Published August 28, 2018
George Weigel's weekly column The Catholic Difference
The Sunday Mass scriptures during this summer of horrors have often been eerily appropriate, beginning with Jeremiah’s polemic against malfeasant shepherds who mislead the Lord’s flock (July 25) and continuing through the story of many disciples’ defection after the “hard words” of the Bread of Life discourse (August 26). And it’s entirely understandable that more than a few Catholics have choked on the word “holy” these past few months, when asked to affirm it of the Church during the Creed and the Offertory. But while understandable, it still bespeaks a misunderstanding. The reason why is given immediately after the defection story in John 6: 60-66, when the Lord asks the Twelve whether they, too, are going to bail on him and Peter answers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Everlasting life is offered to us sacramentally at every Mass. That is what we believe; that is why we remain in the Church; and that is why we must all bend every effort, from our distinct states of life in the Mystical Body of Christ, to reform what must be reformed so that others may know and love the Lord Jesus and experience the life-giving fruits of friendship with him. The Church’s current crisis is a crisis of fidelity and a crisis of holiness, a crisis of infidelity and a crisis of sin. It is also a crisis of evangelization, for shepherds without credibility impede the proclamation of the Gospel—which, as the other headlines of the day suggest, the world badly needs.
In the immediate aftermath of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s “Testimony,” and its statement that Pope Francis knew of the sins of Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, and lifted the sanctions against McCarrick that had been imposed (but never seriously enforced) by Pope Benedict XVI, the polemics within the Church immediately intensified and ricocheted through the media. In this febrile atmosphere, it is virtually impossible for anyone to say anything without arousing suspicions and accusations. But as I knew Archbishop Viganò well during his service as papal representative in Washington, I feel obliged to speak about him, which I hope will help others consider his very, very serious claims thoughtfully.
First, Archbishop Viganò is a courageous reformer, who was moved out of the Vatican by his immediate superiors because he was determined to confront financial corruption in the Governatorato, the administration of Vatican City State.
Second, Archbishop Viganò is, in my experience, an honest man. We spoke often about many things, large and small, and I never had the impression that I was being given anything other than what he believed in his conscience to be the truth. That does not mean that he got everything right; a man of humility and prayer, he would be the first to concede that. But it does suggest that attempts to portray him as someone deliberately making false accusations, someone other than an honest witness to what he believes to be the truth, are unpersuasive. When he writes in his Testimony that he is “ready to affirm [these allegations] on oath calling on God as my witness,” he means it. And he means it absolutely. Archbishop Viganò knows that, in swearing such an oath, he would be taking his soul into his hands; which means he knows that if he were to speak falsely, he would be unlikely to find his soul again.
Third, Archbishop Viganò is a loyal churchman of a certain generation and formation, bred to a genuine piety about the papacy. His training in the papal diplomatic service would instinctively lead him to make the defense of the pope his first, second, third, and hundredth priority. If he believes that what he has now said is true, and that the Church needs to learn that truth in order to cleanse itself of what is impeding its evangelical mission, then he is overriding his ingrained instincts for the gravest of reasons.
What Archbishop Viganò testifies to knowing on the basis of direct, personal, and in many cases documentable experiences in Rome and Washington deserves to be taken seriously, not peremptorily dismissed or ignored. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, evidently agrees, as his August 27 statement makes clear. That is another step toward the purification and reform we need.
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.