Briefly Reviewed: November 2020
Viganò vs. the Vatican: The Uncensored Testimony of the Italian Journalist Who Helped Break the Story
By Marco Tosatti
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press
Review Author: Christopher Beiting
By now, few in the Catholic world can be unaware of the explosive trio of documents that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released in late 2018 complaining about the problem of sexual misconduct on the part of higher Vatican clergy in general and former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick in particular. Viganò alleges that Pope Francis knew of McCarrick’s abuses for years and not only did nothing about it but was complicit in covering it up. Viganò further maintains that he had warned Francis about McCarrick personally as far back as 2013, claiming that during a face-to-face meeting, when Francis had asked him about McCarrick directly, Viganò replied, “If you ask the Congregation for Bishops, there is a dossier this thick about him. He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests, and Pope Benedict ordered him to retire to a life of prayer and penance.” Nevertheless, despite these and other charges, nothing official was done publicly about McCarrick until 2018, when the scandal had grown so great that public attention made it impossible to ignore.
The entire affair has resulted in yet another black eye for a greatly troubled Church, as it has involved contradictory statements at best, or out-and-out lies and disinformation at worst. Marco Tosatti’s Viganò vs. the Vatican, a firsthand account compiled by people who were involved, is a useful, though imperfect, account of one side of this story.
Tosatti is an Italian journalist and keeper of the Stilum Curiae blogsite. In the summer of 2018, Archbishop Viganò, who had met Tosatti a few times but was not a close acquaintance, approached Tosatti in his capacity as journalist and blogger about doing an interview on a situation that was weighing heavily on his mind. Later, Viganò changed his mind about his approach and instead asked Tosatti for help in polishing, and shortly thereafter issuing, his now-famous 11-page bombshell detailing the McCarrick situation, alleging Francis’s involvement in it, and calling on him to resign as pope. Viganò vs. the Vatican presents Tosatti’s version of what happened afterward.
Given how explosive Viganò’s claims were, tempers in Rome and elsewhere ran high as a result, and Tosatti does not shy away from pointing out contemporary claims that were (and in many cases still are) contradictory, going so far as to allege a campaign of disinformation issued by or for high-level churchmen to cover up a culture of corruption in the Vatican. Subsequent events would provide much support for the validity of Viganò’s claims. McCarrick was, of course, eventually investigated by Vatican authorities and not only stripped of his cardinalate but laicized, becoming the first cardinal in Church history to receive such treatment for such actions.
Moreover, the 2018 resignation of Donald Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of Washington, D.C. (McCarrick’s successor and protégé) on charges of covering up hundreds of cases of clerical sexual abuse, as well as the kneecapping of the 2018 U.S. bishops’ abuse-crisis synod in favor of one held in Rome in 2019 and presided over in part by Blaise Cardinal Cupich (another McCarrick protégé), appeared to many to demonstrate that the problem stretched far beyond McCarrick.
Furthermore, Francis’s public response to Viganò’s charges was painful at best. To inquiring journalists he replied, “I will not say a single word about this,” though in subsequent speeches he made not-too-veiled references to the actions of “scandalmongers,” “seekers of division,” and “devils.” In a situation in which a simple denial would have sufficed, Francis’s response appeared downright disingenuous — marking a low point in what has been a controversial and divisive papacy.
Despite its strengths, Viganò vs. the Vatican has a number of significant problems. It is a short book, and its brevity works against it, insofar as a serious matter like this one deserves a serious and deep treatment. At the very least, the full text of each of Viganò’s letters could — and should — have been provided in the text. Moreover, each chapter of the book is also rather short, making the work read less like a monograph than a collection of recycled blog posts — an impression that is not helped by occasional language in the text like, “But in this post, I want to explore further….”
Also, some of Tosatti’s chosen material does not help his case as much as he thinks. He approvingly references French homosexual activist Frédéric Martel’s tell-all In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy (published in Feb. 2019) as confirmation of many of Viganò’s allegations, despite the fact that Martel’s claims and credibility have been called into question.
There are also two larger problems with the work.
The first is that Viganò vs. the Vatican simply appears to have come out too soon. A number of events happened subsequent to its 2019 publication that gave the whole affair some degree of closure, but which also raised more questions. The McCarrick case, unresolved when Viganò made his charges, was eventually investigated and resolved by Vatican authorities, although the legal process by which this was done was irregular.
Moreover, in May 2019 Pope Francis broke his silence on the matter, claiming in public, “I don’t remember if he [Viganò] told me about this. If it’s true or not. No idea! But you know that about McCarrick, I knew nothing. If not, I wouldn’t have remained quiet, right?” Such a response was, if anything, worse than his first one. To have a subordinate come up to you and accuse a colleague of corrupting generations of young people is not a trivial matter. The accuser is either completely deranged, engaging in the grossest slander, or telling you the truth. There is no set of circumstances in which your proper response is, Duh, I forgot!
Finally, in June 2019, Viganò himself spoke at length about the matter in a long interview with the Washington Post. This interview would have been a good point upon which to end the book; it is unfortunate Tosatti did not have the chance to do so.
The second problem is that, after maintaining a very low profile for a long time, Viganò has resurfaced — with a vengeance. Since the beginning of this year, he has issued letters and given interviews in which he has: complained that the prelate in charge of presiding over the next papal conclave, Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, was complicit in covering up Fr. Marcial Maciel’s sexual abuse (Jan. 2020); criticized the Vatican’s Ostpolitik for selling out the Catholic Church in China (Feb. 2020); decried some actions by Church authorities during the coronavirus lockdown, such as closing Lourdes and hiding behind walls instead of being shepherds “smelling of the sheep” and “building bridges” (Mar. 2020); criticized Francis’s tone-deaf speculation that the COVID-19 pandemic is “nature’s response” to the “climate crisis” (also Mar. 2020); called on all clergy to participate in a mass exorcism of the world on Holy Saturday (Apr. 2020); questioned whether the full text of the Third Secret of Fatima has been issued (also Apr. 2020); likened the U.S. presidential election to an apocalyptic battle between the “children of light” and the “children of darkness” (Jun. 2020); and, most significantly, called into question the legitimacy of the entire Second Vatican Council (also Jun. 2020).
Viganò has claimed throughout the McCarrick affair that his motivation for speaking out was a concern for the welfare of souls. The degree to which his recent statements either reflect a pastor concerned with reform or a crank who has completely shot off the rails is a conclusion best left to the reader.
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