ROME – If there’s one thing anyone who’s covered the Vatican for a long time ought to have learned by now, it’s never to say a particular story just can’t get anymore surreal, because trust me – it always can.
On Tuesday, veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin, who broke the story about Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s bombshell letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up abuse charges against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and calling on the pope to resign, added a new twist to the evolving narrative.
According to Pentin, “Viganò has gone into hiding and fears for his life following the publication of his testimony.”
Assuming that’s accurate, it’s either the result of stress and an overactive imagination, or Viganò has some genuine reason to fear that he might be in danger. Either way, it’s another odd development in what began life as an already remarkable storyline.
Aside from that, there have been two other chapters to the story which have come into focus over the last 48 hours.
First, several American bishops (and one from Kazakhstan) have commented on the Viganò accusations, and in some cases the tone has been incredibly blunt.
Here’s Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego: “In its ideologically-driven selection of bishops who are attacked, in its clear efforts to settle old personal scores, in its omission of any reference to Archbishop Viganò’s own massive personal participation in the covering up of sexual abuse by bishops, and most profoundly in its hatred for Pope Francis and all that he has taught, Archbishop Viganò consistently subordinates the pursuit of comprehensive truth to partisanship, division and distortion.”
Meanwhile, here’s Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin: “The criteria for credible allegations are more than fulfilled, and an investigation, according to proper canonical procedures, is certainly in order … I must confess my disappointment that in his remarks on the return flight from Dublin to Rome, the Holy Father chose a course of ‘no comment’ regarding any conclusions that might be drawn from Archbishop Viganò’s allegations. Pope Francis further said expressly that such conclusions should be left to the ‘professional maturity’ of journalists. In the United States and elsewhere, in fact, very little is more questionable than the professional maturity of journalists.”
Overall, the scorecard so far is four bishops speaking in defense of Pope Francis (Cupich of Chicago, Tobin of Newark, Wuerl of Washington and McElroy), six supportive of Viganò (Konderla of Tulsa, Olmsted of Phoenix, Strickland of Tyler, Texas, Chaput of Philadelphia, Schneider of Kazakhstan and Morlino.)
To make the record complete, those whose statements appeared to skew in the pope’s favor generally were also responding to allegations against themselves too contained in the Viganò missive.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, on behalf of the executive committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a careful statement that called for investigation but didn’t really take sides. Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit also put out a statement that seemed deliberately neutral.