Published March 16, 2022
George Weigel’s weekly column The Catholic Difference
One of the minor characters in Evelyn Waugh’s World War II trilogy, Sword of Honor, is the commander of a super-secret military intelligence unit, Colonel Grace-Groundling-Marchpole: a conspiracy theorist constantly connecting dots that no rational person would imagine connecting or even think connectable. The colonel was also possessed by a messiah complex: “Somewhere in the ultimate curlicues of his mind, there was a Plan. Given time, given enough confidential material, he would succeed in knitting the entire quarrelsome world into a single net of conspiracy in which there were no antagonists, merely millions of men working, unknown to one another, for the same end: and there would be no more war.” To Grace-Groundling-Marchpole, the Allies and the Nazis were in fact on the same side; and as soon as that was revealed, all would be well with the world.
One of the tragedies of this Catholic moment is that its Grace-Groundling-Marchpole is Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.
For years now, the archbishop has been issuing “declarations,” increasingly conspiratorial in their analysis of matters ecclesiastical, political, epidemiological, and vaccinal. Archbishop Viganò’s March 6 encyclical, a 10,000-word “Declaration on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis,” took this conspiracy-mania into Grace-Groundling-Marchpole territory. Among its manifestly false claims:
- Virtually everything you may think you know about the war in Ukraine is a “gross falsification of the mainstream media,” and anyone who does not accept the archbishop’s claims is a victim of the “brainwashing carried out by the mainstream media.”
- President Biden and the European Union are executing a “criminal plan” to “make impossible any attempt at a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis, provoking the Russian Federation to trigger a conflict.” What you think you have seen of dead civilians and civilian infrastructure (including a maternity hospital), deliberately destroyed by Russian missiles, bombs, and artillery fire, is really the West’s fault.
- Anyone who cares about the truth should lament the West’s blackout of Russia Today and Sputnik.
- Ukraine’s Maidan “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013–14 was “an operation sponsored by George Soros.”
- There are “neo-Nazi military forces” in Ukraine.
- Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has “for eight years now continued to persecute Russian-speaking Ukrainians with impunity.”
- Therefore “the Ukrainian people, regardless of what ethnic group they belong to, are merely the latest unwitting hostages of the supranational totalitarian regime that brought the economies of the entire world to their knees through the COVID deception, after publicly theorizing about the need to decimate the world population and transform the survivors into chronically ill patients who have irreparably compromised their immune systems.”
- Yet there is hope: The “Third Rome”—the Russian Orthodox patriarchate of Moscow—may yet lead humanity to a better future.
Whoever is writing these absurdities seems not to care that he, she, or they are reproducing Kremlin disinformation and propaganda point-for-point. That a Western media typically tilted far to the left has suddenly become viscerally anti-Russian and bellicose is risible. That George Soros, of whom I am no admirer, sponsored the Revolution of Dignity would come as a shock to my former students who risked their lives in sub-freezing winter weather to live out on the Maidan the Catholic social doctrine we had discussed. Russia Today and Sputnik are Kremlin disinformation organs, period. How is it that much of the Ukrainian army that has fought courageously against the Russian invaders is composed of Russian speakers? How has President Zelensky persecuted Russian speakers for eight years when he has been in office for less than three years? Have the archbishop and those around him not read President Putin’s speech of February 20, which underscored that what “provoked” him was the fact of an independent, sovereign Ukraine? And Putin’s lapdog, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, is no more likely to lead a civilizational renaissance than your local tarot card reader.
I have long doubted that Archbishop Viganò actually writes these “declarations” issued in his name, which have, tragically, become more unhinged over time. And I say “tragically” because I once counted the archbishop a friend and remain grateful for his service to the Vatican (where he was an honest man in an often-dishonest environment) and to the Church in the United States (which he served well as nuncio). This most recent declaration on the Ukraine War crossed a red line, however. By allowing lies, calumnies, and Kremlin propaganda to be issued in his name, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has written the obituary for what remained of his once-considerable religious and moral authority.
And that is beyond tragic.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.