Catholic Church insiders are calling for Pope Francis to resign
Reeling from new claims of unfettered sexual abuse at the hands of priests and cover-ups by high-ranking officials, the Catholic Church is facing one of its most serious and divisive crises of the 21st century.
Last weekend, a former Vatican official, ex-papal nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò, published an incendiary open letter calling for Francis to resign for willfully turning a blind eye to ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s decades of sexual abuse and harassment against junior seminarians under his authority. (McCarrick has also been accused of abusing two minors; Viganò does not make any mention of those cases and does not imply Francis knew about them.)
Viganò claims that Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had imposed sanctions against McCarrick, mandating that he carry out the remainder of his life in prayer and seclusion, only for Francis to lift the ban upon ascending to the papacy in 2013. During Francis’s papacy, McCarrick served as a trusted Vatican adviser and influential voice on both internal church appointments and global affairs.
Viganò’s letter contains serious charges. Fundamentally, it alleges that Francis was knowingly negligent in dealing with known abuse by a major Catholic figure. But reading between the lines, it’s also possible to see in Viganò’s letter a wider political concern: the accusation that Pope Francis’s liberal ideology and lax attitude toward homosexuality fostered a culture of sexual abuse, propped up by a gay lobby operating at the highest echelons of the Vatican.
Viganò’s open letter exists in a much wider political context, in which both Vatican officials and Catholic conservative intellectuals — two groups that have historically been protective of the church’s secrecy — are willing to use the latest round of abuse accusations as an opportunity to speak out against Pope Francis.
In the aftermath of both the McCarrick case and the Pennsylvania report implicating hundreds of priests in the abuse of more than 1,000 children over several decades, archconservatives like Viganò have painted the picture of a church dominated by a shadowy progressive gay lobby, ruled by networks of blackmail and sexual favors and willing to turn a blind eye to systemic abuse. The McCarrick case in particular — which, in a departure from many other abuse cases, predominanty involved allegations of sexual harassment of adults — has been a particular lightning rod for this kind of discourse.