(Sound effect: A loud sigh)
I wasn't going to write about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter again today.
Honest. I hit the wall yesterday, trying to read another 24 hours worth of coverage of this story.
What's frustrating, of course, is that most of the coverage is about Vigano and the letter, as opposed to what the letter is about -- as in the strange story of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and who -- in the global Catholic hierarchy -- knew or did not know about his love of sleeping with seminarians.
But people keep asking me this question: What is this story really about?
Well, I think I have found two passages that kind of sum things up.
First, there is a story from Reuters: "Defenders rally around pope, fear conservatives escalating war." The true story, you see, is not McCarrick and his network of supporters. No, the REAL STORY is that McCarrick had truly evil enemies and, now, those enemies want the head of Pope Francis?
Why, precisely? The top of this story is very concise:
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Supporters of Pope Francis have rushed to his defense after a former top Vatican official launched an unprecedented attack on him, a move they say dangerously escalates a campaign to weaken his papacy by conservatives who condemn him as too liberal.
Francis’ supporters say the accusations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s 11-page public statement aim to pave the way for a conservative pope to succeed him who would reverse his openings to divorced and homosexual Catholics.
Oh my, that's perfect.
The Reuters story is built on the views of the Catholic left, but it opens with several variations on exactly what I continue to hear from some -- repeat SOME -- conservative Catholics who are chanting, basically, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!" Some are upset with me because, in several of my posts, I have ranked the following as the most pressing issue in this multi-layered scandal:
I: The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders -- left and right, gay and straight -- have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.
Now, that Reuters piece was a "news" story.
Meanwhile, a commentary piece in The Catholic Herald offered another perfect summary of an opposing point of view. This essay was written by Father Raymond de Souza. I assume that he is a mainstream Catholic conservative, because he doesn't sound like the Catholic liberals and the "It's the gays!" Catholics on the far right.
Read this carefully, please:
The key charge of Archbishop Viganò’s “testimony” is fourfold: 1) that he told Pope Francis in June 2013 about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s depravities, 2) that the Congregation for Bishops had a “thick” dossier detailing them, 3) that Pope Benedict had restricted McCarrick to a life of “prayer and penance” in response, and 4) that Francis subsequently rehabilitated McCarrick despite all that.
Viganò does not fully explain how McCarrick, if ordered to a reserved life of prayer and penance, continued to appear in public throughout Benedict’s pontificate. Viganò claims that the Congregation for Bishops told him of the restrictions in preparation for his 2011 posting as nuncio in Washington and that he repeated them when meeting with McCarrick.
If true, Viganò’s charges will exhaust the energy of the remainder of this pontificate. He is a long-serving, respected Vatican official, therefore his claims merit proper investigation.
Ah, an investigation. While saying nothing specific in one of his airplane pressers, Pope Francis all but said that he would let the mainstream press do the investigating, in this case. This would, of course, require the mainstream press to seek hard evidence -- from the pope or Vigano -- to back or undercut the charges that have been made.
But wait. There could be another option, which takes us back to de Souza in the Herald:
The American bishops have already asked Pope Francis to appoint an apostolic visitor to investigate the entire McCarrick matter. It is likely that the visitor, when appointed, would have interviewed Viganò in any case. His “testimony” will now be part of the material that the visitor must examine. Viganò has not provided documentation to support his charges, but has indicated where that documentation could be found -- memoranda that he wrote, conversations that he had -- with dates and places. An apostolic visitor, with investigative authority from the Holy Father, will have no trouble obtaining that documentation to see if it supports the charges Viganò has made.
Once again we have reached the same door, the one labeled "documents."
We know that Rome has the documents. That means it will be easy for Pope Francis and his defenders to prove that Vigano is wrong -- if that's what the documents say.
Now, let's pretend that this is the famous "Spotlight" investigation all over again, that this is a scandal focusing on claims that powerful Catholic leaders covered up the sexual abuse and harassment (at the very least). That's what this story was about until a few days ago.
We can hope that, behind the scenes, reporters are still working hard to cover the McCarrick scandal, which would mean seeking the documents that Vigano has -- logically enough -- stressed are housed at the Vatican and at the official Vatican embassy for the United States of America. If reporters were seeking on-the-record interviews related to these documents, Vigano would be at the top of the list of five-star sources (as noted by de Souza).
But, right now, journalists need to be digging out documents and sources that can prove Vigano is telling the truth, or show that he is lying.
So what is the address of the Vatican embassy in America? That would appear to be 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C.
Journalists: Who has the power to make the crucial documents public? The proof that Vigano is lying is inside those doors (either that or the documents have been removed, which would be a different kind of story).
So what is the bottom line, here? The omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux states it bluntly in a must-read news analysis:
In essence, the pope took the “no comment” option, though he said more than enough to suggest he doesn’t find the document credible. However, he did not engage the heart of the matter, which is what he knew about McCarrick and when he knew it.
Let’s be clear: This is an accusation that a pope was personally involved in a sex abuse cover-up, from a former Vatican official who was in a position to know. If anyone thinks media outlets around the world aren’t going to pursue that story with maximum aggressiveness -- knowing that bringing down a pope would be infinitely bigger than what the Boston Globe did in 2003 by bringing down Cardinal Bernard Law, winning a Pulitzer Prize and inspiring a Hollywood movie in the process -- they’re delusional.
Will Allen be proven right?
Think "Spotlight," folks.
FIRST IMAGE: The Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C.