A former papal ambassador to the U.S. has claimed that Pope Francis knew as early as 2013 about charges that the former archbishop of Washington, ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had been sexually active with seminarians and priests and that Pope Benedict XVI had privately disciplined him over the charges.
In a letter published by two conservative Catholic outlets, LifeSiteNews and the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote that Pope Francis had ignored then-Cardinal McCarrick’s record and rehabilitated him as a kingmaker in the U.S. episcopate.
The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times say that if the allegations, if proven, would be extremely damaging to Pope Francis, who has been repeatedly accused of not responding effectively to the church’s sex-abuse crisis.
Archbishop Viganò called on Pope Francis to step down for the good of the church.
“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,” Archbishop Viganò wrote.
The Vatican press office didn’t immediately respond to request for comment on the claims of Archbishop Viganò.
The archbishop didn’t respond to repeated attempts to contact him.
Last month, Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal McCarrick, the first such resignation in living memory, after The New York Times and other news outlets published accounts of the alleged abuse and an internal investigation by the American church deemed credible an accusation that he had sexually abused a minor.
But Archbishop Viganò alleges that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, had already punished Cardinal McCarrick for his abuse of seminarians and priests. The archbishop writes that Benedict banned the American cardinal from publicly celebrating Mass, living in a seminary and traveling to give lectures.
New York Times reports that Archbishop Viganò, who blames homosexuals for the child abuse crisis that has destroyed the church’s standing in many countries, dedicates entire sections of the letter to outing cardinals who he claims belong to what he characterizes as a pernicious “homosexual current” within the Vatican.
“These homosexual networks,” he wrote, “which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire church.”
Archbishop Viganò is no stranger to stirring trouble in the Vatican.
A cultural conservative born into a wealthy family in Varese, Italy, he received the title of archbishop from Pope John Paul II in 1992. He later joined the church’s diplomatic corps, which is one of the traditional sources of power in the Vatican, and which gave him access to much of the information he alleges in the letter. In 2009, he was installed by Pope Benedict XVI as secretary of the governorate of Vatican City State, a position not unlike the mayor of Vatican City.
Benedict wanted the ambitious Italian with a taste for good red wine to enact government overhauls, but Archbishop Viganò’s efforts in pursuit of that goal earned him powerful enemies.
In early 2011, hostile anonymous articles attacking Archbishop Viganò began appearing in the Italian news media, the bulletin board of Vatican power politics. Archbishop Viganò appealed to Benedict’s second in command, Cardinal Bertone, who instead echoed the articles’ complaints about his rough management style and removed Archbishop Viganò from his post.
Those appeals and protests, later leaked by the pope’s butler, became the heart of the church scandal known as VatiLeaks, which many church observers say contributed to the resignation of Benedict XVI.