If Pope Francis resigns, the Catholic Church could go into schism – Damian Thompson

Pope Francis

If Archbishop Vigano is shown to be telling the truth, and the Vicar of Christ was in league with a man he had been told was a wicked sex abuser, how can Catholics be expected to go to Mass and pray for “Francis, our Pope”? – Damian Thompson

The allegation by a former senior Vatican diplomat that Pope Francis vigorously covered up sex abuse is looking more credible by the day. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, says he told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, was a serial abuser of seminarians. The Pope ignored him, he claims—and lifted sanctions placed by Benedict XVI on McCarrick. Moreover, he fully rehabilitated the old man, who became one of his most trusted advisers. Viganò has called on Francis to resign.

We can now be reasonably certain that Benedict, after a deplorable delay, did punish McCarrick, whom independent sources have confirmed was forced out of the seminary where he lived in retirement and moved to a new home in Washington DC. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, current Archbishop of Washington, says he knew nothing of McCarrick’s crimes or punishment. That claim seems implausible.

Even some of the cardinals most closely allied to Francis, such as Blase Cupich of Chicago, appearing to be tiptoeing away from a profoundly damaged pontiff. Cardinal Cupich has issued a statement calling Viganò’s 11-page testimony “astonishing” and denying its claim that he was given the prime see of Chicago at the behest of McCarrick. But he has not defended the Pope against Viganò’s charge that he culpably protected and promoted a sinister predator; instead he has called for a “thorough vetting” of his testimony.

An article by Michael Brendan Dougherty in National Review sums up the private thinking of many cardinals, bishops, priests and laity, who are joining the dots between the rehabilitation of McCarrick and previous examples of Francis turning a blind eye to the wrongdoing of his allies. “The record of Francis’ pontificate is such that it is easier than it should be to credit the accusation that he would knowingly rehabilitate a progressive but morally dissolute cardinal and grant him greater influence in the Church”, writes Dougherty.

All of which suggests that this pontificate will come to a spectacular and disastrous end, as I wrote when the scandal broke at the weekend. At the time I thought Francis might be forced to resign, though it would require a great deal of force, such is the man’s arrogance and his almost limitless powers as pope.

But not so fast. Canon 332 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law says that “should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made” (my emphasis).

If Francis announces that he is resigning, and it is clear that he is doing so because the allegations against him are true, then can one really say that the resignation was “freely made”?

According to some canon lawyers, any Pope compelled to resign by scandal cannot be said to have made his decision of his own free will—even if he insists that he is doing so. (Note that Benedict XVI, when he astonished the college of cardinals by resigning, stressed that the decision was his alone—and no one of any consequence has disputed this: it was a bolt from the blue.)

It’s likely that, in these circumstances, Francis loyalists would jump on Canon 332 and use it to justify their refusal to recognise any successor as pope.

The result? Schism, surely. One can imagine a situation in which some dioceses or parishes recognise Francis as pope, while others declare their loyalty to the new man. The Church would be plunged back into the medieval turmoil of rival papacies, of popes and antipopes.

This explains why some conservatives would rather see Francis remain as an utterly discredited pope than contemplate a resignation.

And yet … if Viganò is shown to be telling the truth, and the Vicar of Christ was in league with a man he had been told was a wicked sex abuser, how can Catholics be expected to go to Mass and pray for “Francis, our Pope”? Dioceses and parishes will secede from Rome in some way or other, even if they stop short of schism (that is, formally rejecting the authority of the Roman pontiff). Can one blame them?

Medieval analogies notwithstanding, there is no precedent for the escalating chaos in the Catholic Church. And the individual chiefly responsible for that—whatever his degree of culpability in the case of McCarrick, and bearing in mind the failings of previous popes—is Francis.

If Francis announces that he is resigning then can one really say that the resignation was “freely made”? According to some canon lawyers, any Pope compelled to resign by scandal cannot be said to have made his decision of his own free will—even if he insists that he is doing so. – The Spectator, 28 August 2018

Pope Francis


2 Responses

  1. Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, is pictured at his residence at the Vatican in this Oct. 20, 2011, file photo. The former nuncio has accused church officials, including Pope Francis, of failing to act on accusations of abuse by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See VIGANO-TESTIMONY-MCCARRICK Aug. 26, 2018.

    Archbishop who called on Pope to resign says corruption reaches the very top of the Vatican Curia – Philip Pullella – Reuters – Vatican City – 30 August 2018

    The archbishop who sparked a crisis in the Catholic Church by calling on Pope Francis to resign has denied he was motivated by personal vendetta and said he sought to show that corruption had reached the top levels of the Church hierarchy.

    Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has gone into hiding since conservative media published an 11-page statement in which he alleged the pope knew for years about sexual misconduct by an American cardinal and did nothing about it.

    Vigano has been communicating through Aldo Maria Valli, an Italian television journalist who Vigano consulted several times before releasing his statement last Sunday when the pope was in Ireland.

    Italian media has reported he was upset because he was never made a cardinal by former Pope Benedict or because Francis blocked his further advancement in the Church.

    “I have never had feelings of vendetta and rancour in all these years,” he was quoted as telling Valli, who has been publishing statements from Vigano in his blog.

    “I spoke out because corruption has reached the top levels of Church hierarchy,” said Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington.

    The Vatican had no comment on the new accusations by Vigano.

    In his statement, Vigano accused a long list of current and past Vatican and U.S. Church officials of covering up the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month in disgrace.

    One of the people he attacks in the statement is Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, who was secretary of state under former Pope Benedict.

    Italian media reports have said Vigano was upset because Bertone had blocked any possibility of him becoming a cardinal.

    In his comments published on Valli’s blog, Vigano says he himself gave up the possibility of becoming a cardinal “for the good of the Church”.

    Vigano did not include any supporting documents in his remarkably blunt statement in which he said cover-ups in the Church were making it look like “a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar from the one that prevails in the mafia”.

    On his flight home from Ireland on Sunday, Francis told reporters he would “not say one word” about the accusations.

    “Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves,” he said.

    Francis’ supporters say the statement contains holes and contradictions and note that Vigano prepared it with help from two journalists who have been critical of Francis, citing this as evidence that it forms part of an ideological anti-Francis strategy. The journalists deny this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: