A Very Catholic Coup?

Article in the National Catholic Reporter



Is there truth in Archbishop Vigano’s text and how are Catholics to know?

by Cindy Wooden

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, congratulates then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington at a gala dinner sponsored by the Pontifical Missions Societies in New York in May 2012. The archbishop has since said Cardinal McCarrick already was under sanctions at that time, including being banned from traveling and giving lectures. Oblate Fr. Andrew Small, center, director of the societies, said Vigano never tried to dissuade him from honoring the cardinal at the gala. (CNS/PMS/Michael Rogel)


VATICAN CITY — Catholics in the pews and even priests in the Vatican are confused about the long document Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano published claiming Pope Francis turned a blind eye to information he had about the sexual misconduct of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

Francis’ response to journalists Aug. 26 that they should read the document carefully, investigate and make their own decisions was not a big help.

Littered with repeated accusations about a “homosexual current” of cardinals and archbishops close to Francis, the document’s central claim is that Francis knew about McCarrick’s abusive behavior as early as June 2013 and did nothing about it.

In fact, Vigano said, Francis, “in the case of McCarrick, not only did not oppose evil but associated himself in doing evil with someone he knew to be deeply corrupt. He followed the advice of someone he knew well to be a pervert, thus multiplying exponentially with his supreme authority the evil done by McCarrick.”

Vigano states that in “2009 or 2010” Pope Benedict XVI “had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis: the cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate (Mass) in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”

But such a sanction was never announced publicly.

It could be that Benedict did not want to draw attention to behavior that was not public knowledge. But, as one canon lawyer at the Vatican told Catholic News Service Aug. 28, “at best it’s weird, an anomaly” not to publish a sanction that has public consequences, such as forbidding the cardinal to celebrate Mass publicly or make public appearances.

Yet, McCarrick continued to celebrate Mass publicly in the United States and to visit the Vatican, even being part of group audiences with Pope Benedict and later Francis. Also strange is the fact that Vigano himself appeared at public events with McCarrick, including at a May 2, 2012, gala dinner of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, which honored Cardinal as a “Pontifical Ambassador for Mission.”

Oblate Fr. Andrew Small, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, told Catholic News Service Aug. 29 that neither Vigano nor anyone from the nunciature tried to dissuade the societies from giving the honor to McCarrick.

Clearly, if there were sanctions, they were not enforced. But the question remains, were there sanctions and did Francis know about them before this summer when the Archdiocese of New York announced an investigation found credible evidence that McCarrick sexually abused a minor?

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and many individual bishops have asked for a thorough investigation of the McCarrick situation, including Vigano’s claims.

“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence,” DiNardo said Aug. 27. “Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusations and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”

In the eyes of many, the fact that Vigano consulted with and was even assisted by journalists and bloggers who have worked publicly to oppose and discredit Francis does not help his cause.

One of those involved was Aldo Maria Valli, author of the blog “Duc in Altum,” which has been very critical of Francis since the publication of “Amoris Laetitia” on the family. Valli wrote Aug. 27 that Vigano called him more than a month ago wanting to talk to him. Valli invited the archbishop to dinner at his home.

“He was worried about the church and feared that at its top there were people who were not working to bring the Gospel of Jesus to today’s men and women, but to sow confusion and give in to the logic of the world,” Valli wrote.

As they walked to the archbishop’s car at the end of the evening, Valli said Vigano told him, “Don’t call me. I’ll get in touch with you.”

A month later, the archbishop called again. And during another dinner in the Valli home, “he cited the case of McCarrick, the former cardinal held guilty of serious abuse, and he let it be known that everyone — in the USA and the Vatican — knew about it for a long time, for years. And yet they covered it up.”

The archbishop said he would send a document to Valli to read and to publish or not as he saw fit. Valli said he asked if it would be an exclusive, and Vigano told him, “No. I will give it to another Italian blogger, an Englishman, an American and a Canadian. There will be translations in English and Spanish.”

They spoke later and agreed on the date and time of publication, Valli said. “He decided on Sunday, Aug. 26, because the pope, returning from Dublin, would have an opportunity to reply, responding to the journalists’ questions on the plane.”

The other Italian blogger and papal critic, former journalist Marco Tosatti, told the Associated Press that he helped Vigano edit the document for publication. The meeting Aug. 22, he said, came after a similar, earlier phone call and meeting like Vigano had with Valli.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out, Tosatti told AP that he told Vigano, “I think that if you want to say something, now is the moment, because everything is going upside-down in the United States. He said ‘OK.’ ”

The National Catholic Register, which is owned by EWTN, and the Canada-based LifeSiteNews also received the text in advance. The LifeSiteNews Rome-based writer did the official translation of Vigano’s document into English.

The Register reported Aug. 25 that it had “independently confirmed that the allegations against McCarrick were certainly known to Benedict, and the pope emeritus remembers instructing Cardinal Bertone to impose measures but cannot recall their exact nature.” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was Vatican secretary of state.

But Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the retired pope’s personal secretary, told the German newspaper Die Tagespost Aug. 28 that Pope Benedict did not and would not comment on Vigano’s document. The Register then replied that it never said Pope Benedict had read Vigano’s report or that he had commented on it, only that Pope Benedict remembered wanting to impose sanctions of some sort.

Some things are clear: Vigano’s document was prepared in consultation with at least one of the bloggers and journalists who were the first to publish it; the archbishop’s document is filled with rhetoric indicating a broader agenda than just ending clerical sexual abuse; and the release of the document was coordinated and timed to have maximum impact.

What is not clear is if there were sanctions imposed on McCarrick and, if there were, did Francis know about them. And as of Aug. 29, neither Francis nor the Vatican press office has provided an answer.



Article in The Washington Post



Former Vatican ambassador’s explosive letter reveals influence of conservative Catholic media network

 By Michelle Boorstein

Way back when, you’d find Catholic newspapers distributed at the rear of your parish church, with articles that took a middle-of-the road approach to church issues and rarely made an aggressive challenge to the hierarchy.

But news this week that Catholic journalists were involved in editing and distributing a Vatican diplomat’s explosive and largely unverified letter calling for the pope’s resignation reveals an influential and tightly knit conservative Catholic digital media network that’s been particularly active during the tenure of its nemesis, Pope Francis.

Like much of the media in our hyper-polarized, digital era, Catholic news sites have become deeply split between left and right. And these days, the dividing line is almost always what Francis says or does on almost anything, from global warming and tax cuts to the death penalty and increased acceptance of LGBT Catholics and the unmarried.

So when Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wanted to make a first-in-history public attack by a member of the Vatican on a sitting pope, he turned, naturally, to conservative sites such as LifeSiteNews.com and the National Catholic Register in the United States, as well as prominent conservative journalists in Italy who in recent years launched opinionated blogs on which they can vent about Francis.

Much like the way in which Breitbart News and Drudge Report have served as media conduits for the brand of conservative American populism led by President Trump, conservative Catholic media outlets have become power players by conveying the anti-Francis point of view, this time becoming part of the story, as well.

“My wife points out: ‘Should you publish it, they will think that, by this very fact, you’re on his side. Are you fine with that?’ Yes I am,” Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli wrote on his blog Tuesday about his decision to meet Viganò and advise him on whether to publish his accusation that Francis and some of his allies knew about sexual misconduct by a cardinal, former D.C. archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Valli says he shares Viganò’s view that the people at the top of the church “do not work to bring Jesus’ Gospel to the men and women of our time, but to bring chaos and to give into the world’s logic.”

Valli was only one star in the constellation of conservative Catholic media who reportedly were part of the process of getting out the 11-page letter. The Associated Press reported that conservative Italian journalist Marco Tosatti sat at a wooden table in his living room for three hours Aug. 22 as he and Viganò rewrote and edited the letter together, even collaborating on the timing — for impact.

“I think that if you want to say something, now is the moment because everything is going upside-down in the United States. He said ‘OK.,’ ” Tosatti said he told Viganò.

Viganò ultimately distributed his letter through a handful of conservative Catholic sites, including the Register, which is owned by the Alabama-based conglomerate EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network. EWTN runs 11 round-the-clock networks that reach 270 million homes in 145 countries, according to its website. EWTN was launched in the early 1980s by nun-magnate Mother Angelica, who was a media visionary committed to promoting traditional social values.

This week, the New York Times reported that, two weeks ago, Viganò shared his plan with Timothy Busch, a Koch Brothers-like figure in conservative Catholic circles who sits on the board of EWTN. Busch said leaders of the Register had personally assured him that Pope Benedict, a favorite of conservatives, had confirmed Viganò’s account.

Benedict’s secretary Msgr Georg Gaenswein told Italian media outlet ANSA on Thursday that the ex-pope has not confirmed the content of Vigano’s letter, calling a report Benedict had backed Viganò “fake news, a lie.” On Tuesday a German outlet published similar comments from Ganswein.

The Washington Post’s phone calls to Tosatti were not returned, but he tweeted that his role was being overstated and that he’d merely edited the letter. A phone message left with Busch’s office was not returned.

Valli told The Post on Wednesday that he met three times with Viganò after they had initially connected at a conference for conservatives. The first time, in March, Viganò detailed a long list of internal Vatican problems. The third and final time, Aug. 21, Viganò, wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses, handed Valli a memory card with a draft, the journalist said. The two outlined a plan to distribute the letter during Francis’s trip to Ireland, when the pope would be surrounded by reporters.

Viganò was motivated by much more than the McCarrick case, Valli said.

“McCarrick was more like the trigger. [Viganò] had a wider vision,” he said. “What he really cared about [is that] since the end of John Paul II’s pontificate, the problem of homosexuality within the church was widely known. But it was covered up.”

Yet while Catholics of all political persuasions suspect there is a coverup among their leadership on the topic of abuse — and of McCarrick’s case specifically — even many conservatives say they want Viganò’s letter independently confirmed in part due to its connections with right-leaning Catholic media. U.S. Catholics’ general faith in their media, like Americans overall, seems to have decreased in recent decades, some longtime journalists in that field say, as the Web has spawned endless opinionated blogs that run on anonymous tips, which then influence the bigger Catholic news sites.

John Thavis, who covered the Vatican in Rome for decades and was bureau chief of the Catholic News Service before retiring recently, said the digital boom after 2000 greatly increased the number of Catholic media voices.

“A lot of the smaller Catholic organizations take a conservative line, perhaps reflecting the church politics of their financial backers,” he said. Vatican journalists launched their own blogs, on which they could be more opinionated about papal politics — and usually on the conservative side, Thavis said.

In the early 2000s, the center-right Catholic News Agency was founded in Denver. CNA is owned now by EWTN, as is the Register, whose website Wednesday was populated with pieces about Viganò, homosexuality and transgender issues.

A top priority of Valli, Tosatti and other Italian conservative journalists, Thavis said, are “their warnings about homosexuality.” The powerful Italian conservatives in the media, he said, are focused on preserving church practices in particular, especially after the liberalizing changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when the empowered left began pushing for more changes, such as allowing women to become priests. Conservatives have been particularly focused on sex and family as topics and were enraged by Francis’s encouragement of dialogue and debate about whether divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the church should receive Communion.

After decades of rule by the traditional John Paul II, Thavis said, the Vatican press corps was invested in John Paul’s view of the church. He recalls a loud cheer in the press room when the cardinals in 2005 selected the like-minded Benedict as his successor. He also recalls the loud complaints in 2013 when the newly elected Francis said in his first meeting with journalists that he wouldn’t offer the traditional blessing his predecessors had because there were non-Christians in the corps and he wanted to show respect.

“It was revelatory for me to see how conservative [some of the media were] to certain church teachings and practices. I don’t want to say they were more Catholic than the pope,” Thavis said, but to the conservative reporters, Francis’s efforts to reduce the pomp and royalty of the office were not only nontraditional but also a gimmick.

The priorities of the rising new network of conservative Catholic media aren’t limited to issues around sex and ritual. Busch not only sits on the board of EWTN and many other Catholic organizations but is also the namesake for the business school at Catholic University, a graduate school known for working to reconcile free markets and capitalism and Catholic teaching. Francis, on the other hand, is more in the socialist model of Catholicism.

In 2011, Busch co-founded the Napa Institute, a swanky TED-Talk-like conference in Napa, Calif., for conservative Catholics, to prepare the faith “for the Next America,” its site says. The term is adopted from a book by conservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput that warns about a secularized America hostile to traditional religion.

When he was in the United States, a prominent lay conservative leader said, Viganò traveled in conservative media circles, which sometimes spanned the ocean, such as when Tosatti would write for the influential U.S. conservative journal First Things. The U.S. and Italian conservative Catholic media are “all part of one world,” said the leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Viganò case is so divisive and this person didn’t want to be seen as adding to that.

The National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency and EWTN represent the center core of conservative Catholic media, with LifeSiteNews.com viewed as leaning more toward advocacy than journalism and ChurchMilitant.com even more so. ChurchMilitant is run by Michael Voris, a journalist who “carries a message of the need for a stalwart defense … of Catholic truth,” the site says. LifeSite was launched in the 1970s by a Canadian organization devoted to fighting “abortion, euthanasia, cloning, homosexuality” and other issues, its site says.

Conservative Catholic outlets have stirred the pot before Viganò. A year ago, Catholic University’s Theological College seminary canceled an appearance by the liberal Jesuit James Martin, a prominent advocate for the acceptance of LGBT people, citing “increasing negative feedback from various social media sites.” The next day, the university issued a counter-statement, saying the cancellation was a decision of the seminary only — not the full university — and reflects “the same pressure being applied by the left for universities to withdraw speaker invitations,” wrote President John Garvey.

Even as some conservative Catholics are inspired by what they hope is the letter’s potential to reduce Francis’s sway, they are skeptical of the way in which it was shared.

“This whole episode seems like total Fake News,” said the conservative lay leader. The allegations of sexual abuse coverup “have to be investigated, wherever they lead. But the way this came out, it really struck me: ‘They’re really out to get Francis.’ ”

But people who are part of the right-leaning news sphere don’t see it that way, any more than Catholic journalists on the left see their work holding up the pope’s efforts at reform as a vendetta against another part of the church. However, one commentator in the conservative Catholic media sphere, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there’s no question the journalists who published Viganò’s full letter without reporting on it had a mission.

“I think they would all look at it like: They’re not trying to be objective,” the person said. “They are trying to evangelize; they’re trying to spread the good news, spread the message as they understand it. They are activists.”

Chico Harlan in Rome contributed to this report.


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