Viganò’s Astonishing Transformation from Vatican Insider to Alleged Schismatic

Nine years ago, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was the Holy See’s envoy to the U.S., dealing with the White House and Congress to prepare for Pope Francis’ September 2015 visit to the country.

This week, Archbishop Viganò is being tried by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, accused of fomenting schism — a split in the Catholic Church — by denying the legitimacy of Pope Francis and rejecting the Second Vatican Council. He faces possible penalties that include excommunication and dismissal from the priesthood.

The archbishop’s astonishing transformation is an extreme example of the polarization that has beset the Church and wider society over the last decade. Whatever the results of his trial, the controversies that he has stirred up and the polemical climate that he epitomizes will persist for the foreseeable future as major challenges to Catholic unity.

Even before his break with Pope Francis, Archbishop Viganò was known as a willful and combative personality, unusually outspoken for a career diplomat. As the No. 2 official in the administration of Vatican City State under Pope Benedict XVI, he wrote to the Pope and his secretary of state accusing other Vatican officials of corruption and abuse of power. He also pleaded not to be sent to Washington as papal nuncio, complaining that the reassignment was an effort by his enemies to sideline him. The letters raised a stir when they were published in 2012, when he was already in the U.S.

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