ROME, October 6th, 2018 — The Press Office of the Holy See released a communiqué on Saturday afternoon, offering the first direct response to the 11-page letter of “testimony” published in late August by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
The Vatican communiqué promises “to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.” The subject of the effort to ascertain “all the relevant facts” is to be “the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick.”
In other words: we are in essence looking at a promise to review documents on file.
The Holy See promises the review will be “thorough”, though it says nothing about who will be conducting the “thorough study” or with what precise mandate, let alone what powers of discovery — if any — those tasked with the “thorough study” are to have. The paperwork review will be “combined” with the information gathered during the Archdiocese of New York’s preliminary investigation, which the Archdiocese forwarded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is hard to say what the “thorough study” promised by the Vatican will be.
For one thing, “The entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick,” could be very vast, or relatively thin, depending on what construction one puts on the word “regarding”.
It is easy to say what the “thorough study” will not be: an independent, transparent, and credibly complete investigation, apt to discover the extent of the rot in the Roman Curia (let alone the reach of McCarrick’s corruption in the United States).
In his letter, Viganò alleged a coverup of the conduct of the disgraced former Archbishop of Washington, DC, going back nearly twenty years and involving three popes — including Francis — as well as three Cardinal Secretaries of State — including the current one, Cardinal Pietro Parolin — and dozens of other very senior Churchmen.
McCarrick fell spectacularly over the summer, but he did not rise alone, or unaided — and while he was ascendant, he brought men with him. The state of affairs leaves the entire US hierarchy under a cloud of suspicion. The US bishops’ credibility is in tatters, and they are by their own admission unable to police themselves. Their requests for assistance from Rome to investigate their own conduct have not been granted.
The announcement of a credible accusation and the referral of McCarrick’s case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came in June of this year. More than a month later, Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals. A statement from the Press Office of the Holy See announcing the acceptance of McCarrick’s resignation from the College reported that Pope Francis had also, “ordered [McCarrick’s] suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”
The Communiqué from the Holy See on Saturday reiterates the measures in place against McCarrick — suspension from ministry and a life of secluded prayer and penance — but made no mention of a trial. The Communiqué also promises, “The Holy See will, in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick,” though it is not clear from the Communiqué what “the matter” is.
There is language in the Communiqué to suggest we might expect some unflattering reports regarding Pope St. John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. “The Holy See,” the Communiqué says, “is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.”
It is also unlikely that either Cardinal Angelo Sodano or Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone — former Secretaries of State under Francis’s two most recent predecessors — will escape with their reputations intact. Both were implicated in Archbishop Viganò’s August letter. Both by rights ought to have known about McCarrick.
Sodano would have received the letter solicited by the Apostolic Nuncio to the US at the time, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. Written in late 2000 by Fr. Boniface Ramsey, OP, after the announcement of McCarrick’s appointment to Washington, the letter detailed reports Ramsey had heard from seminary students regarding McCarrick’s penchant for inviting himself into bed with seminarians.
Cardinal Bertone allegedly received evidence from Archbishop Viganò’s immediate predecessor, the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, stemming from an Indictment Memorandum prepared by a priest punished with laicization for abuse of minors, Gregory Littleton of Charlotte, and summarized by Viganò in his capacity as Delegate for Pontifical Representations.
“As Pope Francis has said,” the Communiqué continues — quoting the Holy Father’s own remarks of September 27th, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a group of victims of sexual abuse, “‘We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.’ Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.”
Right now, the path the Holy See is following seems to lead away from Pope Francis.
The concluding paragraph of the Communiqué commences with a renewal of Pope Francis’s “pressing invitation to unite forces to fight against the grave scourge of abuse within and beyond the Church, and to prevent such crimes from being committed in the future to the harm of the most innocent and most vulnerable in society.” It goes on to remind us of the meeting of the Presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, scheduled for February of the coming year.
The Communiqué then quotes the Holy Father’s August 20thLetter to the People of God.
“The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives,” the quoted portion says, “is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.”
This “thorough study” could be a very little step in the right direction — certainly too little and arguably too late, given the legitimate impatience of the faithful and the manifest readiness of Caesar to clean the Church’s house. There is little reason to credit it as anything other than a time-buying measure: in essence, a delaying tactic.
In any case, it is something for Pope Francis to talk of sharing responsibility for fixing this unholy mess, when he is the only one with any power to do any thing about it.