How a man who rose quietly through the Curia became the most incendiary figure in the Catholic Church

Anybody considering a career in the Roman Curia is well advised to avoid public controversy and be noticed only by the right people and in the right way. Last month, one man who had observed that code for most of his life abandoned it to make astonishing accusations against the reigning Pope, going so far as to call upon him to resign.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has accused Pope Francis of reversing disciplinary action taken by his predecessor against the alleged sexual predator Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and allowing McCarrick a privileged role in influencing US episcopal appointments. The media storm Viganò unleashed has led him to go to ground, reportedly fearing for his life.

So who is the author of this unprecedented attack on the head of the earthly Church? He is a man whose seemingly effortless progression towards the highest ranks of papal service was abruptly halted, before this extraordinary postscript was added some two years after his retirement.

Carlo Maria Viganò was born on January 16, 1941 to wealthy parents in the Lombard city of Varese in northern Italy. Ordained priest in 1968, he went on to gain a doctorate utriusque legis, “of both laws”. The bearers of this distinction are often marked out for advancement, so it was no surprise that the young priest entered the Roman Curia in 1973.

For more than 30 years, Viganò succeeded in being noticed only by the right people in the right way. He held junior positions at the papal delegations in London and Baghdad before returning to Rome, as is typical, to man a desk at the Secretariat of State.

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