World & Nation

Vatican fires back at archbishop who accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse

Pope Francis blesses the crowd as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday.
(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

A senior Catholic cardinal has launched a stinging attack on the archbishop who accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse, saying his accusations were a “blasphemous” plot.

In a letter released Sunday by the Vatican, Cardinal Marc Ouellet said Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano had made “reprehensible” and “monstrous” claims, and demanded he repent and “stop fostering hostility” against the pope.

The letter is the latest round of an increasingly public battle between Francis’ backers and conservative Catholics who object to his mercy-before-dogma papacy and view his record on abuse as a weak spot.

Vigano’s allegations against the pope center on the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, who had long been trailed by allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and in July was stripped of the title of cardinal after an investigation by the church found “credible evidence” he abused a teenage boy in the 1970s.

Vigano, a former papal nuncio to the U.S. now living in an undisclosed location, claimed in August that Francis must have known about the abuse but still rescinded sanctions that had been imposed against McCarrick. He urged the pope to resign.

The Vatican is fighting to control the damage.

On Saturday, it announced the launch of a “thorough study” of Vatican archives to understand how McCarrick had risen through its ranks, and on Sunday, Ouellet issued his fiery response to Vigano.

In the letter — released in Italian, Spanish and English — the Canadian cardinal, who heads the Vatican’s office for bishops, said McCarrick had been told not to appear in public during the papacy of Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, because of “rumors about his behavior in the past.” It was the first time the Vatican admitted that.

Ouellet said these were recommendations, not official sanctions. “The reason was that there was insufficient proof of his guilt, unlike today,” he wrote.

Contrary to Vigano’s claims, he said, there were no sanctions for Francis to rescind.

He also wrote: “Francis had nothing to do with McCarrick’s promotions to New York, Metuchen, Newark and Washington.”

Calling the accusation by Vigano “a political plot that lacks any real basis that could incriminate the Pope and that profoundly harms the communion of the Church,” Ouellet urged the archbishop to come out of hiding.

“Stop living clandestinely, repent of your rebelliousness, and come back to better feelings towards the Holy Father, instead of fostering hostility against him,” he wrote.

Robert Mickens, the English-language editor of independent Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said he could not recall such a fierce spat between senior prelates.

“This is extraordinary,” he said. “Vigano’s claims were without precedent, and Ouellet’s response is unusual.”

Kington is a special correspondent.