A letter calling for his resignation shows how serious his crisis of credibility has become.
Pope Francis’s credibility has taken a major hit as the crisis over clergy sex abuse continues to roil the Catholic Church. Following weeks of horrifying revelations about the Church’s long-standing mismanagement of allegations against priests, the pope visited Ireland this weekend, asking forgiveness for a long list of “abuses” and “exploitation.” Reporters observed that crowds were nowhere near as large for Francis as they were for John Paul II, the last pope to visit Ireland. Protesters also called for more extensive apologies.
Then, toward the end of Francis’s trip, a prominent archbishop published a letter claiming the pope knew about—and covered up—the wrongdoings of Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal of Washington who has been accused of sexually harassing adult seminarians and abusing a child over a period of years. Carlo Maria Viganò, the former representative of the Vatican in the United States, called on Francis to resign, along with other “cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses.”
The pope refused to address these allegations on Sunday, telling reporters, “I will not say a word about this.” One of his prominent allies in the United States, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, questioned the veracity of several of Viganò’s claims in a statement. And the pope’s defenders have characterized the letter as a smear against Francis, in part because of Viganò’s past clashes with the pope. The letter reflects the simmering discontent of conservative clergy in Rome, who dislike Francis’s inclination towards reform.
Even if critics are correct that this letter was colored by vicious hierarchy infighting, it has exposed the extent of the vitriol surrounding the pope’s handling of sexual abuse. It’s not just the pope’s political enemies who have questioned his credibility. Francis is also facing a lack of trust among the faithful in the Church.