The publication of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony represented to many a breath of fresh air. The former nuncio to the United States courageously put pen to paper what everyone suspected: the presence of a lobby within the Church that aims to change her doctrine on homosexuality, as well as the presence of a lobby at the highest ecclesial ranks that covered several cases of abuse, starting from that of the now former Cardinal McCarrick, that reportedly everybody knew about.
The same publication also raised doubts, and placed Archbishop Viganò under attack for some things that happened in the past, like an alleged cover up regarding an abuser priest when he was nuncio to the United States, and also and above all for his involvement in the first Vatileaks scandal, as his letters were the first to appear. Furthermore, Archbishop Viganò’s family issues were dug up, in particular a family dispute over an inheritance and his relation with one of his brothers, a priest, Fr. Lorenzo, who said that Archbishop Viganò did not tell the truth when he asked not to be moved from Rome because he needed to take care of him because of health issues, while the other siblings of the family defended the Archbishop.
All of this discussion is about one question: is Archbishop Viganò’s testimony reliable or not? All of the discussion has played out around the notion of a conspiracy. A conspiracy against the Pope, in Archbishop Viganò’s case, supported by the stories of Italian journalists Aldo Maria Valli and Marco Tosatti. Or a conspiracy against the Church, as denounced by Archbishop Viganò, who wanted to specify that he spoke out of love for the truth.
All of the discussions ended up in a sort of struggle between parties: there were bishops who made public statements supporting the former nuncio’s testimony, other who have strongly attacked his words, while Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, asked for an investigation to establish the truth.
Each point of view may or may not be valid, in the absence of documents and proof. Archbishop Viganò’ testimony contains facts that can be known only by him and Pope Francis himself, for example regarding their private conversations. Other facts address issues that call for further elucidation, as, for instance, the sanctions Benedict XVI imposed on McCarrick: if sanctions were imposed, they should have been public, so that fellow bishops could monitor if McCarrick was abiding by them. But sanctions were not made public, and McCarrick himself lived a public life, thus disappointing the reported indications of Pope Benedict XVI, that in the end can be considered merely a moral suasion.
The testimony also includes some doubtful allegations, as those raised against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who allegedly promoted known homosexuals with the purpose of changing the Church’s teaching. Yes, there could have been homosexuals among those promoted with Cardinal Bertone’s support, and it is possible that the Cardinal made personal mistakes assessing them. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine Cardinal Bertone as an active supporter of the gay lobby: he has always stood side by side with Benedict XVI, who always defended him, and he was above all the only Secretary of State who publicly (and somewhat imprudently) linked the sex abuse issue to homosexuality during a trip to Chile in 2010.
In the end, all of Archbishop Viganò’s allegations must be fact-checked. Their effect was instead the generation of a polarized discussion, as it now always happens: one is either pro-Francis, or against Francis, without any real discussion on facts and to understand the actual roots of evil.
The debate is also flawed in that it is conducted with a secular message, incapable of a deep understanding of the Church. The debate, in the end, seems to meet the world’s requirements more than the Church’s requirements. The same is true for Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, and for the discussion that followed, that is a consequence of the debate on Church abuse that arose after the McCarrick case.
There are two main issues in the letter: the allegation of the presence of an actual homosexual lobby, and the allegation of non-compliance on the sex abuse crisis by the Pope and his collaborators.
Speaking about the debate on abuse, the fact that Pope Francis had not clearly spoken out about the issue of homosexuality in the seminaries was questioned. Archbishop Viganò’s testimony brought this issue to the center of the discussion. No one, however, wants to talk openly about that.
The Church has always had a clear position on homosexuality: the disordered personality must be rejected, the person must be welcomed. This was clear in the 1986 letter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Pastoral for people with homosexual orientations. Benedict XVI’s 2005 instruction on the access to seminaries followed the same line. The instruction barred gays, or supporters of a gay culture, access to seminaries. Pope Francis defended this instruction in a closed door meeting with Italian bishops in May 2018.
The secular world always attacked this position. The final aim is that of changing the teaching of the Church, or at least to bend it to the wishes of a society that increasingly categorizes people according their sexual orientation. This categorization, in the end, dehumanizes the human being. The Church has never done that.
But men of the Church are convinced the Church did. This is the reason why a new pro-LGBT sensitivity sprung up in the Church.
The main supporter of this new sensitivity is Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit who is pushing to build a bridge to the gay community. Fr. Martin’s campaign is strongly secular, as he defines people on the basis of their sexual orientation. But many people, in the Church, think that they must follow this rationale, so much that Fr. Martin was even called to speak at the World Meeting of Families. Dialogue at any cost leads to the loss of personal identity. Was this part of the conspiracy?
Perhaps not. It might seem odd, but often people see conspiracies where there are none. Fr. Martin’s narrative, as many others, are mostly considered part of a conspiracy to change the doctrine. But the real issue is that there is a Church with no knowledge of her identity, unable to explain herself and for this reason eager to start a dialogue with a world to which she does not belong. Again, the problem is not with homosexual people. But there is a problem when homosexuality risks changing doctrine or the magisterium.
Likewise, non-compliance – like in cases Archbishop Viganò’s denounced – is sometimes born out of trivial mistakes in assessments or personal shortcomings. In the end, everyone is human. Even the decisions of a Secretary of State are influenced by the suggestions he receives, and they can be in favor of some people and against other people. The same is true for the Pope’s decisions. Benedict XVI was attacked for the Cardinals he created, as Pope Francis has been.
In general, no one is happy when a decision is made. The discontent is, again, part of a political sensitivity: appointments and decisions are assessed according to whether they advance a project or an idea.
Archbishop Viganò is no exception. His list on lack of compliance, mistakes, and misinformation – that must be proved by facts and not on the basis of who Archbishop Viganò is – leads to his final request that Pope Francis resigns, for coherence, because he knew and he did not intervened, because he had called for “zero tolerance” and thus he should “lead by example”.
In making this request, Archbishop Viganò is reasoning as all the people who consider the Pope the helm of a company, the equivalent of a CEO, and who exploit this idea to consider the Pope co-responsible of abuse, to the point of requesting the Pope as a witness in abuse trial (it happened in the US back in 2010, and it is happening in Chile in 2018).
Benedict XVI did not resign: he renounced to the Petrine ministry, and he did so freely, as he repeated in many occasions to make clear his freedom of judgment.
Should Pope Francis renounce now, could we assess he is doing it in full freedom or would we think he was pushed to the renunciation? It is a matter of fact that the freedom of a Pope scares as much as the freedom of the Church, and this is the reason why there are many conspiracy theories on the freedom of Benedict XVI’s choice. Perhaps, the conspiracy theories are born out of people’s need to say they were right, as in the end the first and second Vatileaks were originated by the wish to pressure the Pontiff. In the end, nothing has changed, though popes have actually changed and thus the Vatican orientation; and though people and ideas with influence in the Vatican have changed, too.
The secular world does not want the Church the way it is, or simply it questions the Church because the Church is the only institution fully free and out of logic of power.
Would Archbishop Viganò’s request be good for the Church? This is the question that lies behind everything. It is not important to assess whether the archbishop is really disgruntled about a promotion that he did not get, or acting in good faith, nor whether he is more or less reliable than the people he accuses.
The real point is that the request for the pope’s resignation bears a worldly logic. A worldy logic that was absent in the spreading of the dubia of the four Cardinals. The Cardinals followed St. Paul’s procedure: if you want to correct a brother, first you talk to him in private, then in front of a witness and finally in front of the asembly. The Cardinals also used a formulation that Canon law foresees, which is posing the Pope questions.
Archbishop Viganò did not do that. His written testimony and some additional statements bore a very strong accusation, naming names without giving proof, creating more confusion than what he wanted to dissipate.
Again, the point is no longer how credible his words are. The final aim of the letter represents a tilt that must be understood. If any Pope can be subjected to the judgment of men who can push him to quit according to their views, what would be of the Pontifical See?
These are burning questions, while a response must be rightly given to a scandal that is hurting the faithful. The response must be in Church terms, though. There have been many mistakes, and they must be undestood, faced, and avoided in the future. Above all, one must recover the sense of Church that this discussion has lost. The Church is not of men. Perhaps the real problem is that too many people, Churchmen or not, believers or not, are behaving as if the Church is a man-made structure.