The blistering indictment of Pope Francis by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, published while the Holy Father was on a difficult trip to Ireland, is such a novelty that it will take time to digest properly.

For any prelate, let alone a former apostolic nuncio, to call for the Pope’s resignation is certainly shocking. That a pope should resign is in itself an unhappy thing, as the abdication of Benedict XVI demonstrated. To call for his resignation indicates that the Church has entered treacherous waters. It harms Viganò’s case that he proposes a remedy of such severity in a document that is intemperate when it should be sober, and skirts defamation when it should be cautious in attributing motivations.

Nevertheless, what Viganò offers cannot be dismissed. The accusations are too grave, and the source is sufficiently credible to warrant investigation.

The key charge of Archbishop Viganò’s “testimony” is fourfold: 1) that he told Pope Francis in June 2013 about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s depravities, 2) that the Congregation for Bishops had a “thick” dossier detailing them, 3) that Pope Benedict had restricted McCarrick to a life of “prayer and penance” in response, and 4) that Francis subsequently rehabilitated McCarrick despite all that.

Viganò does not fully explain how McCarrick, if ordered to a reserved life of prayer and penance, continued to appear in public throughout Benedict’s pontificate. Viganò claims that the Congregation for Bishops told him of the restrictions in preparation for his 2011 posting as nuncio in Washington and that he repeated them when meeting with McCarrick.

If true, Viganò’s charges will exhaust the energy of the remainder of this pontificate. He is a long-serving, respected Vatican official, therefore his claims merit proper investigation. The American bishops have already asked Pope Francis to appoint an apostolic visitor to investigate the entire McCarrick matter. It is likely that the visitor, when appointed, would have interviewed Viganò in any case. His “testimony” will now be part of the material that the visitor must examine.

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