishop Viganò at no time provided Cardinal Wuerl any information about an alleged document from Pope Benedict XVI with directives of any sort from Rome regarding Archbishop McCarrick,” the archdiocese stated.
“Archbishop Viganò has not produced in his testimony any objectively verifiable proof that he in any way communicated to Cardinal Wuerl restrictions imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, Archbishop Viganò’s testimony says that he did not.”
Viganò wrote it was “absolutely unthinkable” that Archbishop Pietro Sambi, nuncio at the time the restrictions were imposed, would not have informed Wuerl about the restrictions placed upon McCarrick.
Wuerl’s spokesperson Ed McFadden told CNA on Saturday that Viganò “presumed that Wuerl had specific information that Wuerl did not have” regarding any specific allegations or sanctions against McCarrick.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and McCarrick, both mentioned in the testimony, have not issued responses as of press time.
While Archbishop Charles Chaput is not directly mentioned in the Viganò testimony, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which he heads, is mentioned several times, and its leader is mentioned as someone opposed by Francis and McCarrick.
Chaput’s spokesperson said that 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, Chaput declined to comment on Viganò’s testimony, “as it is beyond his personal experience."
Critics of Viganò have called the credibility of his testimony into question, in part because of Viganò’s own involvement of the case of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, previously of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Nienstedt was accused of covering up multiple cases of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese at the time, and an investigation reportedly revealed further allegations of sexual misconduct towards seminarians on Nienstedt’s part.
In 2016, a document was made public accusing Viganò of suppressing a 2014 investigation into Nienstedt. The memo, written by Father Dan Griffith, an archdiocesan priest who was a liaison to the lawyers conducting an independent investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt, reported that Viganò ordered the halt of the investigation into Nienstedt and the destruction of evidence once sexual and criminal allegations against Nienstedt were uncovered.
The move was “a good old fashioned cover-up to preserve power and avoid scandal and accountability,” Griffith said in the memo.
Some bishops not mentioned in the testimony have also issued responses to it, mostly calling for prayer and transparency.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, issued a statement to his diocese saying that while Viganò’s claims have not been investigated and are “still allegations ... as your shepherd I find them to be credible.”
He called for a “thorough investigation” of the testimony and said while he does not have the authority to launch such an investigation, “I will lend my voice in whatever way necessary to call for this investigation and urge that it’s findings demand accountability of all found to be culpable even at the highest levels of the Church.”
When asked by CNA why Strickland believed Viganò’s claims were credible, diocesan spokesman Luke Heinstschel responded, saying that Strickland had said “all that he wished to say for the time” in his original statement, and that “he asks that we all pray for bishops and priests at this time.”
Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa said on his personal Facebook page that he counts himself “blessed that it was Archbishop Viganò who called me to tell me that I was appointed fourth bishop of Tulsa.”
“The allegations he details mark a good place to begin the investigations that must happen in order for us to restore holiness and accountability to the leadership of the Church,” he added. “Now is the time for us to re-double our prayers for the church and for the victims of these crimes. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.”
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in a statement that he has known Viganò since 1979 and “I have always known and respected him as a man of truthfulness, faith and integrity.”
While he said he had no personal knowledge of the allegations contained in his testimony, he asked that it be “taken seriously by all, and that every claim that he makes be investigated thoroughly. Many innocent people have been seriously harmed by clerics like Archbishop McCarrick; whoever has covered up these shameful acts must be brought to the light of day.”
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit issued a statement in which he said Catholics have “nothing to fear” in the face of Viganò’s claims because the “truth will set us free.”
“Whether the Archbishop’s claims are confirmed or proved to be unfounded, the truth which comes to light will show us the sure path to the purification and reform of the Church.”
He called on Catholics to pray for truth and transparency in the coming days, and urged Catholics to not lose hope.
“Christ has not abandoned us in this time of crisis. By his rising, he is Lord of all history. And in these trials, he seeks to restore the vitality of his Church,” he said.
“We must respond with abandonment to his designs, to identify the grace he offers us in this moment and to accept it willingly regardless of the cost. If we respond with hope, the Lord will take us to a new place from which we can go forth to unleash the Gospel with new power and new strength.”