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Vatican fights back against accusations of sex abuse cover-up

Representatives of Pope Francis have disputed the claims made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano

Allies of Pope Francis have hit back at accusations that he was aware of sex abuse by an American cardinal. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
Allies of Pope Francis have hit back at accusations that he was aware of sex abuse by an American cardinal. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

The Vatican is starting to push back against Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, author of the bombshell accusation of sex abuse cover-up against Pope Francis, with a statement on Sunday from its former spokesman about a controversial 2015 meeting Mr Vigano organised.

The Reverend Federico Lombardi and his English-language assistant, the Reverend Thomas Rosica, issued a joint statement disputing Mr Vigano’s claims about the encounter he organised with American anti-homosexual marriage campaigner Kim Davis during Pope Francis’s September 2015 visit to the United States.

News of the Davis audience made headlines at the time and was viewed by conservatives as a papal stamp of approval for Ms Davis, the Kentucky clerk at the centre of the US homosexual marriage debate. The Vatican furiously sought to downplay it, with Mr Lombardi saying the meeting by no means indicated papal support for Ms Davis and insisting that the only private audience Pope Francis held in Washington was with a former student and his partner.


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The September 24, 2015, meeting and ensuing controversy has been cited as evidence of the frosty relations between Mr Vigano and Pope Francis that predated Mr Vigano’s remarkable denunciation of how Vatican officials, starting in 2000, knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick but covered them up.

Mr Vigano, whose August 26 claims that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick starting in 2013 have thrown the papacy into turmoil, issued a second statement August 30 saying Pope Francis knew well who Ms Davis was, and that the Vatican hierarchy approved the meeting in advance.

He said he was nevertheless summoned to Rome urgently after news of the meeting was leaked but said the Pope had nothing but praise for his efforts organising the trip when the two met October 9, 2015.

In the joint statement Sunday, Mr Rosica transcribed what he said were handwritten notes from a meeting he and Mr Lombardi had with Mr Vigano the following evening. In those notes, Mr Rosica quoted Mr Vigano as telling them that the Pope had actually chastised him for “deceiving” him with the Davis encounter, and for having withheld the fact that Ms Davis had been married four times.

In his part of the joint statement, Mr Lombardi said Mr Vigano initiated the Davis meeting, should have known about the furore that it would cause, and that even though Vatican officials approved of it, they were not sufficiently informed about the significance such a meeting would take on.

The meeting has taken on new relevance following Mr Vigano’s allegations that he informed Pope Francis of Mr McCarrick’s misconduct on June 23, 2013, and that the Pope rehabilitated Mr McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 or 2010.

There is no evidence those sanctions were ever enforced, since McCarrick lived a very public ministry in those years, travelling around the world for the church. Mr Vigano said Pope Francis should resign for what he said was his complicity in the nearly two-decade long cover-up of McCarrick’s misconduct.

Pope Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a US investigation determined an allegation he groped a teenager in the 1970s was credible. Up until then, the only accusations known publicly against McCarrick were of misconduct with adults, an abuse of power but considered much less serious than sexually abusing a minor in the eyes of the church.

Mr Rosica said no Holy See officials were involved in the drafting of the statement with Mr Lombardi, but that he shared a copy of it with the Vatican Secretary of State and Foreign Minister. The statement was issued on the same day as the announcement that Mr Lombardi would be resuming a more prominent communications role for the church by returning to work at the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

The magazine is edited by one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers, the Reverend Antonio Spadaro, and serves as something of an unofficial mouthpiece for the Vatican. Its content is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State prior to publication.

Updated: September 3, 2018 09:19 AM