VATICAN CITY (AP) — The author of the bombshell accusation of sex abuse cover-up against Pope Francis denied Wednesday he acted out of revenge or anger, breaking his silence as his claims continued to divide a Catholic Church already polarized under Francis’ reformist agenda.
While the Vatican is no stranger to scandal, leaks or plots, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s j’accuse has weakened a papacy already under fire for Francis’ poor record on dealing with sex abuse cases, and has intensified a long-simmering ideological battle between right and left for the soul of the Catholic Church.
Vigano told an Italian journalist he was “serene and at peace” after publishing his allegation-laden declaration, albeit saddened by subsequent attempts to undermine his credibility.
“I spoke out because by now the corruption has arrived at the top of the church hierarchy,” Vigano was quoted as saying.
For the church’s conservatives, Vigano’s 11-page manifesto, published on Sunday, is a courageous denunciation of sex abuse cover-up and corruption. For Francis’ reformist supporters, it’s an angry diatribe from a homophobic bishop embittered that he never got the cardinal’s red hat he so craved.
Both sides, however, agree Vigano’s accusations require a response given that, as the former chief Vatican diplomat in the U.S., he was in a position to know certain information. Francis’ decision to punt — “I won’t say a word on this,” he declared Sunday — hasn’t helped his cause or satisfied the faithful.
“I do think this is a crisis in trust and authority that comes really close to the Lutheran Reformations in the early 16th century,” said Christopher Bellitto, church historian at Kean University in New Jersey. “It’s like a marriage: When trust is questioned you can go forward, but it’s not the same.”
In his letter Vigano accused a long list of U.S. and Vatican officials — including Popes Benedict XVI and Francis — of covering up for ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, whose penchant for sleeping with seminarians was apparently an open secret in some church circles for over a decade.
Francis last month removed McCarrick as a cardinal and ordered him to a lifetime of penance and prayer after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he groped a teen-age altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
Up until then, the only accusations against McCarrick had involved sleeping with adult seminarians — a clear abuse of power that was perhaps quietly tolerated in the pre-#MeToo era, but doesn’t fly now.
Vigano said he informed Francis of McCarrick’s history with seminarians at a meeting on June 23, 2013, and accused the pope of turning a blind eye and effectively rehabilitating McCarrick from the sanctions he claims Benedict had imposed in 2009 or 2010.
There is ample evidence, however, that any sanctions, if they existed, were never fully enforced since McCarrick travelled widely for the church in those years and participated in official church functions, including alongside Vigano, who was responsible for enforcing the sanctions.
Vigano insisted Francis must resign, given the explosion of the McCarrick scandal in the U.S. and a string of other gay sex abuse and cover-up cases in the church in Chile, Honduras and Australia that have implicated several of Francis’ top advisers.
Massimo Franco, a columnist for Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, said the silence from the Vatican is telling.
“I think that in this case, if these allegations were ‘fake news,’ I think someone would have spoken out on behalf of the pope,” he told The Associated Press. “What is striking is the general silence.”