In his first extended interview since he called on Pope Francis to resign last August, accusing the pontiff of covering up for a sexual abuser, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò corresponded by email with The Washington Post over two months, writing 8,000 words in response to nearly 40 questions. Here we present that exchange. Selected passages containing unverified allegations have been removed. Others have been lightly edited for clarity. The conversation took place in English.
VIGANÒ: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reply to your questions. I have done so as carefully as I can and out of love for the Church, which is going through one of the most turbulent moments in her history. My detailed answers are found after each of the questions, save those bearing on my personal situation, which I consider irrelevant to the serious problems facing the Church.
Together with many authentic, loving Catholic faithful, deacons, priests, bishops, and cardinals, I was praying intensely for the success of the February summit, and I would have rejoiced greatly had it been successful. The initiative of calling all the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the world for a meeting in Rome, a first-time event in the history of the Church, gave many people hope that the severe problems facing her would finally be addressed forthrightly.
Unfortunately, that initiative turned out to be pure ostentation, for we saw no sign of a genuine willingness to attend to the real causes of the present crisis. Indeed, Pope Francis’s choice of Cardinal [Blase] Cupich, [archbishop of Chicago,] as a leader of the event was itself disturbing. Cupich, you will recall, had stated that focusing on the sex abuse crisis was a “rabbit hole” the Church should not go down, and that Pope Francis had a “bigger agenda” and needed to “get on with other things,” such as “talking about the environment, and protecting migrants.” This, from the man handpicked by the pope to deal with the crisis! Cupich’s comments created negative publicity, and he eventually apologized for them, but only after his charge that the interview was unfairly edited proved groundless. I see no evidence that he is committed to cleaning up the mess and exposing coverups.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Cupich specifically referred to Viganò’s August testimony as a “rabbit hole.”]
The press conferences during the summit were also discouraging. Journalists, especially some courageous women of great experience and professionalism, including some from the secular media, tried in vain to get answers that might have offered a minimum of credibility to the summit. To cite just one example, Archbishop [Charles] Scicluna, was caught by surprise with a question about the pope covering up in the scandalous case of Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta — “How can we believe that this is in fact the last time we’re going to hear ‘no more coverups’ when at the end of the day, Pope Francis covered up for someone in Argentina who had gay porn involving minors?” — uttered these embarrassing words: “About the case, I’m not, I’m not, you know, I’m not authorized . . . ” Scicluna’s inept response gave the impression that he needed to be authorized — you may wonder by whom — to tell the truth! Vatican interim press office director Alessandro Gisotti quickly intervened to assure the reporters that an investigation had been launched, and that once it was completed they would be informed of the results. One may be forgiven for wondering whether the results of an honest and thorough investigation really will be released and in a timely fashion. Gisotti added that questions about specific cases were not permitted. There is a certain irony here: This exchange happened while Cupich and Scicluna were discussing what they themselves called transparency.
An especially serious problem is that the summit focused exclusively on the abuse of minors. These crimes are indeed the most horrific, but the recent crises in the United States, in Chile, in Argentina, in Honduras and elsewhere have to do mostly with abuses committed against young adults, including seminarians, not only, nor mostly, against minors. Indeed, if the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood were honestly acknowledged and properly addressed, the problem of sexual abuse would be far less severe.
The signs I see are truly ominous. Not only is Pope Francis doing close to nothing to punish those who have committed abuse, he is doing absolutely nothing to expose and bring to justice those who have, for decades, facilitated and covered up the abusers. Just to cite one example: Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl, who covered up the abuses of [then-Cardinal Theodore] McCarrick and others for decades, and whose repeated and blatant lies have been made manifest to everyone who has been paying attention, had to resign in disgrace due to popular outrage. Yet, in accepting his resignation, Pope Francis praised him for his “nobility.” What credibility has the pope left after this kind of statement?
McCarrick’s degradation from office was, as far as it goes, a just punishment, but there is no legitimate reason why it was not exacted more than five years earlier, and after a proper trial with a judicial procedure. Those with authority to act (i.e. Pope Francis) knew everything they needed to know by June of 2013. Yet my testimony of last August almost certainly accelerated this punishment, which shifted public focus onto McCarrick and away from those who long knew of his crimes and profited by his patronage. Even after the publication of the statement on McCarrick by Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan on June 20, 2018, there was plenty of time for a trial, but it would have been too damaging for many prominent members of the Curia and of course for Pope Francis himself. So, instead of a proper judicial procedure, after more than seven months of total silence, an administrative procedure was deliberately chosen. It is hard to avoid concluding that the timing was designed to manipulate public opinion. Condemning McCarrick as a scapegoat with an exemplary punishment — it was the first time in Church history that a cardinal was reduced to the lay state — would support the narrative that Pope Francis was firmly determined to fight against clergy sexual abuse.
According to a statement issued by the Press Office of the Holy See on Feb. 16, 2019, McCarrick was found guilty by the CDF of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment” with both minors and adults, with “the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The penalty imposed was laicization, which Pope Francis confirmed as “definitive.” In this way McCarrick, who has always declared himself innocent, was deprived of any opportunity to appeal the sentence. Where is the due process? Is this how justice is done in the Vatican?
Moreover, having made the sentence definitive, the pope has made it impossible to conduct any further investigation, which could have revealed who in the Curia and elsewhere knew of McCarrick’s abuses, when they knew it, and who helped him to be named archbishop of Washington and eventually a cardinal. Note, by the way, that the documents of this case, whose publication had been promised, have never been produced.
The bottom line is this: Pope Francis is deliberately concealing the McCarrick evidence.
I repeat it firmly before God: Pope Francis learned about McCarrick from me on Sunday 23 June 2013, 40 minutes before the Angelus. I told him of McCarrick’s abuses after the pope himself, on his own initiative, asked me about McCarrick.
But let us consider the far more important spiritual dimension, which was completely absent from any declaration about McCarrick or any press conference at the summit. The most important purpose of penalties in the canonical order is repentance and conversion: “Suprema ratio est salus animarum” (the supreme law is the salvation of souls). I believe, therefore, that the mere “reduction to the lay state” is completely inadequate, because it does not provide a remedy and does not express the concern for the most important purpose of punishment, namely, the salvation of McCarrick’s soul.
Indeed, unless it is accompanied by other measures, a simple laicization could be considered an expression of contempt for the lay state. The idea that a prelate who misbehaves is punished by being “reduced” to the lay state smacks of clericalism. As Professor Scott Hahn argues, it undermines the meaning of the universal call to holiness.
I believe, and I am not the only one, that the penalty of excommunication — from which he can be absolved at any time — should also be imposed on McCarrick. As an appropriately dosed medication, it would be imposed to induce him to take responsibility for his sins, to repent, to be reconciled with God, and thus to save his soul.
Had interference not occurred, the November meeting of the USCCB would unquestionably have examined the problems of episcopal corruption, episcopal coverups and mendacity, episcopal sexual misdeeds, both with minors and adults — any of which would intolerably implicate and embarrass the Holy See. The shutdown was wholly unjustified in itself but proceeded from panic. The American bishops were exercising their legitimate duties and responsibilities, and one wonders how a pope who calls for “synodality” could carry out such an intrusion.
In the Gospel we read: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Mt.10:24-25). I am the servant of my master.
No one has plausibly denied the facts I stated in my original testimony because no one can deny the truth. The cardinals and archbishops I named do not want to be caught lying, and they apparently think they are so powerful as to be untouchable if only they stay quiet and lie low. The real question is, why are journalists letting them get away with this?
Not only have my testimonies not been denied, but some of the facts they contain have been independently confirmed. To cite just two examples, the letter of [then-Archbishop Leonardo] Sandri to [New York] Father [Boniface] Ramsey confirmed my assertion that Vatican officials knew of the McCarrick allegations as early as 2000, and Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet, in his open letter to me, confirmed that he told me in person and then put in writing the restrictions imposed by Pope Benedict on McCarrick.
As for Pope Francis, his answer to my testimony was “I will not say a single word about this.” Would he have said that if he knew my testimony were false? Is it not, rather, precisely what a person says who knows but does not want to admit that testimony is true? Is it not what you Americans call “taking the fifth?” By responding as he did, the pope is essentially admitting that he is unwilling to be transparent. Still, the facts remain. McCarrick was a personal friend of Francis for decades before he was elected pope. Francis knew of his crimes, yet rehabilitated him, made him his personal envoy and trusted adviser, and appointed bishops and cardinals who are well-known proteges of McCarrick. Yet he will not say one word about this. Is it surprising that many have interpreted the pope’s answer as manifesting contempt for both the victims and those who want the coverup to end? Ironically, however, the pope’s persistent silence, which has become more and more deafening, ultimately bears witness to the truth of my testimony.
One might point out, to take an analogous case, that Theodore McCarrick has been and remains totally at liberty to speak on any subject to any audience throughout the whole affair. The only reason for him not to speak is that, by doing so, he would make himself worse off than he is already. As a matter of human temperament, neither McCarrick nor Pope Francis have a reputation as men of few words.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Viganò added this after Francis discussed the accusations last month in an interview]
VIGANÒ: It is immensely sad to read Pope Francis’s answers about the McCarrick case, not to mention everything else. He first says that he has already replied many times; second, that he knew nothing, absolutely nothing about McCarrick, and third, that he forgot about my conversation with him. How may these claims be affirmed and sustained together at the same time? All these three are blatant lies.
First, for nine long months he did not say a word about my testimony, and even bragged and continues to do so about his silence, comparing himself to Jesus. So, either he spoke or he kept silent. Which is it?
Second, everybody knew about McCarrick’s lifelong predatory behavior, from the youngest seminarian in Newark to the highest-ranking prelates in the Vatican.
Third, I repeat in front of God what I stated in my testimony from last August: On June 23rd, 2013 Pope Francis himself asked me about McCarrick, and I told him that there was a huge dossier about his abuses at the Congregation of Bishops, and that he corrupted generations of seminarians. How could anybody, especially a pope, forget this? If he really knew nothing until that day, how could he ignore my warning, and continue to rely on McCarrick as one of his closest advisers?
We are in a truly dark moment for the universal Church: The Supreme Pontiff is now blatantly lying to the whole world to cover up his wicked deeds! But the truth will eventually come out, about McCarrick and all the other coverups, as it already has in the case of Cardinal Wuerl, who also “knew nothing” and had “a lapse of memory.”
I can only ask impartial persons to examine the decisions that marked my career to see if they smack of ambitious careerism and lust for promotion. By the same token, impartial persons might ask who most profits from dismissal of the Viganò testimony on the grounds of unseemly motivation?
Allow me to repeat this one more time. I am an old man and will be appearing in front of the Good Judge before too long. My silence would make me complicit with the abusers and lead to yet more victims. I know that I am motivated by these concerns, and God knows it. I cannot worry about what others think about my motivation.
In any case, my motivation is not the point, and questions about it are a distraction. The truly important question is whether my testimony is true. I stand by it, and I urge investigations so that the facts may appear. Unfortunately, those who impugn my motives have been unwilling to conduct open and thorough investigations.
I am saddened that the major news media are not insisting that Pope Francis and other prelates answer my charges, and I cannot imagine that they would have been so timid had the pope in question been John Paul II or Benedict XVI. It is difficult to avoid concluding that these media are reluctant to do so because they appreciate Pope Francis’s more liberal approach to matters of Church doctrine and discipline, and do not want to jeopardize his agenda. Yet what we are talking about here are very serious crimes, often involving minors and allegations of coverup. With few exceptions, and those belonging to peripheral organs, the media have failed to tackle the “crime behind the crime” and put the obvious questions to the obvious people: Where are the archives with documents of the type pertinent to Viganò’s claims? Who has access and authority to publish the documents? Who has in fact examined them and when? What did they find or fail to find? What efforts at corroboration have been made and by whom? Who is coordinating the investigation of McCarrick? Have McCarrick’s proteges Cupich and [Cardinal Joseph] Tobin been included in the investigation — if not, why not? This is just the beginning.
In short, journalists should be digging for the facts, interviewing the victims, following the money and promotion trails, and uncovering the corrupt networks. There are so many cases to go after. Just to cite one: Have you read the recent book by Martha Alegria Reichmann, about the misdeeds of Cardinal [Oscar Andrés Rodriguez] Maradiaga, chosen by Pope Francis as a trusted senior adviser, in fact the head of the C-9 council? Have you thought of interviewing her? Of investigating her claims? Of requesting an interview with Maradiaga to ask him about all the accusations that have been leveled against him? Of asking Pope Francis why he picked such a man as his adviser?
Let’s keep two arenas distinct: (1) crimes of sexual abuse and (2) criminal coverup of crimes of sexual abuse. In most cases in the Church today, both have a homosexual component — usually downplayed — that is key to the crisis.
As to the first, heterosexual men obviously do not choose boys and young men as sexual partners of preference, and approximately 80 percent of the victims are males, the vast majority of which are post-pubescent males. Statistics from many different countries regarding sexual abuses committed by clergy leave no doubt. Horrific as the cases of abuse by true pedophiles are, the percentage is far smaller. It is not pedophiles but gay priests preying on post-pubertal boys who have bankrupted the U.S. dioceses. One of the most recent and reliable studies, “Is Catholic clergy sex abuse related to homosexual priests,” was conducted by Father Paul Sullins, PhD, of the Ruth Institute. In its executive summary, the Sullins study reports, among other things, the following:
●“The share of homosexual men in the priesthood rose from twice that of the general population in the 1950s to eight times the general population in the 1980s. This trend was strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse.”
●“Estimates from these findings predict that, had the proportion of homosexual priests remained at the 1950s level, at least 12,000 fewer children, mostly boys, would have suffered abuse.”
The preponderance of these cases of abuse is overwhelming. I do not think anyone can dispute this. That homosexuality is a major cause of the sexual abuse crisis has also been stated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his recent essay, “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.” From his long experience as president of the CDF, he recalls how “in various seminaries homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”
Given the overwhelming evidence, it is mind-boggling that the word “homosexuality” has not appeared once, in any of the recent official documents of the Holy See, including the two Synods on the Family, the one on Youth, and the recent Summit last February.
As to the second arena, the “gay mafia” among bishops is bound together not by shared sexual intimacy but by a shared interest in protecting and advancing one another professionally and sabotaging all efforts at reform. In his aforementioned essay, Pope Emeritus Benedict noted that a Vatican investigation of seminaries, including the problem of homosexual cliques, “brought no new insights, apparently because various powers had joined forces to conceal the true situation,” and his observation lends credence to my testimony that a powerful network of prelates has, for decades, covered up the abuses. Is there a single active bishop in the United States who admits he is actively homosexual? Of course not. Their work is constitutionally clandestine.
My stay in the United States and the presence of a “very strong and defined subculture of church conservatism/traditionalism,” as you put it, have nothing whatsoever to do with my view on homosexuality. My view has been and will always remain faithful to the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church, which is aptly summarized in the Catechism:
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law” (CCC, 2357). The Catechism goes on to say that the inclination to engage in such acts (rather than the persons themselves, who should not be defined by this inclination) is “objectively disordered” and “constitutes for most of them a trial.” The Church does not respond by condemning them. Quite the contrary, she teaches: “They must be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” (CCC, 2358)
The Catechism insists that those who experience this inclination are, like everyone else, called to chastity. This is a beautiful teaching, for the Church affirms the dignity of those who experience same- sex attraction precisely by affirming that by cultivating virtue, they can attain inner freedom and, with the help of genuine friendship, prayer, and sacramental grace, “resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC, 2359).
To this date, there are no indications such an investigation has even begun. I know for a fact that the results of an honest investigation would be disastrous for the current papacy, and those responsible for initiating the work know this as well. I can only conclude that the assurance of an appropriate archival investigation was an empty promise.
I sincerely wish that all documents, if they have not already been destroyed, would be released. It is entirely possible that this would harm the reputation of Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II, but that is not a good reason for not seeking the truth. Benedict XVI and John Paul II are human beings, and may well have made mistakes. If they did, we want to know about them. Why should they remain hidden? We can all learn from our mistakes.
I myself regret not having spoken publicly earlier. As I already said, I had truly hoped against hope that the Church could reform itself from within. But when it became clear that the successor of Peter himself was one of those covering up the crimes, I had no doubt that the Lord was calling me to speak up, as I have done and will continue to do.
A schism is the most terrible affliction that the Church, the body of Christ, can endure, and as the history of the Church teaches, it can have lasting consequences. We should pray that such a catastrophe never again befall her. A formal schism (involving mutual excommunication of validly ordained bishops and subsequent lay realignment) seems unlikely at the moment. However, there is already a de facto schism based on acceptance or rejection of the sexual revolution. And there is a risk is of formal schism, which could be provoked by an act of grotesque papal irresponsibility (e.g., if he were to answer the long-ignored dubia about the teaching of Amoris Laetitia in a manner contrary to previous Church teaching).
Jesus is the only leader of the Church. He is the head of the Church, which is His body. All of us, the pope included, have just one Lord. Regarding my role, as a Christian and bishop I have the duty to witness to the truth without fear, and like Timothy “to preach the gospel in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4: 2). No pope can dispense from that duty, and if a man faithfully fulfills it, he cannot be rebellious in any but an honorable sense. Dishonorably rebellious are those who presume to break or change the perennial tradition of the Church.
I did the best I could with my testimony, and the Lord asks no more than that. I stand by that testimony. Still, I am far from perfect, and I can see, in retrospect, how certain points might have been better stated. I can see that it would have been better to address the matter you ask about in the following way, beginning with a point I included in my third testimony:
“I am asking, indeed earnestly begging, the Holy Father to face up to the commitments he himself made in assuming his office as successor of Peter. He took upon himself the mission of confirming his brothers and guiding all souls in following Christ, in the spiritual combat, along the way of the cross. Let him admit his errors, repent, show his willingness to follow the mandate given to Peter and, once converted, let him confirm his brothers (Lk 22:32).”
I would have pointed out that Saint Peter himself denied Christ three times, but then wept bitterly and repented. Then I would have said what I say now: May Pope Francis imitate St. Peter! But if Pope Francis refuses to admit his mistakes and ask for forgiveness, so he can carry out the mandate he received from Christ, he should resign.
My feelings, in a matter of this gravity, are of no consequence. I spoke what I believed needed to be spoken, lest the falsehoods go unchallenged and harm my soul and the souls of others.
I answer this question with reluctance, as this puts the focus on me rather than on what is important.
My life has not changed very much. Of course, I have to be more careful about whom I meet and what I say, but I have been blessed with a large family, and many friends who have been supportive. I see them regularly and their closeness is a source of great consolation for me.
Perhaps the biggest change after my first testimony is the incredible outpouring of support that I receive daily from all over the world. There are thousands of Catholics who are praying for me and with me for the conversion of Pope Francis and for the healing of the Church.
All in all, very little has changed. I am doing what I have been doing all my life: Since I have been ordained a priest I have been trying to serve the people of God, in obedience, wherever I was asked to go. I am just a simple person who is trying to do his best, and I have been blessed to receive very good examples from holy and dedicated priests during my whole life.
Forgive me for being surprised by this question but . . . why would I not say Mass? We’re speaking about the Bread of Life! Of course I celebrate Mass, every day, like any other priest in good standing.
I have never ceased praying for the pope; I never will.
Apart from the open letter from Cardinal Ouellet, to which I have already responded, no one has contacted me about anything.
As I said, there is nothing I am aware of. Would it not be amazing if the whistleblower ended up being investigated, instead of the prelates who cover up abuse?
I have never been abused or personally witnessed abuse, thank God. But any decent human being, victim or not, would empathize with and desire to help the victims.
I have already answered this above and in my previous testimonies.
I am not. The Lord is my constant companion.
My conscience has always been clear about this: The truth makes us free.
I was inspired by Blessed Cardinal Newman who said, “if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, I shall drink — to the pope, if you please — still, to Conscience first, and to the pope afterwards,” and by Saint John Fisher, the sole bishop of the Catholic Church in England who did not bend to Henry VIII. These his words are so appropriate for our time: “The light of good example is extinguished in those who ought to shine as luminaries to the whole world, like watchtowers and beacons on the mountains. No light, alas! comes from them, but horrid darkness and pestilent mischief, by which innumerable souls are falling into destruction.” (Blessed John Fisher, by Rev. T.E. Bridgett, London (1888), p. 435)
My life is quite normal, thank you for asking.
The premise of your question is incorrect. I am not fighting against Pope Francis, nor have I offended him. I have simply spoken the truth. Pope Francis needs to reconcile himself with God, and the entire Church, since he covered up for McCarrick, refuses to admit it, and is now covering up for several other people. I am grateful to the Lord because He has protected me from having any sentiments of anger or resentment against Pope Francis, or any desire for revenge. I pray for his conversion every day. Nothing would make me happier than for Pope Francis to acknowledge and end the coverups, and to confirm his brothers in the faith.
I served the Holy See for 43 years with great joy and full dedication, with spiritual and human satisfaction. Of course with my many limits, but trusting in my superiors who were always good and appreciative of my collaboration. Sometimes I accepted risky missions, such as those in Iraq, Kuwait and Nigeria. I had excellent relations with superiors, colleagues, and lay co-workers. Cardinal Bertone, after being appointed secretary of state, found a way to get rid of me because I refused to approve unworthy candidates that he was pushing to be made bishops: He offered me the position of secretary general of the governorate. It was certainly not a promotion, but I accepted gladly.
There are no reasons why I should regret having served the Holy See. I have always tried to follow the will of God through obedience. I never asked for a promotion, and I do not regret having turned down the proposal of Pope Benedict, who offered me a position of cardinal in the Curia. Those who plotted my departure from Rome thought they were going to get rid of me. Little did they know that the Lord was using them to put me in a position to speak out about the McCarrick scandal.
The time has not yet come for me to release anything. I suggest you ask Pope Francis and the prelates I named in my testimony to release the relevant documentation, some of which is quite incriminating, assuming they have not yet destroyed it.
See the previous question.
VIGANÒ: In conclusion, I wish to point out that the current crisis is not a power struggle between progressive and conservatives, between left and right. Neither is it primarily about the sexual misbehavior of the clergy, or the prevalence of active homosexuals in the clergy, though these grave problems, which are perennial in the Church, are especially severe now. The crisis is about the fact that a corrupt “mafia” has taken control of many institutions of the Church, from the top down, and is exploiting the Church and the faithful for its own immoral purposes. As I noted above, this coalition is bound together not by shared sexual intimacy but by a shared interest in protecting and advancing one another professionally and in sabotaging every effort to reform the sexual corruption. Yet the members of this alliance, and those who fear its wrath, are the only ones with the authority to correct the problem through proper judicial procedures, the imposition of discipline and the reaffirmation of sound teaching.
This is causing an institutional paralysis that is immensely demoralizing for the faithful. That said, we should be neither entirely surprised nor overly disturbed by this desperate state of affairs, given the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to come again and establish his definitive kingdom. I conclude by quoting a sobering passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which seems to be verified in our own age:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. (CCC, 675)
+ Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop of Ulpiana Apostolic Nuncio
May 2, 2019 Feast of St. Athanasius Bishop and Doctor of the Church