The enraged archbishop brought no evidence, he said, but he did supply the flair, condemning the homosexual networks inside the church that act “with the power of octopus tentacles” to “strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations.”
The letter, published on Sunday, has challenged Pope Francis’ papacy and shaken the Roman Catholic Church to its core. The pope has said he won’t dignify it with a response, yet the allegations have touched off an ideological civil war, with the usually shadowy Vatican backstabbing giving way to open combat.
The letter exposed deep ideological clashes, with conservatives taking up arms against Francis’ inclusive vision of a church that is less focused on divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. But Archbishop Viganò — who himself has been accused of hindering a sexual misconduct investigation in Minnesota — also seems to be settling old scores.
As the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in the United States, Archbishop Viganò sided with conservative culture warriors and used his role in naming new bishops to put staunch conservatives in San Francisco, Denver and Baltimore. But he found himself iced out after the election of Pope Francis.
Then in 2015, he personally ran afoul of Francis. His decision to invite a staunch critic of gay rights to greet the pope in Washington during a visit to the United States directly challenged Francis’ inclusive message and prompted a controversy that nearly overshadowed the trip.
Juan Carlos Cruz, an abuse survivor with whom Francis has spoken at length, said the pope recently told him Archbishop Viganò nearly sabotaged the visit by inviting the critic, Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who became a conservative cause célèbre when she refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I didn’t know who that woman was, and he snuck her in to say hello to me — and of course they made a whole publicity out of it,” Pope Francis said, according to Mr. Cruz.
“And I was horrified and I fired that nuncio,” Mr. Cruz recalled the pope saying.
Now, three years later, Archbishop Viganò appears to be trying to return the favor.
Known for his short temper and ambition, Archbishop Viganò has clashed with superiors who stunted his ascent in the church and has played a key role in some of the most stunning Vatican scandals of recent times.
While Archbishop Viganò, who was once criticized by church traditionalists as overly pragmatic, has aligned himself with a small but influential group of church traditionalists who have spent years seeking to stop Francis, many of his critics think his personal grudges are central to his motivations.
After one church leader shipped him out of the Vatican to America, thwarting his hopes of receiving a scarlet cardinal’s hat, Archbishop Viganò’s private 2011 memos — many of them deeply unflattering to the leader responsible for his ouster from Rome — were leaked and splashed around the globe.
Supporters of Archbishop Viganò, who did not return a request for comment, bristle at the notion that his letter calling on the pope to resign represents the fury of a disgruntled excellency. They portray him as principled and shocked by what he sees as the destruction of the church he loves.