Satan, the “Great Accuser,” has been unleashed against the bishops of the Church, Pope Francis said Tuesday, in a thinly veiled reference to the former Vatican nuncio to the United States.
The former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, recently accused a number of prelates of dereliction of duty in dealing with clerical sex abuse and claimed that the pope had rehabilitated serial abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, elevating him to a position of influence despite knowledge of his misdeeds.
In an 11-page testimony published on August 25, Viganò alleged that he had personally informed Pope Francis in 2013 of the serial homosexual abuse perpetrated by Cardinal McCarrick, along with sanctions imposed on his ministry by Pope Benedict XVI, and yet the pope lifted those sanctions and involved McCarrick in the naming of future bishops.
“The Great Accuser, as he himself tells God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, roams around the earth looking for someone to accuse,” Francis said in his morning homily at Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican.
In these times “it seems that the Great Accuser has been unleashed and has it in for the bishops,” the pope said.
“It is true, we are all sinners, we bishops,” he said, but the Great Accuser “seeks to unveil sins so that they may be seen, to scandalize the people.”
Despite the pope’s frequent calls for transparency and accountability for those responsible for committing or covering up sex abuse, he seemed to suggest Tuesday that the former nuncio had behaved like Satan by making public the errors of his brother bishops.
When asked about these allegations shortly after their publication, Pope Francis dodged questions from reporters, telling them to read the accusations and make their own assessment of their credibility.
On the papal plane returning from Ireland in late August, a journalist asked the pope if it were true that the papal nuncio had explicitly informed him in 2013 of sexual abuse perpetrated by Cardinal McCarrick and subsequent sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis acknowledged having read the statement but refused to confirm or deny the allegations. “I won’t say a word about this,” he said.
Since then, a number of bishops have criticized the pope’s “no comment” media strategy, insisting the allegations are very serious and that Francis has the duty to clarify the facts to provide the “accountability” for which he himself has called.
Certain news reports from early in the Francis pontificate would seem to lend credence to charges that the pope gave McCarrick a new lease on life shortly after his election.
In a 2014 article in the Washington Post, journalist David Gibson said that McCarrick was “one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI.”
“But now Francis is pope, and prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper (another old friend of McCarrick’s) and McCarrick himself are back in the mix, and busier than ever,” Gibson wrote.
“Francis, who has put the Vatican back on the geopolitical stage, knows that when he needs a savvy back channel operator he can turn to McCarrick,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome