March 22, 2016, Tuesday — The Nuncio
A Man of the Church
About half a decade ago, at an event in Rome, I ran into an American woman I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years, since the time we were both students working on dissertations in the manuscript room of the Vatican Library.
To my surprise, she was working in a Vatican office. I had thought she had returned to America to be a professor in a university.
We got to talking about this and that, and the subject of “Vatileaks 1” came up. I asked her what she thought about some of the Vatican officials being named in the press. She had no opinions about some, negative opinions about others. I then mentioned the name of a man then much in the news, and somewhat controversial. “What do you think of him?” I asked. Her eyes flashed with righteous passion.
“He is a man of extraordinary integrity,” she said. “I know personally of many situations where people have tried to cut corners, and time after time he set things right. He is a man of 100% honesty and integrity. The finest Vatican official I have ever known.”
Ironically, our conversation was occurring just as that Vatican official was about to be transferred out of the Vatican to a challenging post abroad.
We were talking about Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Pope Benedict XVI had just named Viganò to be the new nuncio, or papal ambassador, in the United States, following the unexpected death of Archbishop Pietro Sambi.
Five years have passed — more than five years.
Viganò has now completed his five-year term of service in Washington.
He has also reached age 75 — he turned 75 on January 16, two months ago. (He was born in 1941 in Varese, Italy.)
All Vatican diplomats hand in their retirement requests at age 75 — it is standard procedure.
And so Viganò has handed in his retirement request, and will be retiring this spring.
A new nuncio will replace him in the United States, most likely the current nuncio in Mexico, a French Archbishop named Christophe Pierre.
A false narrative
But some in the press are depicting Viganò’s departure, not as a retirement, but as a firing.
They are saying (without evidence) that Pope Francis decided to fire Viganò because he was irritated that Viganò set up for him a meeting in the Washington nunciature with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed because she objected to registering in her office homosexual couples as married.
The subhead continues: “It is clear now that the Pope hated being ambushed into meeting with the American face of evangelical bigotry, Kim Davis.”
The article goes on to assert (not naming any sources): “According to Vatican sources [but who are these “sources”? here the article links to this article where no sources are named], it was that conspiratorial ambush-by-bigot that was the transgression so offensive that it ‘pissed off the Pope’ enough to fire Viganò. According to a close friend of the Pontiff, Francis claimed he was ‘blindsided by the meeting’ and it prompted the Vatican to quickly distance itself from Viganò. Many insiders believed Pope Francis would ‘quietly replace the archbishop as his statutory retirement age was approaching.’”
Let’s consider the accuracy of these “insiders.” What these “insiders” believed would happen did not happen — the archbishop was not removed “as his statutory retirement age was approaching.” His retirement was accepted after his statutory retirement age had arrived. So they were wrong.
And, the article linked as a source for this scenario has no source for any of this information.
That article, in The Advocate of March 14, is here. It is entitled: “Vatican to Replace Diplomat Who Set Up Kim Davis Meeting.”
There is nothing in this article that gives real, fact-based support to the thesis that an angry Pope Francis decided to fire his nuncio.
Was the Pope actually angered by the Kim Davis meeting? Did the Pope feel “blindsided” by the meeting, as a “close friend” is said to have testified?
The source of this information is “a close friend of the Pope.” But who is this person? How close is he (or she) to the Pope, really? Does this “close friend” of the Pope really exist outside of the imagination of this author? Based on what is written here, we cannot know.
What is certain is that the Kim Davis meeting did occur at the nunciature in September.
And it is also sure that the Pope, at least in theory, holds absolute power in the Vatican.
So the Pope could have demanded that Viganò resign immediately.
But he did not.
Viganò turned in his resignation on January 16, four months after the meeting.
Then, the Pope, if he were really infuriated with Viganò, could have replaced him on January 17.
He did not.
There is, in fact, no actual evidence whatsoever that the Pope was deeply irritated by the Kim Davis meeting. It is “said” that he was, but no evidence for this has ever been produced.
And there is no evidence that the Pope is now firing Viganò as a punishment for organizing that meeting. It is said he is being fired — but no evidence has been presented supporting this narrative.
In fact, the Pope has never himself made any comment whatsoever on the Kim Davis meeting — except for once.
It came in his remarks on September 27, 2015, on the papal airplane just after leaving the US. It was in response to a question from Terry Moran, a journalist of ABC News, about whether a government official had a right to conscientious objection in the face of government laws that the official considered immoral or against his or her conscience.
Here is a video of the Pope’s remarks on that occasion; he speaks in Italian in answer to an English question, and there are subtitles in English so you can follow his Italian remarks word for word.
Here is a transcription of the exchange:
Question by Terry Moran: “Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples? Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?”
Response of Pope Francis: “Conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It (conscientious objection) is a human right.”
Followup question by Terry Moran: “Would that include government officials as well?”
Response of Pope Francis: “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”
In the case of Pope Francis and his relationship to Archbishop Viganò and his attitude toward the meeting with Kim Davis, there is no hard evidence of the Pope’s irritation with Viganò.
The only hard evidence we have is in these words spoken on the airplane.
And in these words, the Pope defends the right of the individual person to maintain fidelity to his or her own moral conscience.
The right, one might say, to not be sent to a “re-education” camp.
The conscience of a person, the Pope was telling us, must not be trampled on, or compelled to be changed by force.
Keeping fidelity with one’s conscience, the Pope told us, “is a human right.”
Viganò will be leaving his post, but he is not being fired. He, after a lifetime of loyal service to the Church, is retiring.
America magazine reports that his replacement is a highly accomplished Vatican diplomat just five years younger than Viganò. “Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 70, is widely recognized as one of the Holy See’s most accomplished diplomats,” America reports. “A polyglot, who speaks English fluently, he has served as nuncio in Mexico since March 22, 2007, and excelled as advisor and host to Pope Francis during his recent visit there. Before going to Mexico he served with distinction as nuncio to Uganda (1999-2007) and Haiti (1995-99). He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic corps in 1977, and has also served in its missions to New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil and to the U.N. Office in Geneva.” (link)
And in five years, Archbishop Pierre will also tender his retirement, and his retirement will also be accepted by the reigning Pope.
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What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.