TERRY PRONE: Ex--nuncio’s j’accuse further rocks the Church’s shaky foundations

It’s over. Two thousand years of power and authority, of intellectual superstructure designed to continuously create learned helplessness and obedience may not have ended during the papal visit to Ireland, 2018, but the decline accelerated.

This weekend did not see anything like a collapse of the Catholic Church, but it established, for good and finally, that the structure is like a home built with pyrite, that the effects of inbuilt flaws are cumulative and that the shifts, the cracks, the collapsing integrity of the building are now total.

And this happened before Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published his accusations against the Pope. It happened when survivors of mother and baby homes told the pontiff what he was to say at the Mass, yesterday.

They told the Pope what to say. They instructed him.

Now, the Taoiseach had already stated with clarity and power that the Church was in the wrong and needed to repent.

But he is the Taoiseach, and we are not back in the days when the leader of a country, having indicated that the Church was in the wrong, could be forced to wait outside the gates of a papal palace in driving snow before being permitted to take back what he had said.

We expected the Taoiseach to stand up for those betrayed by the church, and he did it.

His words were so powerful that the pontiff, the following day, echoed his image of the open wound of child abuse.

We should expect no less of the leader of our Government.

Nobody expected the survivors to tell the Pope what to do, because for two millennia, that would have been unthinkable.

It would have been unthinkable even 40 years ago, when John Paul II came to Ireland. No layperson, back then, would have had a chance to talk in a small group with the Pope, let alone instruct him.

Forty years ago, you wouldn’t have talked back to your local curate, never mind lay down the law to the Pope.

But, this time around, it happened. It happened in a context where it was neither astonishing nor an isolated move, and it’s important, even as the ex-nuncio’s j’accuse rolls like thunder over the landscape, that its significance be registered.

The strange thing is that, if an onlooker viewed the papal visit purely as a visual experience transmitted by media and paid no attention to the words spoken, it was oddly similar to that John Paul II visit.

This time, the white-garbed man didn’t kiss the tarmac when he arrived and the popemobile was more modern.

Diarmuid Martin showed none of the showtime ebullience Bishop Eamon Casey demonstrated four decades ago.

If anything, he looked frail and wary. But the pictures were otherwise more or less the same: Smiles at the crowds, shots of enthusiastic young people with posters, official portraits with the President, moving shots of the pontiff meeting people with disabilities.

The massive cohort of international media present in Ireland in the last few days quickly copped on that while those pictures must run, other images presented a newsy counterpoint.

Perhaps the definitive one among those alternative visuals was that showing Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge, with blue ribbons powered over the river by the wind, recording Ireland’s revulsion at the way single mothers and their children were treated by Church institutions, rainbow flags billowing overhead to protest the exclusion of LGBT+ people from the family event which led to the papal visit, and purple umbrellas symbolising the demand for an end to the 2,000-year exclusion of women from the Church’s officer class.

That protest was part of an imaginative multimedia approach that delivered pictures, headlines and music into the media maw. More than one of the overseas mainstream media representatives expressed the opinion that it would be much more interesting to be at events like the one in the Garden of Remembrance than to be covering the official happenings.

Global radio and TV gave as much time as protesters like Ursula Halligan were able to take up.

Long before the visit really got going, Ireland had provided an answer to Hitler’s apocryphal question “How many divisions does the Pope have?” That answer was: “Not as many as he used to.”

However, the secondary theme was that this is a good Pope, doing his best in the face of a squalid sophistry at the highest level in the Vatican.

A man who makes mistakes and answers for them honestly. The best hope for the future.

And then, just before the second day of the visit, before the Aer Lingus plane took off for Knock, came the accusations against the Pope from a man none of us ever heard of until yesterday, but whose name will now forever be remembered in Catholic history. His act changed everything.

The timing of the issuance of his statement may have been coincidental, but it was effective.

One life-long Catholic in her 70s messaged me early yesterday. “Looking at all the grandmothers of Ireland with their grandchildren,” she wrote.

“All waving flags — the children wildly excited – what else with a flag — but there is a sadness in the eyes and strained smile of those grandmothers… how can those grandmothers knowingly hand on a faith to their precious grandchildren and indeed children to a corrupt church that abused their absolute trust and abandoned them?”

The sadness in the eyes and the strained smiles derived from early hearings of reports that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a man pushing 80 who had been the nuncio to Washington for five recent years, had published 11 pages in which he claimed that sanctions imposed on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick by Pope Benedict — and the behaviours which caused their imposition by the then pope, were known to the current Vatican office holder for years.

In full knowledge, Viganò states, Pope Francis lifted those sanctions from the cardinal and “continued to cover” for McCarrick.

“He knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator. He knew that he was a corrupt man,” Viganò states. “It was only when he was forced by the report of the abuse of a minor, again on the basis of media attention, that he took action to save his image in the media.”

Viganò accuses more than the Pope — he says Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was booked to speak at the family event in Dublin last week but pulled out — and others knew about how McCarrick’s actions were covered up. But the big issue is the two popes and the message is straightforward: Benedict knew what McCarrick was up to, demoted him and effectively
imposed house arrest on him.

Francis had the same information, but removed the house arrest and even made him his “trusted counselor”. The corruption goes right to the top, Viganò says. The Pope must resign.

The whistleblower’s background is irrelevant. He is a deeply traditional man whose loathing for homosexuality soaks the pages of his statement. What matters are the facts. If his allegations are true, then the implications for His Holiness are unimaginable.


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