Skip to content

Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church: primer and reflections

Printer-friendly version

The Roman Catholic Church has been thrown into a major crisis after an 11-page statement was released by Archbishop Viganò which alleges corruption at the highest level in the Catholic Church and accuses Pope Francis of being involved in a cover-up. Archbishop Viganò calls for Pope Francis and several cardinals to resign for protecting a serial sexual abuser. So far, the Pope has declined to answer the questions raised. Tim Dieppe examines what has happened and hopes that this will lead to a clean-up of the Catholic Church.


Who is Archbishop Viganò?

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was appointed Secretary-General of the Governorate of Vatican City State in 2009 by Pope Benedict. This is a very senior appointment, second only to the President of the Governorate. Whilst in this position, he exposed alleged corruption in the Vatican, including blackmailing of homosexual priests. The exposure of this scandal became known as the Vatican leaks scandal, or Vatileaks.

Pope Benedict moved Archbishop Viganò, appointing him as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in 2011. We know from leaked letters that this was against the wishes of Archbishop Viganò at the time. He retired as required when he turned 75 years old in 2016.

What does his testimony say?

Archbishop Viganò’s testimony is an extraordinary 11-page document making serious allegations and naming several people as complicit in corruption. Here are the key points:

  1. Former Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, McCarrick seduced and requested depraved acts of seminarians and priests, inviting five men at a time to spend the weekend with him at his beach house. Archbishop Viganò wrote to Pope Benedict back in 2006 asking him to intervene to discipline Cardinal McCarrick. No response was received till 2009 or 2010. Archbishop Viganò believes that his letter may have been kept from Pope Benedict by pro-homosexual Cardinal Tarcisio.
  2. Archbishop Viganò then learnt that Pope Benedict had imposed sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick ordering him to leave the seminary, forbidding him to celebrate mass in public or to participate in public meetings, and obliging him to dedicate himself to a life of prayer and penance.
  3. Remarkably, Cardinal McCarrick defied Pope Benedict’s order!
  4. Archbishop Viganò then details a number of Cardinals who he believes were complicit in covering up for Cardinal McCarrick and allowing him to disobey Pope Benedict’s sanctions. He accuses one of these cardinals of lying shamelessly about this.
  5. Archbishop Viganò was asked by Pope Francis in a private meeting in 2013 what he thought of Cardinal McCarrick. Archbishop Viganò replied that “there is a dossier this thick about him. He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.” Archbishop Viganò recalls that the Pope showed no surprise and changed the subject. He believes that the Pope wanted to find out if he was an ally of McCarrick or not.
  6. From the time of Pope Francis’s election, McCarrick was free to travel widely, to lecture, and Archbishop Viganò alleges that he became kingmaker for appointments in the Curia and the United States.
  7. Archbishop Viganò therefore states that the Pope knew about McCarrick’s abuses and the sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict at least as far back as 2013 and yet he continued to cover for him and to make McCarrick his trusted advisor. It was only in July of this year, and in response to media attention, that Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation and ordered him to observe “a life of prayer and penance.”
  8. Archbishop Viganò calls on Pope Francis to resign for covering up for McCarrick, and to thereby set an example for all the cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses who he says should also all resign.

What has been the reaction?

Pope Francis was asked about Archbishop Viganò’s statement on the plane back from Ireland and declined to discuss it. He told reporters “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgement, I will not say a single word on this.” Either he knew about Pope Benedict’s sanctions on McCarrick or he didn’t. He is not denying it at present.

Meanwhile, several bishops and cardinals have lent their support to Archbishop Viganò, describing his allegations as credible, and calling for answers to the questions raised. Pennsylvania’s attorney general claims to have evidence that the Vatican was aware of a systematic cover up for decades of abuse carried out by priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

Predictably, Archbishop Viganò has come under attack, with the Archbishop of Chicago dismissing his allegations as a “rabbit hole”, arguing that the Pope has more important things to worry about like migrants and climate change. Apparently, he believes that migrants and climate change are more important than child abuse.

More allegations

Further allegations have emerged since Archbishop Viganò’s statement. LifeSiteNews reported that a Vatican source said that Cardinal Müller and three priests were dismissed by Pope Francis because they faithfully tried to follow the church’s standing rules concerning abusive clergymen. The source also said that it was known to several people in the Vatican that Pope Benedict had imposed some restrictions on Cardinal McCarrick, thereby confirming Viganò’s claim. Further sources have confirmed that McCarrick was ordered to leave the seminary by Pope Benedict.

A further allegation has been made that Pope Francis gave a Vatican apartment to a priest where he was later caught hosting a drug-fuelled homosexual orgy after complaints were made by tenants of visitors at all hours of the night. It is alleged that Pope Francis knew of the priest’s problems, but still let him have the apartment.

A Catholic civil war?

Matthew Schmitz of First Things says a civil war has started in the Catholic Church:

“No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.”

It now looks likely that Pope Benedict resigned because he felt an inability to tackle the levels of corruption in the Vatican. Pope Benedict, when reminded of his authority to take action in the crisis, is reported to have replied, “My authority ends at that door.”

The role of the media

If Pope Benedict sanctioned Cardinal McCarrick, his mistake was not to make this public. McCarrick’s abuse affected at least dozens of people, and many multiples more once you count relatives and others associated. Keeping the sanctions secret allowed McCarrick to flout them in public. If the sanctions were public, McCarrick would not have been able to flout them so easily.

This highlights the role of the media. Good journalism calls people and organisations to account. It exposes inconsistencies and injustices. The media have been all over sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and have justifiably held the church to account.

Now, with explosive credible allegations stretching to the Pope himself you would expect the media to be all over it, but there has been remarkably little coverage in the mainstream media. Some of this scandal involves consensual homosexual acts between adults; perhaps the media are reluctant to criticise this since they view consent as the determinant of morality.

The media also admire Pope Francis as he is perceived to be relatively liberal and supportive of liberal causes. When he spoke to reporters about this it is possible to see a subtle message. Here’s what he said:

“Read the statement carefully yourselves and make your own judgement.”

“I am not going to say a word about this.” (And yet here we are.)

“I believe that the statement speaks for itself, and you all have sufficient journalistic ability to draw conclusions.”

It is an act of trust. When a little time goes by, and you have drawn conclusions, perhaps I will speak about it, but I would like your professional maturity to do this work. It will do you all good, really.

Some have somewhat cynically suggested that this is what the Pope really meant:

“You, the press, have been on my side till now. If you think about it for a while, you should still be on my side. If you weigh the alternatives you will remember that I am your guy.”

Did the journalists get the message? Some media outlets have framed the crisis in a way that blames traditionalists or conservatives for stirring up trouble. As if the real problem is the traditionalists, not the abusers or those who covered for the abusers! This is the biggest crisis to hit the Catholic Church in a lifetime. Even in the summer quiet news period, the scandal has had little air time on mainstream media.

How should we respond?

This crisis is as big as it gets for the Roman Catholic Church. Credible allegations against the Pope himself. Allegations that several cardinals were covering for an abuser. Calls for the Pope resign.

Whilst I am not a Catholic, I am grateful for the uncompromising stance of the Catholic Church on many moral issues affecting our culture. It is distressing and disturbing to learn of such corruption in the Catholic Church.

The witness of ‘the Church’ most broadly conceived is compromised by moral failures in any branch or by any practicing Christian. Corruption in the Catholic Church lends support to people who expect that most Christian organisations are corrupt.

We cannot ignore the victims, whether children or adults, and the effects on their own faith journeys. Nor can we ignore the corrupting effects of sin in our own hearts. Evangelical churches have not been free of abuse scandals or financial corruption.

The hope is that these exposures will force the issues into the open and be the start of a clean-up and a renewal of the Catholic Church. This is my prayer.



Archbishop Viganò’s testimony full text in PDF format.

LifeSite News: BREAKING: Pope knowingly gave Vatican apartment to gay priest later caught in cocaine-fuelled orgy

Rod Dreher: Vatican Bombshell: McCarrick Conspiracy Uncovered!

Rod Dreher: Francis Gay Mafia Bombshell: The Day After

Catholic News Agency: Pope: 'I will not say a single word' on Vigano's allegations of cover-up

LifeSiteNews:Vatican Source: Pope dismissed Cdl. Müller for following Church rules on abuse cases

LifeSiteNews: Pope knowingly gave Vatican apartment to gay priest later caught in cocaine-fuelled orgy

New York Times Opinion: A Catholic Civil War?

Ben Shapiro: The Media’s Coverage Of Pope Francis' Alleged Sex Abuse Cover-Up Is Insanely Despicable

Subscribe to our emails