For weeks, Pope Francis has been subjected to attacks from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Former Vatican diplomat criticizes pope's handling of abuse scandal and castigates homosexuality in church. Now Viganò lays again after.
Interviewer: Viganò's statements about homosexuality seem strange for many people. Why does he claim in a new letter that the homosexual orientation of many clergy is the main reason for sexual abuse of children and young people?
Burkhard Jurgens (journalist and Rome correspondent of the Catholic News Agency):It is interesting that he speaks at all of widespread homosexual orientation by many clerics. I would like to ask Viganò first: "Mr. Archbishop, you have been around a lot, you were nuncio in the USA for a long time. How many clerics in the Catholic Church are actually homosexuals?"I would have liked to have heard from him figures and examples.
Then perhaps one would also have to ask why the church leadership still functions quite well despite the allegedly so many homosexuals. He talks about homosexuality being a reason for abuse and justifies this in a way that is not quite easy to understand in the way that homosexuals would virtually use their clerical status to establish and maintain homosexual relationships. How exactly this is supposed to work, he does not specify. But he clearly distinguishes it from heterosexual relationships.
Interviewer: But he makes the same barrel between homosexuals and pedophiles, or?
Juergens: He sees the abuse scandal as a result of homosexuality becoming widespread after he caught it.
Interviewer: At the beginning of this debate after Archbishop Viganò's first letter, there were one or two Vatican experts who thought there might be something to these accusations against Pope Francis – even if Viganò's style has been criticized. How seriously is Viganò actually taken in the Vatican after this latest letter?
Juergens: So far there is still no reaction from the Vatican to this now third letter of Viganò. I don't think he can continue to be taken seriously. Because substantially he has contributed actually nothing new. In his latest letter he has defended the allegations he already made in his first letter at the end of August. He has tried to defend himself against the rebuttal from the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Ouellet. But little has been added in terms of content.
But what has become clearer is the attitude from which he is leading this whole charge. Namely, the notion that the church is in an uphill battle against homosexuality per se. And that he, Viganò, now as a meanwhile 77-year-old, old churchman is in the duty to simply have to ease his conscience here.
Interviewer: It took weeks for the Vatican to respond to Archbishop Viganò's initial accusations. Now the third letter is again a tit-for-tat response. In your estimation, will the Vatican now react again, or does it also want to avoid giving too much importance to the whole matter by remaining silent??
Juergens: I think that first of all the Vatican is keeping it low and trying not to take Viganò unnecessarily seriously.
On the other hand, in his third letter, he has again made strong accusations against the pope. He sees the Pope as someone who creates confusion and division – these are strong words, of course. Viganò also calls on priests and bishops to raise their voices against this pope who, in his estimation, is not living up to his task.
One question is also how long one can let this man go on like this. On the other hand, I imagine Pope Francis sees Viganò as a senior Curia member. He is now 77 years old. He has no function anymore. I imagine that his statements are simply judged as the somewhat eccentric statements of a private man.
Interviewer: From very conservative circles, Archbishop Viganò has so far received much approval for these harsh words against Francis. Why is that?
Jurgens: Viganò gets strong support from conservative, ultra-conservative circles. It is precisely these circles that make him public at all. He doesn't really have his own publication channel. His messages come from blogs on the right-wing Catholic scene.
The interest they have in him is very obvious. Viganò's bogeyman is homosexuality in the church. He sees homosexuality as a quasi-characteristic of a liberal attitude on the part of the church as a whole. It is virtually the figurehead of a Catholic Church that, in his view, has taken a wrong turn since the 1960s – too open to the world, too liberal, and therefore too lax in morals. Trying to turn that back again.
In this way he is exactly on the line of those who see the cause of the problem in the opening of the Catholic Church to the modern world. Not like Francis, who analyzed as a cause that there are unhealthy power structures within the Church. Viganò also addresses this quite clearly, saying, "To attribute the cause of the abuse to a clericalism is pure sophistry". So kind of an overwrought thought construct. He rejects this outright.
So it is clear: the split, the division that runs between Viganò's party and the Pope's party, is that between those who are bent on a stricter morality and those who are trying to advance a church reform that focuses on openness to the world and on a morality with a sense of proportion.
Interviewer: Now a priest and bishop actually owes obedience to the pope. Do you think it is possible that the Vatican will reprimand or punish Archbishop Viganò in any way??
Juergens: It's a question of whether the Vatican wants to take that 'nerve'. Vigano has no more office. Viganò has been retired for years and ultimately speaks as a private citizen. There I can imagine that one shows oneself very patient and that one also makes clear by the example of Viganò, which variety of opinions one wants to permit within the church.
The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.