VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has said that he does not recall anything about accusations of sexual abuse by Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal and Archbishop of Washington, prior to when the accusations became public in 2018.
“I knew nothing, obviously, nothing nothing" about McCarrick. "I have said it many times, that I didn't know, no idea. And when this guy (Vigano) said that he told me about it that day, that he came ... I don't remember if he told me about this. If it's true or not. No idea!" Pope Francis said in an interview with a Mexican journalist published May 28.
Reiterating that he had no recollection beforehand, Francis said the McCarrick case was clear-cut, and emphasized that he acted both before the Vatican process against McCarrick by removing him from the College of Cardinals, and after, when he was found guilty, by dismissing him from the clerical state.
“You know that I did not know anything about McCarrick, otherwise I would not have remained silent,” Pope Francis told Valentina Alazraki. The 13,000-word interview was published on Vatican News in Spanish and Italian.
Pope Francis and the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith dismissed McCarrick from the clerical state in February, after he found guilty in an administrative penal process of solicitation in the Sacrament of Penance and “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults.”
In the newly published interview, Pope Francis responded to a question about his response to an August 2018 letter by former nuncio to the US Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in which Viganò claimed he told Pope Francis about the allegations concerning McCarrick in 2013.
Viganò also claimed Vatican officials knew of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct for years, eventually leading to a restriction on the archbishop’s ministry by Benedict XVI in the late 2000s, and a subsequent restoration of McCarrick’s place as a papal advisor by Pope Francis.
Since their publication, Pope Francis has not responded to the charges contained in the Viganò letter, and instead has encouraged journalists to investigate the allegations.
Francis said that when he was questioned about the Viganò letter by journalists aboard the papal plane from Dublin in August 2018, he had not read the entirety of the letter, but after seeing a little thought, “I know what this is,” and “made a choice” to tell journalists to investigate the claims themselves.
“The reason for my silence was first of all that the proofs were there, I told you: ‘judge for yourself.’ It was really an act of trust,” Pope Francis said. He added that he believes it wisest to follow the example of Christ, that “in moments of rage” it is better not to speak: “The Lord has shown us this path and I follow him.”
The pope acknowledged that people often judge silence to be an admission of guilt but said that “it was a silence based on trust in you [journalists].”
“And the result was good, better than if I had started to explain, to defend myself. You judge evidence in hand,” he said.