Archbishop Viganò’s Second Letter Offers Clear Path for Investigation

COMMENTARY: Whatever report the Secretariat of State will produce is now the key to whether the archbishop’s questions are resolved, or become even more contested.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò speaks to thousands during the 'Walk for Life' rally and march in San Francisco in 2015.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò speaks to thousands during the 'Walk for Life' rally and march in San Francisco in 2015. (photo: AP photo/Alex Washburn)

In the aftermath of Pope Francis’ apparent rejection of the U.S. bishops’ request for an apostolic investigation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released a second “testimony,” more narrowly drawn and indicating which documents the Holy See needs to release to discover the truth about the disgraced archbishop.

On Aug. 25, after Archbishop McCarrick had been suspended from public ministry by Pope Francis and resigned from the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Viganò released his explosive “testimony,” a document both reckless and pointed, calling for Pope Francis to resign because, Archbishop Viganò claimed, he had removed private sanctions placed on Archbishop McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 or 2009.

The August testimony also criticized by name dozens of other prelates for specific acts, while others were subjected to a drive-by smear.

Despite the problems with Archbishop Viganò’s original testimony, it made specific claims about how allegations of sexual impropriety against Archbishop McCarrick were handled from the time of his appointment as archbishop of Washington through to his retirement and afterward.

Archbishop Viganò claimed a documentary trail that would verify his claims — documents that are in the archives of the apostolic nunciature in Washington, the Secretariat of State in Rome, and the Congregation for Bishops.

In response to those accusations, Pope Francis resolved to “say not one word” about them, inviting journalists to look into the matter. But the documents will not be released.

Archbishop Viganò’s second testimony, dated Sept. 29, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, reviews the month since his first testimony and makes six key points:

  • Archbishop Viganò insists that he revealed what he did solely for the good of the Church, calling it “the most painful and serious decision that I have ever made in my life.” He declares with a “clear conscience before God that my testimony is true.” Archbishop Viganò thus rejects the criticism that his testimony was motivated by a desire to settle old scores or to lead a coup against Pope Francis.
  • He confesses to breaking the pontifical secret in revealing what he knows, but claims that “the purpose of any secret, including the pontifical secret, is to protect the Church from her enemies, not to cover up and become complicit in crimes committed by some of her members.”
  • He argues that it would be easy, if he were lying, for the Holy See to assemble the documentation that would demonstrate that. “Neither the Pope nor any of the cardinals in Rome have denied the facts I asserted in my testimony,” Archbishop Viganò writes. “How can one avoid concluding that the reason they do not provide the documentation is that they know it confirms my testimony?”
  • Archbishop Viganò takes issue with the Holy Father’s daily homilies, which he calls an attack upon his motivations and character: “Now, the Pope’s reply to my testimony was: ‘I will not say a word!’ But then, contradicting himself, he has compared his silence to that of Jesus in Nazareth and before Pilate and compared me to the great accuser, Satan, who sows scandal and division in the Church, though without ever uttering my name.”
  • Archbishop Viganò argues that the alleged rehabilitation of McCarrick by Pope Francis would be consistent with other decisions Pope Francis has taken, especially in regard to a recently reported story that the Holy Father ordered a halt to an investigation of allegations against the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, being undertaken by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  •  Archbishop Viganò concludes with a “special appeal” to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to release the documents that Archbishop Viganò argues would demonstrate the truth of his testimony.

What is new from the original testimony?

First, Archbishop Viganò has adopted a more narrowly focused tone and chosen not to repeat the demand for a papal resignation, a needlessly inflammatory addition. Not that he has backed off his severe criticism of Pope Francis, asking whether “Christ has become invisible to his vicar?”

It appears that, while Archbishop Viganò has toned down some of his rhetoric, he is still willing to unnecessarily judge the motivations and interior disposition of others. It is the actual decisions taken that can, and ought to be, investigated.

Second, the former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., in his “special appeal” to Cardinal Ouellet, has underscored that the key Roman facts about Archbishop McCarrick are relatively easy to get at. Crux has reported that Cardinal Ouellet has given the files to the Secretariat of State, which is preparing some sort of response.

The credibility of that response depends upon access to the documents; a heavily redacted report that obscures more than it illuminates will only further damage the Church’s credibility. So while Cardinal Ouellet may not be the one to release the documents, he is in a position to ensure that what is released is accurate.

Third, Archbishop Viganò will gain some sympathy as the first senior prelate to publicly object to the homiletic style of the Holy Father at his daily Masses. The daily castigations of those whom Pope Francis finds lacking have long been an irritant for many prelates and lay faithful around the world, a daily dose of severe judgments, harshly delivered. That the Holy Father would choose to liken Archbishop Viganò and his allies to Satan was thus not surprising, but it was provocative, and some will sympathize with the archbishop for pointing that out.

Fourth, Archbishop Viganò takes note of other stories that have broken since his testimony. In particular, one of Germany’s most prominent magazines, Der Spiegel, published a very critical cover story on Pope Francis — entitled “Thou Shalt Not Lie” — which focused on his handling of a notorious case in Buenos Aires, the Grassi case.

Possibly more critical, though, is new information reported by Marco Tosatti, who in 2017 originally reported that Pope Francis interrupted Cardinal Gerhard Müller during Mass to order an end to a CDF investigation.

Now, Tosatti reports that the investigation was into allegations against late Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. If Cardinal Müller were to confirm that new reporting, it would actually be more devastating than the alleged decisions of Pope Francis regarding Archbishop McCarrick.

Archbishop Viganò thus is arguing that, in addition to his documentary evidence, the claims that he makes fit a pattern.

The net result of the second Archbishop Viganò testimony is that the path of investigation is now more focused and clear. The Holy See, though, has rejected the request of the U.S. leadership to take that path. The result is that whatever report the Secretariat of State will produce is now the key to whether the Archbishop Viganò questions are resolved, or become even more contested.

Father Raymond J. de Souza is the editor in chief of Convivium magazine.