One week after the explosive allegations by one Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, we read this morning that the investigation is over. Vigano’s claims have been debunked by journalists, his credibility is in shambles, the Pope was right for staying silent, and now everyone should move on. We don’t even hear the calls for an investigation anymore from Vigano’s critics on his claims.
A funny thing happened on the way to the media “debunking” Vigano’s story. The media announced they have done no such thing. The New York Times Laurie Goldstein ran an article today making clear that she is unable to verify the contents of Vigano’s letter… because nobody will talk. Daniel Burke (CNN’s Religion editor) made clear to Austen Iverleigh that he does not view the media as having “debunked” the story, because Rome has refused to cooperate with verifying and investigating the claims. In the religious sphere, Catholic News Agency has made clear they are still very much investigating all claims. The media is not treating this as a past event. We do not know what will come of these endeavors. What we do know is that they are still very much ongoing, and far from winding down, one can reasonably speculate they are ramping up.
So, what do we know? Ironically, nothing more than we knew when the charges were made. People will try to tell you otherwise, but it is true. Only six days have passed. These kind of stories aren’t solved one way or the other in six days. Instead, we should be asking the following questions
Were Sanctions Imposed on Theodore McCarrick?
If you listen to critics of Archbishop Vigano’s testimony, this claim has been definitively refuted, and the evidence is cited as Edward Pentin’s August 31st article in which he notes that to the extent some sanctions were placed upon McCarrick, they were done so privately, not publicly, and in a more impromptu fashion, not through the promulgation of any definitive sentence. The sources quoted here have Benedict choosing this course out of wanting to put the issue to bed, given McCarricks advanced age, and the belief that, now as Pope, McCarrick would be more or less done with the public eye anyway. From this Dawn Eden infers that there is no document announcing the sanctions, so there is no sanction. This is a misunderstanding of Pentin’s words, and despite his repeated statements otherwise, people keep making it. That the people making it all seem to arrive at the same conclusion makes one wonder if there’s a reason they are jumping to this conclusion.
In the original story, Pentin reported the following:
The Register has independently confirmed that the allegations against McCarrick were certainly known to Benedict, and the Pope Emeritus remembers instructing Cardinal Bertone to impose measures but cannot recall their exact nature.
In 2011, on arrival in Washington D.C., Archbishop Viganò said he personally repeated the sanction to McCarrick. “The cardinal, muttering in a barely comprehensible way, admitted that he had perhaps made the mistake of sleeping in the same bed with some seminarians at his beach house, but he said this as if it had no importance,” Viganò recalled in his testimony.
Nowhere does Pentin say there was some documented sentence. If anything, the opposite is suggested even here. If Benedict “cannot recall their exact nature”, that would imply they were not in a formal decree, because you could easily look at a formal decree. Pentin made that clear in a followup.
None of the officials wished to respond to questions on the matter and the Holy See Press Office also declined to comment. That being the case, it would be helpful here to publish comments given to the Register in July — before Archbishop Viganò’s testimony had been written — about Benedict’s sanctions against McCarrick. The comments, provided by a reliable source close to Benedict, were given on condition of anonymity but nevertheless help shed more light on the matter.
The source said the allegations of abuse of seminarians by McCarrick, now 88, were “certainly something known” to Benedict. And, he said, “Certainly, it was known that McCarrick was a homosexual, that was an open secret, all were very aware of that.” (However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that Church authorities either in the Vatican or in the U.S. were aware of any allegations of sexual abuse of minors by McCarrick until long after Benedict had resigned as Pope.)
But, as mentioned in the Register’s initial report on the testimony on Aug. 25, the Pope Emeritus was “unable to remember very well” how the matter was handled, according to the source. As far as Benedict could recall, the source said the instruction was essentially that McCarrick should keep a “low profile.” There was “no formal decree, just a private request.”
While it was “just a private request” we now know that McCarrick was expelled from the seminary he was staying at, and forbidden from meeting with seminarians by the Archdiocese of Washington. The Archdiocese is clear that this was done on a request from the papal nuncio.
In order to believe this is a coincidence, one has to believe that a bishop just agreed to a request from the papal nuncio that a cardinal be banned from visiting seminarians in his diocese, despite the individual being a beloved figure. Bishops have no jurisdiction over Cardinals, only the Pope does. So if he took this on account from the nuncio, he did so with the understanding this was the Pope’s desire. Whatever nature the request was, it seems clear there was some form of punishment communicated regarding McCarrick from higher up.
If there isn’t a decree documented, what documents are there? According to Vigano, there are records of numerous conversations available in two sources: The Nunciature in Washington D.C., and the Congregation of Bishops dossier on the McCarrick matter. There is ample reason to believe these exist, for the simple reason that diplomats document EVERYTHING. It’s their job. Even the most mundane details are documented by diplomats for their representatives back home. If two different nuncios got into a verbal clash with the most powerful cardinal in America, there is going to be documented evidence of that clash in written form.
Likewise, it is highly likely that the investigation into Theodore McCarrick had been going on since at least Benedict’s pontificate. Even if they were informal, the Congregation would have some material that would form the basis of that informal judgement.
Finally, Vigano claims that there is documented proof that he informed Francis of the existence of these sanctions.
Unfortunately, these documents will be tough to procure, without explicit authorization from the Holy Father. The communications material of diplomats centers around sensitive correspondence and internal deliberations of a nation state. Any canonical investigation into Cardinal McCarrick is likely guarded by the pontifical secret, which would again require lifting the secret. The idea that Vigano should turn over the documents himself would imply that Vigano stole documents that were the express property of the Apostolic Nuncio when he left his role. Such would be a massive scandal if he did such.
So what actually happened?
Put simply, we don’t know. We aren’t any closer to knowing than we were last week. We can only guess, so I will offer my guess:
There were private sanctions instituted upon Cardinal McCarrick by Benedict XVI. These were not really enforced because few had the will to enforce them, and since McCarrick was old and mostly out of power, Benedict chose not to pursue it further. Upon becoming Pope, Pope Francis relaxed those informal sanctions that were seldom enforced, consistent with his belief that zero tolerance was cruel, and that these were acts that were decades old that didn’t involve child abuse. Due to immense public outcry, he at least walked back these positions in public.
Back to being speculative, once Francis found out that the abuse allegations were more than just consensual sex with seminarians (whether that can be said not to be abuse is absolutely for another discussion), he re-instituted the penalties and made them even stricter. Like on the Chile affair with Bishop Barros, the manner in Italy with Msgr. Inzoli, the measures the Pope took caused more problems than they fixed.
What is likely to happen next?
The idea that this story will go away is clearly not going to happen. As noted in the beginning, secular and religious news organizations are crystal clear: they are still investigating. In the meantime, the American Bishops have made clear they are going to visit Rome and demand an independent investigation.Given that there are currently 26 bishops on record in favoring such an investigation in the United States, if one is not given, one could very well see the USCCB authorizing the creation of one of their own at their November meeting, and this one would have substantial lay involvement to help make it more independent. At that point, you’ll likely see the Vatican counter with their own proposal for an investigation, or for them to release something like what I speculated above.
What is clear is that this is most definitely not over.