VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Monday recommended silence and prayer to counter those who “only seek scandal,” division and destruction in what appeared to be an indirect response to allegations that he had covered up for a U.S. cardinal embroiled in sex abuse scandals.
Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former papal envoy in Washington, stunned the faithful last month by claiming Francis allegedly lifted unconfirmed Vatican sanctions against disgraced U.S. prelate Theodore McCarrick and demanding that the pope resign.
“With people lacking good will, with people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family – silence, prayer” is the path to take, Francis said in his homily during morning Mass at the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Hours after Vigano made the claim in a statement given to conservative Catholic news media, Francis had told journalists seeking his response that he “won’t say a word” about the claims by the disgruntled former diplomat.
In his homily Monday, Francis indicated he takes his cue from God on whether to speak out or not about Vigano’s allegations.
“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent,” Francis said. “This applies to every part of life: to work, at home, in society.”
“Truth is meek, truth is silent, truth isn’t noisy,” the pope said in his Mass remarks.
Vigano has contended that while Benedict XVI was pope, he had sanctioned McCarrick, including avoiding public life, but that Francis later allegedly lifted the punishment.
During the years that McCarrick was purportedly under sanctions, the cardinal celebrated public Masses and attended other public functions, even before Francis became pontiff. Vigano claimed that he told Francis, shortly after he was elected pontiff in 2013, that McCarrick had been given sanctions by Benedict.
Weeks before Vigano went public with his claims, Francis in July yanked McCarrick’s cardinal rank after U.S. church panel deemed credible the American had sexually abused an altar boy. McCarrick has denied wrongdoing in that case.
It was the first time that a prelate had lost his cardinal’s rank in a sex abuse scandal, and the move was widely viewed as an indication that Francis was trying to make good on promises to crack down on clerics who either were found to have abused minors or adults or who covered up for priests who did.
The Vatican let several days pass before attempting to knock down some of Vigano’s contentions. On Sunday night, a former Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, and his English-language assistant, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, jointly disputed the prelate’s claims about an embarrassing encounter he arranged with U.S. anti-marriage crusader Kim Davis during Francis’ visit in the United States in 2015.
Vigano last week had insisted that Francis knew very well who Davis was and that the Vatican’s top brass had given advance approval.
Rosica said Vigano had told them that Francis had chewed him out for “deceiving” him about the meeting and for having not told the pope that Davis had been married four times. Lombardi, who served as spokesman for both Benedict and for a few years also for Francis, contended that the papal envoy should have figure out that the meeting would have caused a furor.
The Davis meeting contributed to chilly relations between Francis and the former diplomat.
Following decades of complaints by faithful in the United States and elsewhere that they were sexually abused as minors or adults by priests, or that their abusers were quietly shuffled from parish to parish, the church, including at the Vatican, has been struggling to effectively deal with the problem, including the role of higher-ups in hiding the abuses.
Frances D’Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio