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Why Francis Must Speak

The crux of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s indictment of Pope Francis comes toward the end of his Memorandum: “Francis is abdicating the mandate which Christ gave to Peter to confirm the brethren. Indeed, by his action he has divided them, led them into error, and encouraged the wolves to continue to tear apart the sheep of Christ’s flock.”

The remedy he proposes for this intolerable situation is drastic, but logical if his claims are true: “In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”

The fact that Pope Francis refused to answer questions about Viganò’s charges on the flight back from the World Meeting of Families in Ireland is telling. How likely is it that an innocent man would let these multiple serious charges of malfeasance remain unanswered? Certainly possible, but highly unlikely. Notably, just the day before at Dublin Castle, Francis said:

With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education…The failure of ecclesiastical authorities—bishops, religious superiors, priests and others—adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments… My predecessor, Pope Benedict, spared no words in recognizing both the gravity of the situation and in demanding that “truly evangelical, just and effective” measures be taken in response to this betrayal of trust (cf. Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, 10). His frank and decisive intervention continues to serve as an incentive for the efforts of the Church’s leadership both to remedy past mistakes and to adopt stringent norms meant to ensure that they do not happen again. More recently, in a Letter to the People of God, I reaffirmed the commitment, and the need for an even greater commitment, to eliminating this scourge in the Church, at any cost, moral and of suffering (emphasis added).

In the letter from Pope Benedict XVI cited by Francis we read:

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse… I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered, and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective.

Archbishop Viganò made plain that he too is “disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled” by his superior, Pope Francis. When asked about this on the plane the pontiff replied:

I read the statement this morning, and I must tell you sincerely that, I must say this, to you and all those who are interested.  Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.  I will not say a single word about this.  I believe the statement speaks for itself.  And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.  It’s an act of faith.  When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak.  But, I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you. That’s good (emphasis added).

How is it possible for Catholics to trust the supreme authority of the Church when that authority refuses to answer a fellow bishop’s serious charges that the pope himself has done the very thing he previously condemned? How can journalists or anyone else make fully informed conclusions about the truthfulness of what Viganò says when the one man who can affirm or deny those charges refuses to say a word, at least for now?

Read more at First Things