Rush Not to Judgment: Why I Am Giving Pope Francis the Benefit of the Doubt

When I read the reports of Archbishop Vigano’s accusations concerning Pope Francis late Saturday night, I felt physically sick.  I think I have made it pretty clear here and elsewhere that I love Pope Francis.  And because I am a faithful and obedient Catholic, albeit a bad one, I would have been sickened by such allegations levied against any Pope, because I really believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church.
So at first I felt spiritually unmoored.  For the first time in all of these scandals, I felt a shaking of my faith.
But again, as a faithful Catholic, I felt bound to give the Pope of all people the benefit of the doubt, to withhold judgment while waiting to hear more.  By morning when the mainstream press was unable to independently corroborate Vigano’s statement with documentary evidence, I started to calm down.
See, I don’t know much about Church politics.  I mean, I know they exist, but I hate to think about such petty and worldly concerns being mixed up with God’s Church.  I don’t like the bandying about of terms like “liberal” and “conservative” Catholic, even though I know what people mean when they say that.  I’ve been accused of being “liberal” but I see myself as quite orthodox and challenge anyone to point to any occasion I have ever dissented from any Church teaching, feeling quite confident that they won’t be able to.
So when I saw that a person of some prominence in the Church had accused Pope Francis, my initial reaction was to believe him, because why would he not tell the truth?  But then I realized that he was the person who set the Pope up with Kim Davis, and I learned of his reputation of being too involved in U.S. culture wars.  And I started to think about where the accounts had been published–usually the first thing I look at in assessing news, but which I had overlooked in my distress–in sources I know from my own experience to be right wing and slanted in their reporting.   I noticed that the mainstream press wasn’t finding anything to write even though they were investigating hard.  Finally I saw exactly who was–not sorrowfully, not regretfully, but eagerly–leaping on the anti-Pope bandwagon and I thought I could see what was happening.
I’ve been downright horrified since this Pope was elected to see some of the things people have said about him on social media–people purporting to be faithful Catholics and held up as holy by many.  I’ve even had to unfollow some people and pages that seemed to me were bordering on heresy in their comments about our Holy Father.  I had always thought that respect and reverence for the Pope is a baseline qualification for being Catholic.  I personally wasn’t all that excited when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, but as soon as he became Pope Benedict, that was it for me.  He became my Pope and I gave him my respect and my obedience.   And yet it was obvious that Francis-haters–some long declared as such and some who had been staying quiet out of, one presumes, respect for the office–were leaping out of the woodwork to announce their unqualified belief in Vigano’s testimony.
Do you remember the Steele dossier?  Remember how the mainstream press wouldn’t release it because they couldn’t confirm it?  I think it was BuzzFeed that leaked it initially.  Why do you think Vigano’s representative disseminated his testimony through the outlets he chose?  Why do you suppose he didn’t call The New York Times or The Washington Post with his bombshell news?  Because he knew that the mainstream media would have sat on it, as they did on the dossier, and rightly so–until they could confirm it.  Perhaps he knew that would never happen.
I waited anxiously for the Pope’s response, and I have no trouble admitting I was disappointed at first; but now I think he was being very smart.  First of all, he did not allow himself to be forced into making intemperate remarks on an airplane–as he sometimes has in the past–which seems clear to me is what his opponents were hoping to orchestrate by releasing the document when they did.  If he had openly denied the allegations, what would have made his detractors take his word over Vigano’s anyway?  Therefore, he offered the equivalent of “I am not going to dignify this gossip with a response,”  and he asked the journalists to investigate the claims, knowing that this is the only way his name will ever be cleared.
Think about it–we can and should ask the Vatican to investigate; we can and should ask the Bishops to investigate–but who really believes any of them anymore?  The USCCB came out with a statement which seems supportive of the Pope while also calling for further investigation, but not only is the credibility of the bishops at rock bottom right now, how much credence will anyone give to a show of support to the man who has the power to fire them all?
And let’s remember who else isn’t talking:  Vigano.  Why is no one upset about that?  He made allegations and now refuses to be cross-examined about them.  How can an investigation go forward under those circumstances?
Amidst calls for the Pope’s immediate resignation, I found it telling that the founder and spokesman for Bishopaccountability.org, a site dedicated to providing transparency regarding charges of sex abuse in the Church, is not yet among them.  Even though Pope Francis doesn’t have a spotless record on the site from his days as a bishop, Terry McKiernan told Our Sunday Visitor that he believes “Archbishop Vagano has ‘an axe to grind,’ [and] that there still should be a thorough investigation into what the pope and bishops knew about former Cardinal McCarrick, and when they knew it.”
Until that happens, I’ve been “investigating” myself the only way I know how:  by reading a wide variety of sources and trying to understand what is going on.  I have linked several of them below.  I am prepared to be accused of providing “liberal” sources.  I don’t believe that is accurate, but if it is you can chalk it up to the fact that the stories I am linking and the points of view they showcase seem to me to be underrepresented in what I’ve been reading on Catholic Facebook.
My “investigation” leads me to believe that conservative culture warriors have seized this opportunity and hijacked this crisis in an attempt to bring Pope Francis down.  They attack the Pope, his supporters respond, and now the conversation is about church politics instead of the abuse, the cover up, and the victims.  This, I believe, is one reason Pope Francis did not immediately answer the accusations–because he wanted the focus to remain on the sex abuse crisis, as it should.
Now, many faithful Catholics I know are sincerely alarmed by Vigano’s testimony and confused by the Pope’s response, and either don’t believe or may not realize that they are being manipulated by people who don’t care one iota about the sexual abuse or the victims but are playing politics and trying to split the Church into factions, much in the way our country has become divided along harsh partisan lines.  This is in itself a symptom of a sick sinfulness in the Church that exists alongside the sex and the silence.
Tactically I think the Pope’s response was the correct one.  Pastorally, not so much.  People are confused and upset and they want, need, and deserve answers.  I feel the Holy Father has always intended to provide them but I think he needs to do so sooner rather than later.  If there is never any documentary evidence, though, and if the people who could confirm key parts of the testimony–like Pope Benedict and Theodore McCarric–refuse to speak, I have to wonder whether the choice of whom to believe will continue to break along those same tired ideological lines, and whether the political divide in Christ’s Church is the real sin we need to be discussing.
I’ve always been on the side of the truth, ALWAYS.  I’m the obnoxious person who goes so far as to correct misinformation being passed around in emails and on Facebook, even when my own confirmation bias is triggered.  But right now, when we can’t know the truth, as a devout Catholic I stand with Pope Francis until I have more than gossip to go on.
RELATED LINKS
From the Associated Press:
Document in hand, Tosatti then set out to find publications willing to publish it in its entirety: the small Italian daily La Verita, the English-language National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews and the Spanish online site InfoVaticana.
All are conservative or ultraconservative media that have been highly critical of Francis’ mercy-over-morals papacy.
The English and Spanish publications translated the Italian document and all agreed on a Sunday morning embargo, coinciding with the second and final day of Francis’ trip to Ireland, where the Catholic church’s sex abuse and cover-up scandal dominated his trip.
Tosatti said Vigano didn’t tell him where he was going after the article came out, knowing that the world’s media would be clamoring to speak with him.
From The Washington Post:

Pope Francis has long faced criticism from traditionalists — a group that includes academics as well as cardinals — who say the church is too willingly following the whims of the anything-goes modern age.

Much of the dissent has remained within the Vatican walls, as Francis’s opponents worked to stonewall reforms. A few high-ranking church leaders have questioned him publicly about his teachings. But the simmering opposition has suddenly exploded across the Catholic world, with a former Vatican ambassador accusing the pope of covering up sexual abuse — and demanding that Francis step down.

From Vatican Insider in La Stampa:
That it is not simply the outburst of a Church man tired of the rotten things he has seen around him, but of a long and carefully planned operation, in an attempt to get the Pope to resign, is demonstrated by the timing and the involvement of the same international media network that for years has been propagating – often using anonymous ones – the requests of those who would like to overturn the result of the 2013 conclave. This is attested by the same testimonies written in the various blogs by the journalists who published the Viganò dossier: always in the forefront in the defense of the traditional family, but careless to drop the bombshell on the very day in which Francis concluded with a great mass the international meeting of families. 
From Our Sunday Visitor:
In his letter, Archbishop Viganò also wades into ideological battles roiling the Church in the United States. He singles out several bishops who were appointed by or are close to Pope Francis, questioning their sincerity and commitment to rooting out sex abuse. And in a time when the role of homosexuality in the clergy sex-abuse scandals is being hotly debated, the archbishop accuses some prelates who are close to the pope of belonging to a “homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.”
McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org, called Archbishop Viganò’s long statement “a uniquely comprehensive salvo in the Catholic culture wars.” He added that clergy sex abuse cuts across ideological lines.
From The New York Times:

The clerical sexual abuse is not only a personal and professional tragedy, but an institutional one, said John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

“We need to find out who knew what when, and what they did or did not do to protect young people,” Mr. Carr said. “The weaponization of the sexual abuse scandal uses the suffering of the vulnerable to advance ideological agendas and makes a horrible situation worse.”

From Steel Magnificat:
For a moment, it was all about the victims. Not people who dislike the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite or people who believe conspiracy theories, the actual victims. People who were raped or molested and then shamed into silence because it was more convenient to pretend they were lying than to work for justice.
Then the people who didn’t care about the victims found a way to make it all about them, and what they want the Church to look like, and how much they hate Pope Francis.
And I’ve heard barely a word about the victims since.

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  1. Laura says:

    Leslie, I appreciate you talking about this. I consider myself a moderate person who tries to appreciate both “sides” people take. I am well informed on Church politics, though of course like everyone else don’t know all the facts here. I did want to respond to a few points of yours:
    1. I am concerned about people making this into a liberal vs conservative thing. I would hope that if we take abuse seriously, no matter who makes accusations or who is being accused, we would take that seriously. I find it deeply concerning and insulting to victims that some dismiss Vigano’s claims just because of his background. His claims are not only about complicated Church politics, but have to do with serious covering up of McCarrick’s abuse.
    2. Vigano has indeed spoken since initially releasing the 11 page testimony. He has not refused. I would have to dig up the links since I’ve been reading so much, but am happy to if anyone would find that helpful.
    3. I have been looking for follow up on the credibility of Vigano’s claims, and found this just now. I do not know the bias of the site, but it really helped me to see these details: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2018/08/31/pope-francis-and-mccarrick-where-does-the-evidence-lead/
    4. I do think respect of the Papal office is always called for – a pretty basic thing about being Catholic like you said. But St. Catherine of Sienna is a good example of how we don’t owe blind obedience to him. I 100% am not one to think Pope Francis is the AntiChrist or something crazy like that. But I do think that serious allegations of this nature made against anyone should warrant investigation. It deeply disturbs me that we do not have a clear response at this time. So many are struggling, and we need our earthly Holy Father to guide us clearly now more than ever.
    I’ve found that Catholic News Agency’s reporting seems usually fact-based, and would recommend them. I do not mean anything I said as an attack against you personally, but felt strongly the need to clarify. It’s so hard to keep track of everything and I hope we get clarity on all this soon. It’s such a mess, and I just don’t think it’s helpful to leave us all to our own conclusions without evidence!

    • lesliesholly says:

      I appreciate your thorough response and I don’t take it as an attack at all! To answer some of your points:
      Regarding the “liberal and conservative thing,” I’m wondering if I didn’t make my point clear that my opinion is that even though I feel that this incident was designed to be a conservative vs. liberal thing from the get-go, I loathe the entire idea of liberal vs. conservative in the context of the Church, and investigating abuse and cover ups, making amends to victims, putting safeguards in place, and healing the Church are matters on which we should all be united.
      Regarding Vigano speaking out further, if you have a link I’d love to see it. The only additional statement I’ve seen from him was his attempt to exonerate himself from the charges of complicity that have been levied against him; it had no bearing on what he said about the Pope unless one feels that this additional unproven (at this time) statement increases his credibility.
      I will read your link from the UK Herald, and see what I can find out about that source as well. I agree with you about the CNA reporting.
      Regarding respect for the Pope and further investigation, I also agree that there should be an investigation, and Pope Francis instructed the press to being one. Do we need more? Absolutely. Because of the needs of his flock, Francis needs to speak out, perhaps sooner than he would prefer. We will see what happens there. I don’t offer blind obedience, only respect, and in the absence of facts and proof, choose to put my faith in the Pope rather than Vigano at this time.
      After I posted, I found another link that I personally found sheds a great deal of light on the Pope’s actions. I’ll post it below, and I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Again, I appreciate your engaging with me on this difficult topic that I was frankly quite scared to write about.
      https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/time-keep-silence

      • Laura says:

        Thanks, Leslie!
        I really don’t like the liberal vs. conservative thing anywhere, but I definitely agree it’s especially inappropriate in the Church – not to mention when dealing with this sensitive issue. Though some are making this out to be about that sort of conflict, I just don’t think we can say that without knowing people’s motivations.
        Following Vigano’s testimony, I have only seen people confirm details contained in it. Those who I’ve seen mad at him are simply mad about him as a person, but have not, to my knowledge, disproved anything in the statement. I have only heard the facts Vigano claims confirmed as true. To me, that speaks of the seriousness of the issue. If Vigano were just crazy or wanted to simply create turmoil, I would think by now that people would have disproved what he said. I’m sure it’s still possible that he could be disproved if his accusations are false, but unless that happens, I can’t discount such serious matters as a political thing. I don’t think what Vigano said is impossible. Pope Francis has promoted men with substantiated accusations of sex abuse before, and there were both kerfuffles in Honduras and Chile.
        I of course wish none of this were true, but knowing what I do, and the history of how Pope Francis handles this issue, I just cannot personally give him the benefit of the doubt. So that’s why I really, really, want to see an independent investigation. That is not what Pope Francis called for, nor what is happening. An investigation would be an organized, collaborative, effort, which would include legal representatives. Media personnel can and should be digging things up, but that’s not a thorough investigation.
        Here’s a follow up from Vigano: https://onepeterfive.com/vigano-crow-truth/ – I know I read at least one other, but am having a hard time sorting through my computer history!
        I did read through the link you shared. I wholeheartedly agree that silence is appropriate and noble and called for in certain times of persecution or unwarranted attack. But I do not think it’s accurate to liken this situation to a personal attack on Pope Francis. This is about serious facts or falsehoods that need to be investigated (and they’re not just about PF, it involves many other people). I do not believe silence is appropriate for him as leader, father figure, and representative of Jesus. I think if Jesus were here, he would not leave his children to wonder. Even if it *was* a personal attack, when it involves your kids, biological or spiritual, I think one has a responsibility to do what is best for them. I have to be honest and say that his silence right now is the thing that has made me most angry about this entire situation. It is so opposite of everything I know good leaders and father should do, I just can’t comprehend how it would be ok. I need to work through this more, because I still feel incredibly betrayed and angry about it. I appreciate discussing it!

  2. johnib says:

    Christ wanted us to be about compassion and forgiveness. No matter who violates the teachings of Christ and the reason, each individual is still challenged to live out the teachings of Christ for his own soul. I gain nothing by attacking anyone. I gain everything by following Christ.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Agreed. We would all do well to look first to our own behavior, and pray that others look to theirs. These divisions in His Body only cause pain to Christ. Thanks for commenting!

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