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The Vatican, however, has not spoken.
— JD Flynn; Catholic News Agency, July 1, 2020
Last week, Catholic News Agency (CNA) published an essay
by their editor-in-chief, JD Flynn, analyzing Archbishop Viganò’s growing pile of public missives and the Vatican’s silence about him. In this article, Flynn correctly notes that Viganò’s original contentions — about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse scandal — have since given way to a variety of other topics, some even going into doctrinal matters (specifically involving the Second Vatican Council).
Flynn then goes on to assert that the Vatican in general (and Pope Francis in particular) have maintained their silence on Viganò. This claim, however, is only partially correct. But the greatest problem arises later on, when Flynn speculates about potential explanations for this papal silence. Here, his essay fails in its analysis. His tone seems to betray a certain (and understandable) frustration with this silence, since Viganò’s rhetoric appears to have reached the mainstream after President Trump tweeted
a link to one of his open letters.
Speaking as someone who has closely studied the spirituality and the theological mind of Jorge Mario Bergoglio for several years, the possible explanations that Flynn proposes for Francis’s silence are implausible and reflect neither the character nor the leadership style of our pope. But let us first examine the first misconception in this piece: the claim that the Vatican has remained silent. This is not true.
As Flynn notes, the topic of …
But Flynn’s essay also misses the mark when he advances a series of hypotheses that he believes might explain the Vatican’s silence, namely: 1) Church leaders do not grasp the level of influence that Viganò has; 2) There is a misguided hope that Viganò will simply go away quietly; 3) They are reluctant to publicly admonish an archbishop who is a retired high-ranking diplomatic figure; 4) They are disinclined to answer due to sincere concerns for the archbishop’s health or his personal circumstances; 5) They want to avoid the uncomfortable fact that Francis has chosen to not answer many open “questions” (he specifically names the “substantive claims” by Viganò about McCarrick and the “unanswered” questions on Amoris Laetitia
). To his credit, Flynn does add reasons why almost all these hypotheses are likely wrongheaded.
Whatever role these guesses might play in answering his question, the main reason cannot be found anywhere in Flynn’s article. This, in my mind, demonstrates the fundamental lack of comprehension of Francis that is held by even his most deferential critics.
The reason for Pope Francis’s silence is rooted in two facts.
The first is that, as I have mentioned, the Vatican did indeed respond in the beginning, through Cardinal Ouellet’s open letter. It was roundly dismissed by those who supported Viganò, including by CNA and JD Flynn himself. Ultimately, it served no purpose. So why keep pursuing this approach? Nothing the Vatican can say or do will change the minds of those who have decided to believe and support Viganò, no matter how ridiculous his claims have become.
The second reason flows from the first. It is deeply rooted in Pope Francis’s spirituality and his life philosophy. As Father Jorge Bergoglio wrote in an essay in the 1990s:
In moments of darkness and tribulation, when the tangles and the knots cannot be untied, nor things clarified, then we must be silent.
In the same essay, Fr. Bergoglio further explains this reasoning
. When a person is attacked in a way that “cannot be clarified,” then that person’s best response is to keep silent. Truth will eventually come to the surface, because the “weakness” shown by this person inevitably emboldens the Devil, who will then manifest himself, revealing the evil motivations he had concealed until that time.
In other words, by letting the accuser talk, the person who suffers in silence will give this accuser enough rope to hang himself. Let him talk. Sooner or later he will reveal the inconsistencies and lies in his accusations.
This is precisely what happened with Viganò. Flynn correctly notes that “the archbishop has changed his topic, from the McCarrick affair to conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, the Marian apparition at Fatima, and the Second Vatican Council.“
In other words, Viganò is letting it all out now. His accusations do not serve the legitimate aim of doing justice for the McCarrick victims anymore, as they once appeared to do. Viganò’s accusations now seem to be ends in themselves; they seek to transform the Church according to the agenda of certain Catholics who pit themselves as the guardians of orthodoxy against
the Vicar of Christ and an ecumenical council.
Not only that, but Viganò’s missives have become so unhinged, conspiratorial, and detached from reality, that at this moment, there is no excuse for a Catholic to follow him. By now, it is as clear as day: Viganò’s best refutation is Viganò himself. This is a much stronger argument than if Pope Francis had issued a point-by-point refutation of every single one of his claims. If someone is still following Viganò at this point, then I don’t know what the Vatican could say that would convince them. They are simply too far off. I believe that for this subset of our Church, only prayers, not arguments, will help.
Those who helped advance Viganò’s claims and supported his ideological agenda in 2018 and 2019 but believe today that he has lost the plot should do a serious self-examination of their role in leading these “little ones” astray.
In the end, the burden is not on the Vatican to clarify everything that a popular ideologue has been promoting. The burden is on Catholics, who must seek a conversion of heart. This especially involves submitting to the authority of the Vicar of Christ, and to not place him below teachers who say what our itching ears want to hear. When Catholics have this change of heart, I am certain that all the clarifications they long for will come, and from the pope himself.
That is not what is happening, though. For years, the supporters and defenders of Pope Francis have faced mockery, ridicule, and dismissiveness by influential Catholic public figures who have opposed him at every pivotal moment: the Synods on the Family, Amoris Laetitia
, the dubia
, the change to the official Church teaching on the death penalty, the Synod on Young People, the Amazon Synod, the authentically Catholic religious practices of indigenous people, the original Viganò testimony. And now they criticize him again, when the division and hysterical paranoia that they helped foster
has gone a bit farther than some of them would like. Their game — no matter what their goal — is attempting to disrupt Pope Francis and criticizing his decisions.
But nothing has changed since 2018, even if Viganò has now become a mainstream figure. The number of followers he has is irrelevant at this point. What matters is their mindset. Are they open to clarifications from the pope, even if the truth is inconvenient to their narrative? Or have they simply made Viganò a hero that embodies their hopes and desires, which are not open to change? Because if it’s the latter, addressing Viganò will be futile. Maybe it’s time instead to listen to and learn from the pope rather than tell everyone else what you think he should be doing.