While the Church in the United States faces the prospect of an autumn to make Chile’s seem tame and even idyllic by comparison, the grotesque spectacle of “he said / he said” continues at the highest levels of ecclesiastical governance. To call it enervating would be terrible understatement. Wretched as the business is, three things nonetheless emerge from Archbishop Viganò’s latest “testimony” that are worthy of note, not least because they offer some inkling of a way through this lamentable morass:
- Viganò’s claims are subject to verification (or falsification) of a documentary nature;
- Viganò concedes the semantic point regarding “sanctions” even as he reaffirms the substance of his allegation with regard to them, noting rightly that Cardinal Ouellet in his own letter confirms that specific allegation’s substantial correctness;
- Viganò abandons his call for Pope Francis to renounce the See of Rome.
It may well be that the best we dare hope in the way of a resolution is the “documentary review” Pope Francis has promised. Viganò’s affirmations in these regards tell us what we know ought to be there, on file. If the documents he has indicated are there, they will either bear him out, or not. If they should not be forthcoming, a full investigation will be inevitable. This provides a frame for the issues, which does not rely on personality, character, or motive for their resolution.
The semantic concession likewise strikes an acceptable compromise and allows discussion to move past what is in any case a secondary, if not an ancillary point. It comes to an admission of poorly chosen language. An outright apology for such a poor choice of words would perhaps have been preferable, but the perfect ought never be the enemy of the good. After all, the former nuncio did receive substantial vindication on this and several other matters of substance.
As far as resolution of the impasse is concerned, the third point is the most important, for it speaks directly to the principal cause of the Pope’s recalcitrance and entrenched refusal to investigate Archbishop Viganò’s claims: the plausible charge of rebellion.
In his original letter, Archbishop Viganò concluded with a call for Pope Francis to resign — his word — for the good of the Church. That appeal was premature and deeply misguided. It framed the controversy in starkly political terms, and put Francis on the defensive, precisely when Francis needed to be persuaded of the practical political advantages in full disclosure.
In short, Archbishop Viganò exposed himself to being cast, rightly or wrongly, as the Pope’s enemy — a mitred Catiline — when he needed to be a Cicero (if he could not be a Damian).
If Viganò’s allegations are correct, it is difficult to avoid his conclusion. We must avoid it, nonetheless. Another renunciation would cripple the Papacy in a manner far more severe and lasting than would a few more years with a morally crippled Pope on the throne. Francis must reign when he breathes his last.
Archbishop Viganò now professes something like loyal opposition. “I am charged with disloyalty to the Holy Father and with fomenting an open and scandalous rebellion,” he writes. “Yet rebellion would entail urging others to topple the papacy. I am urging no such thing.” Viganò goes on to say:
I pray every day for Pope Francis — more than I have ever done for the other popes. 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).
That is still a hard thing for Pope Francis to hear, and might not strike him as perfectly fair. Nevertheless, it is a very different tune, and one that ought not be disagreeable to a leader graced with a moment’s magnanimity.
Archbishop Viganò’s closing paragraphs, however, represent a return to provocative — if not rebellious — form. In essence, he tells his brother bishops they have a choice between keeping silence or saying what they know. That is true, though Viganò places the matter in a way that equates silence with more-or-less willing complicity in wicked conspiracy. Said simply, that is unjust to men, who have sworn an oath to keep the secrets of their offices.
Archbishop Viganò believes his violation of his own oath justified by circumstance. He may well be right. Nevertheless, to hear him describe as cowards men who keep their oaths, without considering that they might do so honorably, or for reasons blameless if not praiseworthy, cannot fail to distress the candid observer.
Pope Francis could put an end to this whole debacle, by ordering an investigation worthy of the name. Archbishop Viganò has taken steps — small steps, but determined and measurable — toward the very reconciliation to which Cardinal Ouellet called him. The longer the good of the whole Church is held hostage to a clash of personality, the more, and more lasting damage will she suffer. Today, as yesterday, Pope Francis holds all the power to right the ship.
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