Coverage by the conservative and global press raises the stakes in Viganò affair

It’s now Day 5 after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò dropped his nuclear bomb on the Catholic world. Although the best coverage seems to be resting mainly on media that have the good fortune to have Rome correspondents, there is some good work being done Stateside as well.

As one Washington Post columnist said, Viganò effectively nailed his 95 theses to the door of St. Peter’s. 

So this is a big deal. But in the secular press, it’s mainly two newspapers: The Post and the New York Times doing the heavy lifting.

But Viganò is not talking with them. He’s using conservative media as his outlets. I’m sure LifeSite News, a Canadian site primarily devoted to fighting abortion, never dreamed it’d be in the midst of a Vatican fist fight. But Vaganò trusts them; their articles must be bringing in tons of page views, so what’s not to like? 

Ditto for the National Catholic Register, which in the past has been overshadowed by the liberal National Catholic Reporter. These days, the Register is publishing exclusives and the Reporter is reduced to running snide analyses by Michael Sean Winters or stories like this one that only quote one side of the story.  

One newly published piece from the Register is by an Italian journalist who’s one of a number of people to whom Viganò released his 11-page “testimony.” Near the end, he repeats the dialogue between him and the archbishop.

“Monsignor, do you know what they will say? That you want revenge. That you are full of resentment for having been dismissed from the Governatorate and other things. That you are the crow who leaked the Vatileaks papers. They will say that you are unstable, as well as a conservative of the worst kind.”
“I know, I know. But that doesn’t matter to me. The one thing that matters to me is to bring the truth to the surface, so that a purification can begin. At the point that we have reached, there is no other way.” ...
We agree on the day and the hour of publication. He says that on the same day at the same hour the others will publish it as well. He has decided on Sunday, August 26 because the pope, returning from Dublin, will have a chance to reply to it by answering questions from journalists on the plane.
He alerts me that the daily newspaper La Verità has now been added to the list of those who will publish it. He tells me he has already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time.

The New York Times had a similar interview with Marco Tosatti, the Italian journalist who helped the archbishop draft the 7,000-word letter.

ROME -- At 9:30 a.m. last Wednesday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò showed up at the Rome apartment of a conservative Vatican reporter with a simple clerical collar, a Rocky Mountains baseball cap and an explosive story to tell.
Archbishop Viganò, the former chief Vatican diplomat in the United States, spent the morning working shoulder to shoulder with the reporter at his dining room table on a 7,000-word letter that called for the resignation of Pope Francis, accusing him of covering up sexual abuse and giving comfort to a “homosexual current” in the Vatican.
The journalist, Marco Tosatti, said he had smoothed out the narrative. The enraged archbishop brought no evidence, he said, but he did supply the flair, condemning the homosexual networks inside the church that act “with the power of octopus tentacles” to “strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations.”

No evidence? Viganò had zero documents?

It amazes me that Viganò did the whole thing in one fell swoop. That “testimony” looked like a lot more than three hours of work.

One thing Viganò said in his report was that the Vatican, newly aware that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians in previous years, ordered McCarrick to switch his retirement lodgings from the seminary he was living in. The cardinal headed for the rectory of  St. Thomas the Apostle in Woodley Park in Northwest DC.

Catholic News Agency, which is in the same network as the Register, managed to find a priest who was there at the time: 

One of the four priests resident in the rectory of St. Thomas’ parish in 2008-2009 recalls being told in December 2008 that he would have to move out of his rooms in the parish to accommodate a “mystery VIP.”
“It was all very sudden,” he told CNA. “I was moved around but given another room in the rectory.” The priest told CNA he was informed by the pastor of the parish that it was McCarrick moving in, and that his arrival caused considerable upheaval.
“There was significant construction to create his suite, which took over two prior suites and two full baths, as well as the single guest room next to me which was converted into a private chapel for McCarrick’s exclusive use.”

In an effort to move the story forward, two of the Post’s religion writers got a feel for the frustration felt by local Catholics and even clergy who are calling on Cardinal Donald Wuerl to resign. I'm assuming both were in Catholic churches on Sunday morning.

At the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a prominent Washington parish closely linked to the archdiocese hierarchy, the Rev. Percival L. D’Silva closed his homily on Sunday by calling on Wuerl to resign for his role in overseeing abusive priests in Pennsylvania — and received a standing ovation.
During Sunday evening Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, a well-known Jesuit parish in the District, the Rev. Ben Hawley focused his homily on Viganò’s letter, questioning the former ambassador’s political motives but also whether popes and bishops have been doing enough to root out sexual abuse in the church. The congregation applauded.

The New York Times concentrated on the bishops, with their interview of Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark (who disdains Viganò’s letter) leading the piece along with the following:

Stateside, two bishops of small American dioceses, Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla., and Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Tex., stepped forward in support of Archbishop Viganò’s allegations against Pope Francis.
In an extraordinary move, Bishop Strickland issued his statement hours after Archbishop Viganò’s letter was made public, and instructed his priests to read his statement during Mass on Sunday.
“As your shepherd, I find them credible,” Bishop Strickland wrote of Archbishop Viganò’s allegations. Both bishops declined interviews.

It’s definitely an open shoot-out among the bishops these days. But why did I not see anything about Strickland’s remarks in any Texas media? Or Konderla’s remarks in Tulsa media? Are the folks outside the New York-DC corridor just sitting back and letting the big guys cover this? There are a few exceptions, such as this story by Marketwatch on Catholics withholding their church donations. 

Elsewhere in that piece, the Times quoted a lawyer connected with the Register’s governing board (of the Eternal Word Television Network) saying Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had confirmed the truth of Viganò’s account. This brought a furious response from a Benedict spokesman, which in turn was defended by the Register

It is all incredibly complex, this chess game.

Crux had an analysis by John Allen that told the Catholic hierarchy that it dare not blow off the media with tepid responses similar to what Pope Francis said aboard his flight last Sunday from Ireland back to Rome.

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.

So we don’t just have a handful of U.S. media on this; we’ve got plenty of other folks across the pond who are working the story. I skimmed some of the British and French media, but didn't see anything major there. 

Rocco Palmo, the “Whispers in the Loggia” blogmeister with some very good contact among the hierarchy, is mainly releasing his thoughts on Twitter  these days instead of through his blog. One interesting tidbit is below.

 

But then Palmo wondered: If McCarrick was truly sanctioned by Benedict, what was he doing out and about at various Catholic functions? In 2007, he was named a papal special envoy to an international conference in Greenland on the environment. He also spoke at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. These alleged sanctions occurred just after Benedict visited Washington DC in 2008 and no doubt noticed how McCarrick was hardly in retirement mode.

Even if Benedict did lower the bar, who was going to enforce it? Certainly not Cardinal Wuerl, who replaced McCarrick in the Washington see. So McCarrick did appear in public -- together with Benedict -- since then, which doesn't match up with the cardinal being silenced. Unless, unless, McCarrick simply blew it off -- which is precisely what Viganò alleges.

As someone from one of the hometown newspapers who covered McCarrick for several years, I knew the former cardinal was no shrinking violet. He’d only been cardinal for six years before being made to retire and he wasn’t about to fade away.

Even this spring, when he knew accusations against him would be made public by mid-June, he still appeared at church events almost until the end. He wanted to milk every last drop from his public position.

I've a funny feeling we're not going to see a church trial happen anytime soon with McCarrick. The Vatican moves slowly when it wants to; McCarrick, 88, is already said to be quite frail and he's already saying he doesn't remember abusing anyone. So why not let him die in peace? That will be the plan in Rome. No need to get out any definitive documents or ask tough questions to any men in red hats 

So the answer is out there. The question is whether reporters will do the work to find it.

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