Commentary on the Third Letter of Archbishop Vigano

The Third Letter is here.

Vigano: “To bear witness to corruption in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was a painful decision for me, and remains so.”

I often hear or read persons saying that a decision was difficult or painful for them. That does not imply that the correct decision was made.

It is disturbing that Archbishop Vigano makes himself out to be a judge over the hierarchy of the Church and over the Pope himself, to such an extent that he would issue a judgment of corruption.

Anticipating the dreadful question from that Judge — “How could you, who had knowledge of the truth, keep silent in the midst of falsehood and depravity?” — what answer could I give?

A common mistake among conservatives is the assumption that one’s own understanding is identical to truth. Vigano fails to consider that he may have misunderstood, especially when it is a question of interior motivations and intentions. And again, he judges, saying, “falsehood and depravity”.

I support one aspect of Archbishop Vigano’s testimony, his outcry against the grave sins of former-Cardinal McCarrick. He did well in bringing this information to the Pope and to the public. But he errs seriously in other things that he has said and done.

“the successor of Peter is negligent in exercising his principal mission, which is to confirm the brothers in the faith and in sound moral doctrine.”

Archbishop Vigano has no right or role to judge the Roman Pontiff to be guilty of negligence. Vigano does not know what was said to the Pope by various persons, what other testimonies he may have received about McCarrick, and what his motivations may have been for his choices.

The principle mission of the Roman Pontiff is not to confirm his fellow Bishops, but to shepherd the whole flock of Jesus Christ. The decisions that the Pope makes in this regard are difficult, and he must rely on many different persons’ advice. Vigano is wrong to expect the Pope should treat his testimony about McCarrick (which was not from direct knowledge) as absolute truth. Unfortunately, it seems that some other persons lied to the Roman Pontiff and in various ways misled him about McCarrick. The judgment of gravely immoral negligence is not supported by the publicly known facts.

In his list of key points, Vigano says that the Holy See was “informed” about the behavior of McCarrick. Vigano errs by treating claims made against McCarrick as facts, rather than claims.

“I told him that McCarrick had sexually corrupted generations of priests and seminarians”

The Pope should not assume that every accusation against any Cardinal or Bishop is necessarily true. Vigano is wrong to expect that the Pope would assume the accusations he made, which were not based on his own knowledge, are true.

“which I can only interpret as a feigning of curiosity in order to discover whether or not I was an ally of McCarrick.”

No, that is not the only possible interpretation. Throughout his three letters, Vigano imputes gravely immoral motivations and intentions to the mind and heart of the Vicar of Christ. Does the Archbishop have the gift of reading souls? On what basis does he claim to know that the Supreme Pontiff has evil intentions or corrupted motivations?

“Pope Francis himself has either colluded in this corruption, or, knowing what he does, is gravely negligent in failing to oppose it and uproot it.”

Archbishop Vigano is bearing false witness against the Vicar of Christ by saying that he may be guilty of deliberately and knowingly colluding in corruption related to sexual abuse. Vigano has no evidence of the intentions or motivations of the Pope. Yet he repeatedly assumes these are corrupt.

The Pope is not merely an office which issues decisions on doctrine and discipline. The role of the Pope is as a father of all God’s children, and as a shepherd of Christ’s whole flock. Therefore, God’s grace does not permit any Pope to be corrupt or evil in soul, heart, or mind.

The sin of bearing false witness against the Pope is not lessened by adding the alternative accusation that the Pope may merely be gravely negligent in opposing and uprooting the same evil. Vigano is an unjust judge, who, first of all, has no right to judge the Pope at all, and, secondly, judges him unjustly. The First See is judged by no one.

“I invoked God as my witness to the truth of my claims, and none has been shown false.”

Again, Vigano errs by assuming that his own understanding is absolute truth. And when he says “none has been shown false”, how would anyone prove that his accusations against the Pope, that the Pope is corrupt in his intentions, be proven? No one can see the soul of the Pope. But by that very fact, the accusations of Vigano against the soul of the Pope are proven false. Thus, God is NOT the witness to the accusation he is making.

We all know, at this point in time, that former-Cardinal McCarrick is guilty of very grave sexual sins. He has been removed from ministry and confined to a Friary in Kansas (a stone’s throw from an elementary school). Why does the Archbishop continue to speak out? He is not now opposing McCarrick but Francis. These letters are an attack on the Roman Pontiff.

“I affirm to the contrary that the Holy See was aware of a variety of concrete facts, and is in possession of documentary proof, and that the responsible persons nevertheless chose not to intervene or were prevented from doing so.”

Accusations are not facts. Testimony is not so much fact as claim about fact. Some of the accusations against McCarrick were from a particular priest who himself was a child-abuser, making him a not entirely reliable witness. There are sinful persons in the hierarchy of the Church, persons who commit grave sexual sins and who exercise power for the sake of their own sins. But this type of corruption has never touched any Roman Pontiff. And the assumption or accusation by Vigano to the contrary is a grave sin by him against Christ.

No one is justified in assuming evil or corruption in the intentions, plans, purposes, mind, heart, or soul of any Roman Pontiff. Vigano makes the same mistake as the conservative Catholic subculture is making, treating the Father and Teacher of all Christians as if he were a political opponent, as if he were merely a politician. Instead, each successor of Peter has special graces from God so that neither he, nor the body of Bishops as a whole, nor the Church as a whole can be evil or corrupt. God absolutely prevents it. All claims to the contrary are false accusations.

“It is an enormous hypocrisy to condemn the abuse, claim to weep for the victims, and yet refuse to denounce the root cause of so much sexual abuse: homosexuality.”

Homosexuality is a serious problem in the clergy; so is other types of sexual sins. However, Vigano is wrong to assume that the child sexual abuse crisis is caused by gay priests. The evidence is that most priest abusers of boys see themselves as heterosexuals. And this is the case, too, with sexual predators in society more generally. Most priests who abuse boys are not gay men, and most are not former victims of child abuse themselves. (See my several past posts on this topic.)

“Let him admit his errors, repent, show his willingness to follow the mandate given to Peter and, once converted let him confirm his brothers (Lk 22:32).”

Vigano has no right or role to judge Pope Francis to be guilty of error, to be in need of repentance, nor to be in need of conversion. Pope Francis has confirmed his brother Bishops by his words and deeds, by his Synods with the Bishops, by his daily work with the Bishops (as Cardinal Ouellet testified).

McCarrick exercises his reign of terror during the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II; he rose to power while that Pope-Saint was in office. Pope Benedict XVI put restrictions on the Cardinal, but this was insufficient. Only during the pontificate of Pope Francis was McCarrick removed from the role of Cardinal and actually confined to one location (rather than being put under loose restrictions). Of the three Popes, Francis is the only one who succeeded in taking down McCarrick. We all wish this had happened sooner, but Francis should be praised for removing McCarrick, not condemned.

Cardinal Ouellet’s letter is here.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary on the Third Letter of Archbishop Vigano

  1. This statement by Vigano is disturbing: “On June 23, 2013, I met Pope Francis face-to-face in his apartment to ask for clarification, and the Pope asked me, “il cardinale McCarrick, com’è (Cardinal McCarrick — what do you make of him)?”– which I can only interpret as a feigning of curiosity in order to discover whether or not I was an ally of McCarrick. ”.

    Vigano is judging a soul by mere external appearances which is something that our Lord taught against (John 7:24). We can judge external acts whether they are good or bad, but we cannot judge the soul, motivations or the intentions of a person for doing such acts. And a simple question by the Holy Father is not a bad act at all.

    His letter is also self-refuting, he claims that one of the “dramatic silences” is the “silence regarding the plight of the victims”, [which is false, by the way, there has been response, meetings with the victims and more. Still can be done more, yes, but his is an everyday, day by day situation]; but then he refutes himself by saying that [the Church’s authorities] has “condemned the abuse”, “weep for the victims”. He continues his letter with many rash judgements, at least.


    • Vigano just proved to be an unwise and ignorant man whose sin of pride will be his ruin. The Pope is just following the attitude taught by the Bible: you can’t condemn a person without substantial proof. Mosaic law says that three witnesses are needed to condemn anybody. When the Pope asked Vigano about McCarrick, he had just started his investigations, and Vigano’s witness was presumably taken into account, but not assumed as valid on the sole authority of Vigano himself.
      The Mosaic law demands not one, but three witnesses, and that’s not enough.

      The Book of Daniel teaches us that a reliable witness is necessary, and that a good Judge should verify his sources, no matter the fame of a witness. In the Story of Susanna, the elders take for granted that the (false) witness of two highly-esteemed members of the Sinhedrin is OK. Daniel, as a good judge and prophet, put the two witnesses to the test and he proved that their witness was invalid: they were doing their own impure interests, and their versions of the facts were proven a false account.

      Pope Francis has been acting wisely. The proofs against McCarrick had to be investigated. He listened to many voices as witnesses, and Vigano was just one of the many people he listened to. Many others probably hid the truth, others just said their opinions, a few others told the Pope accusations based on doubtful proofs, such as a child-abusing priest accusing McCarrick of doing the same of him when he was in the seminary. The Pope just couldn’t condemn a person who is accused with no valid proof but claimed witness, until the proofs became clear and he couldn’t do anything but stop the child abuser.

      Vigano is behaving like a typical populist: he knows that the people want visible and exemplary punishments for anyone who is suspected of any crime, even if the person may be proven innocent in the end, and he tries to gain visibility with a no tolerance approach that is, in reality, a farce to clear his conscience from his own responsibilities as apostolic nuncio to the United States.


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