Pope Francis has refused to comment on allegations by an ex-Vatican diplomat that the head of the Roman Catholic Church had helped cover up a serial of sexual abuses by a US cardinal, who was forced to resign last month.
The Vatican’s former ambassador to the US Carlo Maria Viganò claimed in a letter that Pope Francis knew for years about the sexual misconduct by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, but preferred to ignore those allegations and instead rehabilitated him as a powerful figure in the American church.
On board a flight back home from a 36-hour visit to Ireland on Sunday night, Francis was asked at a press conference for comments on the letter.
“I won’t say a word about it,” responded the pope. “I think that the communiqué speaks for itself.”
He said he would instead leave it to reporters to make their own “mature” judgment about the letter, which claimed Pope Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator.”
It also said the pontiff “knew that he (Viganò) was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end,” urging him to resign over remaining silent on sex abuse allegations.
The 11-page letter was published in The National Catholic Register earlier in the day, while the pontiff was offering apologies to people in Ireland and “begged for God’s forgiveness” for several abuse scandals within the Irish church over many decades.
Francis has on several occasions faced accusations of not responding effectively or decisively to the church’s sex-abuse crisis, but it is the first time he has been accused of wrongdoing himself by rehabilitating a top official, who had abused his authority.
If proven, the allegations would be extremely damaging to the reputation of Pope Francis and the Vatican, which has already come under pressure since the pontiff prompted international outrage in January by defending a controversial bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by a fellow Chilean priest.
Archbishop McCarrick, 88, resigned in late July — the first such resignation in living memory — after a church investigation found credible a charge that he had sexually abused a teenager nearly 50 years ago.
The former cardinal claimed he doesn’t recall the incident involving the teenager and pleaded not guilty.