Five Takeaways from Msgr. Viganò’s Resignation

Although the resignation has its flaws, the fallout from ‘Lettergate’ finally led to some accountability for wrongdoing at the Vatican.

A screenshot of Msgr. Dario Vigano's resignation letter, written March 19, 2018.
A screenshot of Msgr. Dario Vigano's resignation letter, written March 19, 2018. (photo: Register Files)

News today of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò's resignation as prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication is remarkable in many respects.

First of all, it’s extremely rare for a senior Vatican official in modern times, and especially during this pontificate, to submit his resignation or hold himself accountable concerning a public scandal or controversy for which he is blamed.

One need only think of a few recent examples where this hasn’t happened: those responsible for the appointment of pro-abortion or pro-contraception academics to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the official responsible for protocol who gave a papal knighthood to a militant Dutch pro-abortion politician, or the Vatican priest caught having homosexual drug-fueled parties at the Holy Office (some of course might argue these are lesser offenses, others could say they’re as bad or worse).

Msgr. Viganò will therefore be congratulated for doing the honorable thing after the “Lettergate” fiasco, and the Holy Father, too, for accepting his resignation.

But despite the gravity of the offense — doctoring photographs and changing the meaning of a confidential letter from Benedict XVI by selectively publicizing it — this case is extraordinary for a second reason: the almost total absence of any admission of guilt or remorse. Msgr. Viganò instead places the blame on “controversies” which, he says, destabilize and could potentially block the communications reforms that he was leading and harm his co-workers.

A third point of interest is that the Holy Father has only ostensibly sanctioned Msgr. Vigano by accepting his resignation. In truth, he has asked him to stay on as an assessor (consulter) to the dicastery in order to help provide a “human and professional contribution” to the new prefect and to the media reform. Some therefore see this more as a “demotion” than a resignation and an inadequate and ill-befitting sanction at that, while others may see it as reasonable and appropriate given the reforms are now in their final stages.

Fourthly, the resignation highlights what many now view as an arbitrary administration of justice at the Holy See. One of Pope Francis’ first acts was to make the leaking of confidential documents to the press a punishable offense (later witnessed in the 2016 Vatileaks II trial), and yet misusing the confidential letter of the Pope Emeritus results in what Msgr. Vigano called today a “stepping back” from a previous leadership role.

In a similar way, those responsible for financial crimes and misconduct in the Vatican are supposed to face tougher sanctions after recent reforms, yet no one has so far been tried for money laundering, despite many cases coming to light, while those pushing for financial reform are thwarted. Similarly, Vatican officials with checkered pasts are often promoted, while those who hold fast to the Church’s teaching are ostracized or sent away.  

But lastly, today’s very rare resignation, while flawed and a tragedy for Msgr. Vigano, could still be a sign of hope: that glimmers of a true sense of accountability and justice may at last be coming into view, trumping the courtier mentality in the Vatican that has existed for so long.