When Pope Francis told journalists in essence to look into the “testimony” the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, released last summer, we all thought he meant that we should look into the allegations it contained. It turns out, Pope Francis meant we should look into Viganò. He wanted journalists to “discover” that Viganò was in the middle of an ugly family squabble.
A Milanese judge eventually decided against Archbishop Viganò in the civil dispute with his brother (who is also a cleric) over a good chunk of family money. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here are the Pope’s ipsissima verba (in the Catholic World Report’s English translation from the official transcript):
NT: Do you remember when they told you, 8 months ago: there is a statement from the former Nuncio, [Archbishop] Carlo Maria Viganò, who says he himself told you who McCarrick was — at an audience at the beginning of your pontificate — and that you did nothing? You only said: “I will not answer. Judge for yourselves. I will respond in due time.”
That silence has weighed a lot, because for the press and for many people, when one is silent, it is like between husband and wife, isn’t it? You catch your husband and he doesn’t answer you and you say, “There’s something wrong here.” So, why the silence?
The time has come to answer that question that we asked you on the plane. More than eight months have passed, Pope Francis.
PF: Yes, those who made Roman law say that silence is a way of speaking. In that case I had seen the letter — I had read a little of it — but had not read the whole letter, so I made a choice: that I should trust the honesty of the journalists. And I said to you, “Look, you have everything here, study and draw the conclusions.” And this you did, because you did the work, and in this case it was fantastic. I took great care not to say things that weren’t there, but then, three or four months later, a judge in Milan gave them when he sentenced him.
Journalists were going to look into Viganò anyway, but for the record: the dispute over family money between the former nuncio and his brother — also a cleric — was not a secret. Televisa’s Alazraki did the job, though, asking Francis, “You’re talking about [the business with] his family?” Francis replies:
Clearly. I kept silence, because [otherwise] I would have had to throw mud. Let it be journalists, who find out. And you discovered it, you found that whole world. It was a silence based on trust in you. Not only that, but I also told you: “Take [Viganò’s dossier], study it, that’s all,” and the result was good — better than if I had started to explain, to defend myself. You judge evidence in hand.
There is another thing that has always struck me: the silences of Jesus. Jesus always responded, even to his enemies when they provoked him, “You can do this, that,” to see if he fell for their provocation. He answered in those cases. When it became fierce, however, on Good Friday, before the fury of the people, He fell silent. At one point Pilate himself said, “Why don’t you answer me?” That is, in the face of a climate of fury there cannot be any response. That letter was a fury, as you yourself have realized from the results. Some of you even wrote that it was paid for. I don’t know [about that] – I haven’t seen any proof of it. (Sp. Esto no me consta.).
I’ve never bought into the whole Viganò as Knight in Shining Armor narrative. In fact, I’m on record as finding comparison of the former nuncio to Joe Valachi far more apt than comparison of him to Frank Serpico. Still, one wonders at this point whether perhaps Francis rails against gossip for the same reason the televangelist Jim Bakker used to rail against sexual impropriety. It has often seemed to me that, in his fervorini following the Readings of the Day at Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, he is preaching to himself at least as much as he is to the congregation.
His scriptis, it is important to realize that Viganò was never accused of criminal theft, that inheritance law is particularly intricate even by the byzantine measure of Italian civil law courts, and family squabbles notorious for bringing out the worst in the squabblers. The internecine fighting of a wealthy and prominent Italian family makes for a good soap opera treatment, but it is ultimately a red herring.
As I’ve said here and elsewhere, Viganò could be a living saint: but, if his recollection is not accurate, then he would still have done grave injustice to the person of the Holy Father and serious damage to the Office of Peter, along with incalculable harm to the faith and to the People of God. If, however, the former Nuncio’s recollection is accurate, then he could be the devil himself, and he still would have given Pope Francis a report of McCarrick’s depraved character, which Francis still should have taken seriously, and apparently didn’t.
Pope Francis, by the way, went on to say that he could not remember whether Viganò had mentioned Uncle Ted to him. Francis seems to have a tough time remembering lots of things. He can’t remember what he told the Argentinian woman who wrote to him seeking counsel on her irregular marital situation and her relationship with the Church.
Pope Francis has never said what happened to the letter Juan Carlos Cruz wrote him. One wonders what happened to it, especially since the Pope reportedly received it some three years before he claimed never to have received any proof evidence against Bishop Juan Barros. In the absence of a paper trail, “I don’t recall,” is usually enough to keep a formal indictment at arm’s length from heads of state (from ones, at least, who are subject to the law), but Pope Francis is not subject to any earthly judgment. He doesn’t have to run for re-election, either.
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