ROME — The archbishop who accused Pope Francis of covering up a cardinal’s sexual misconduct has escalated his offensive with new, detailed accusations that put increasing pressure on a pontiff who the archbishop and his supporters say has misled the faithful and should resign.
The accuser, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, initially said he would turn off his phone and disappear into hiding for fear of his safety. But he then made a series of new accounts in conservative Roman Catholic news outlets.
In a new letter published late Friday by the conservative website LifeSiteNews, the archbishop gave his version of events leading up to the pope’s controversial September 2015 meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His description contradicted the Vatican’s own account of that private meeting, maintaining that Francis’ lieutenants lied to the public about the encounter, which threatened to eclipse the pope’s entire trip to the United States that month.
A letter by Archbishop Viganò made public last weekend alleged that the Vatican hierarchy was complicit in covering up accusations that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and that Pope Francis knew about the abuses years before they became public. It also said that rather than punishing the cardinal, Francis empowered him to help choose powerful American bishops.
Archbishop Viganò has aligned himself with a conservative group of powerful prelates, in both the Vatican and the United States, who have seized on the clerical sex abuse scandal to try to damage Francis and his agenda. They believe the pope is abandoning the church’s rules and traditions through his shift away from culture-war issues like abortion in favor of an emphasis on inclusion, including toward gays, whom Archbishop Viganò and his allies blame for pedophilia in the church.
The archbishop writes that he was spurred to weigh in again by a New York Times article this past week quoting a Chilean abuse survivor, Juan Carlos Cruz. Mr. Cruz said Francis had told him that Archbishop Viganò sneaked Ms. Davis into the Vatican Embassy in Washington for a private meeting in 2015 and that the pope did not know who she was or why she was controversial.
Mr. Cruz recalled the pope saying to him, “I was horrified and I fired that nuncio,” or papal ambassador — a reference to Archbishop Viganò, who was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States.
Archbishop Viganò writes in the new letter: “One of them is lying: either Cruz or the pope? What is certain is that the pope knew very well who Davis was, and he and his close collaborators had approved the private audience.”
Archbishop Viganò did not return a request for comment on Saturday. But in the new letter, he lays out in detail his version of events in which he says he personally briefed the pope on Sept. 23, 2015, giving him a memo, which he also provided to LifeSiteNews, summarizing the case of Ms. Davis.
He claims that the pope “immediately appeared in favor” of a meeting but seemed wary of the political implications, asking the ambassador to clear it with his top adviser, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. That night, in a Washington hotel, Archbishop Viganò says, he was met instead by now-Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was then Francis’ chief of staff, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister.
Archbishop Viganò says that he then provided them with the letter, and after Archbishop Gallagher verified that the meeting presented no legal obstacles, he “gave an unconditionally favorable opinion that the pope should receive Davis.”
The Vatican’s press office declined to make Cardinals Parolin and Becciu and Archbishop Gallagher available for comment on Saturday morning. A message sent to a Lithuanian monsignor who Archbishop Viganò said witnessed the meeting in the Washington hotel lobby was not answered.
Archbishop Viganò says he informed the pope of that decision the next morning, and “the pope then gave his consent.” Archbishop Viganò says he then organized the secret meeting with Ms. Davis, who was in town to receive an award from the Family Research Council, a politically active conservative Christian group.
Early in the afternoon of Sept. 24, Archbishhop Viganò writes, the pope “entered as planned” into a sitting room to meet Ms. Davis, “embraced her affectionately, thanked her for her courage and invited her to persevere.”
When news of the meeting leaked, the media storm knocked Pope Francis off his message of inclusivity. The Vatican’s press office asserted that the pope had never received Ms. Davis in private audience and that the pope was probably not briefed. The Vatican instead highlighted Francis’ warm meeting at the Washington Embassy with a gay former student and his partner.
Francis then summoned Archbishop Viganò to Rome for what his top advisers assured Archbishop Viganò would be a chewing out, but the archbishop writes, “To my great surprise, during this long meeting, the pope did not mention even once the audience with Davis!”