Head Of US Bishops Conference Demands Answers To Accusations Against Pope Francis, Seeks Papal Audience

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops demanded answers to questions raised by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s claims that Pope Francis empowered abusers.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo called for conclusive, evidence-based answers to the accusations that Viganò laid out in an 11-page letter, released Saturday, in which he accused Francis of empowering Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and by extension other alleged predator priests, while knowing about the accusations of abuse against him. DiNardo said earlier that he is eager to meet with Francis to gain his approval for a plan to thoroughly investigate the questions raised by allegations against McCarrick and his associates. (RELATED: Former Vatican Embassy Counselor: Archbishop Accusing The Pope ‘Said The Truth’)

“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past,” DiNardo said in a Monday statement, according to Crux Now.

Prior to Viganò’s release of the letter, DiNardo said that he wished to meet with Francis to present the pontiff with plans to look into questions about who knew what and when concerning McCarrick’s alleged abuses. He expressed confidence that Francis would be of similar mind on the matter.

“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: Seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops,” he said.

“Inspired by his recent letter to the people of God, and his motu proprio of two years ago, As a Loving Mother, I am confident Pope Francis shares our desire for greater effectiveness and transparency in the matter of disciplining bishops. We renew our fraternal affection for the Holy Father in these difficult days,” he added.  The referenced motu proprio, or Apostolic Letter, entitled As a Loving Mother, emphasized the church’s responsibility to protect children and vulnerable adults and highlighted the circumstances under which bishops and other clergy can be removed from ecclesiastical office for failing to protect or for perpetrating abuse against children and vulnerable adults.

Viganò accused not only Francis but also at least 32 high-ranking members of the clergy, all of whom he named, as having had a hand in either covering up the allegations against McCarrick, failing to act against him, or positively empowering McCarrick as he ascended in rank within the Church. He claimed that Francis knew as early as 2013 of the allegations against McCarrick and of canonical sanctions that Pope Benedict XVI placed on McCarrick, but that Francis chose not to enforce those sanctions and turned to McCarrick as a “trusted counselor.”

Critics of Viganò’s letter said that the archbishop offered little evidence in letter and also noted his history of conflict with Francis and past allegations that he Viganò ordered a cover-up during a 2014 investigation of then-Archbishop John Nienstedt’s possible sexual misconduct. Viganò claimed, however, that at least one source – Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume – was ready and willing to testify to the fact that Benedict had in fact placed sanctions on McCarrick in 2009 or 2010, and that then-nuncio Pietro Sambi communicated as much to McCarrick.

Lantheaume briefly corroborated Viganò’s claims, saying “Viganò said the truth. That’s all.”

Francis declined to say anything about Viganò’s letter, telling reporters “You read the statement attentively, and you make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this.”

Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark, two clergymen who Viganò decried for their alleged acquiescence to a “homosexual current” within the church, were swift to denounce Viganò’s accusations.

“The factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology of the ‘testimony’ serve to strengthen our conviction to move ahead resolutely in protecting the young and vulnerable from any sort of abuse, while guaranteeing a safe and respectful environment where all are welcome and breaking down the structures and cultures that enable abuse,” Tobin said, according to Crux.

“Together with Pope Francis, we are confident that scrutiny of the claims of the former nuncio will help to establish the truth,” he added.

Cupich released a response to Viganò’s letter on Sunday, addressing each of the claims against him, saying of the rest that “a thorough vetting of the former nuncio’s many claims is required before any assessment of their credibility can be made.”

The archdiocese of Washington, D.C. also released a statement in response to the claim that archbishop Donald Wuerl knew of his predecessor’s history of abuse claims.

“Cardinal Wuerl has indicated that during his entire tenure as Archbishop of Washington no one has come forward to say to him, ‘Cardinal McCarrick abused me’ or made any other like claim. The only ground for Cardinal Wuerl to challenge the ministry of Archbishop McCarrick would have been information from Archbishop Viganò or other communications from the Holy See. Such information was never provided,” the statement reads.

The archdiocese then retorted that a review of Viganò’s tenure as apostolic nuncio to the U.S. should be included in the review called for by DiNardo.

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