Photo: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2014.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, appointed prefect of Congregation for Bishops a little over two months before Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was appointed to Washington D.C., has so far been unwilling to speak to the press about Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony.
He joins many other cardinals and Vatican officials unwilling to speak to the media on this issue, despite Pope Francis call on journalists to investigate the allegations made in the testimony.
“The Vatican is shut as hard and as tight as an unshucked oyster,” said the American columnist and author Rod Dreher.
Cardinal Re’s unwillingness to speak is particularly regrettable as he probably knows more than most about the McCarrick case, why and how he came to be archbishop of Washington D.C., and the precise nature of the sanctions or measures imposed on him.
The Italian cardinal was prefect at the time of McCarrick’s nomination, but also, according to Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, was opposed to the appointment.
“At the nunciature in Washington there is a note, written in his hand, in which Cardinal Re disassociates himself from the appointment and states that McCarrick was 14th on the list for Washington,” Archbishop Viganò wrote.
He also pointed out it was through Cardinal Re, in 2009 or 2010, that he had learned Pope Benedict “had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis.”
Before Pope St. John Paul II appointed him to the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Re had held the key position of Sostituto (Substitute) for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, responsible for much of the day-to-day running of the Roman Curia and where much sensitive information would have crossed his desk.
Certainly, Cardinal Re’s successor as sostituto, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, knew about the allegations against McCarrick as Sandri referred to them in a newly discovered letter, dated Oct. 11, 2006.
Published by Catholic News Service Sept. 7, Archbishop Sandri’s letter confirmed what Archbishop Viganò had already written in his testimony: that Dominican Father Boniface Ramsey had notified the Vatican about McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians on Nov. 22, 2000, a day after McCarrick’s appointment to Washington D.C.
But ever since Archbishop Viganò released his testimony on Aug. 25, Cardinal Re has avoided journalists’ inquiries, firstly an unidentified man told the Register Aug. 29 from the cardinal’s home phone that “Cardinal Re is not here, he is in the mountains,” and then on Sept. 8 the cardinal told the Register he didn’t “feel well” and recommending we “speak to someone else.”
All other attempts by the Register and EWTN’s Rome bureau to obtain documentation or comment from dicastery heads, active or retired cardinals, and the Holy See Press Office have not been successful.
The press office did not respond today to inquiries about what, if any, action would be taken with respect to Archbishop Viganò and his testimony (some announcement, however, may come after this week’s meeting of the C9 Group of Cardinals which ends on Wednesday).
Perhaps the closest indication the Vatican was at least open to cooperating with the media came from a secretary to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who told EWTN’s News Nightly’s Juliet Linley Sept. 6 that the Holy See was “working to be at the service of truth.”
But the official also said his office could “not provide documents.”
A cardinal who was active during Benedict’s pontificate today gave a helpful insight into how Vatican officials see this issue. The cardinal told a Vatican journalist from another news outlet that the sins and scandals of members of the Church should not be made public, and Archbishop Viganò should not have gone to the media with his concerns. “The media does the work of the devil,” the cardinal said, according to the journalist, who recounted the conversation to the Register.
The Vatican’s negative attitude toward the media, coupled with a seeming lack of interest on the part of the mainstream media in verifying Archbishop Viganò’s allegations (how different the mainstream media’s response would have been if all this happened with Benedict as pope, a cardinal told me last week), mean it is unlikely we are going to get to any confirmation of the testimony anytime soon.
UPDATE Sept. 10, 7.40pm
The Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reform of the Roman Curia issued a statement this evening saying the Vatican is preparing “necessary clarifications” about accusations that the Pope covered up the abuse of Archbishop McCarrick.
The Council said it expressed its “full solidarity” with Pope Francis “in the face of what has happened in the past few weeks.”