As Pope Francis find himself under siege from the conservative media for his implication in the abuse cover-up scandal rocking the Vatican, Argentina’s bishops have pledged their solidarity to their embattled compatriot. In an open letter published yesterday, the Conferencia Episcopal Argentina (Argentine Episcopal Conference, or CEA), promised their unwavering support to the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires and lambasted his critics.
“We want to show you,” the letter reads, “our brotherly and filial closeness at this time as you suffer a savage attack in which different and miserly worldly interests converge. We share your pain and hopes. Above all the weariness and pain that we must endure to live in the commandment of love and the path of justice, the cross is the source of maturity and sanctification.”
— Conferencia Episcopal Argentina (@PrensaCEA) August 30, 2018
“Today, because of the intercession of Santa Rosa, patron saint of Latin America, and united in confident prayer we ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom and strength so that, as Peter’s successor, you may continue to confirm us in the faith of the Church. May María de Lujan cover you with her maternal love.”
The letter was signed by the CEA’s President, Bishop of San Isidro Oscar Ojea and Bishop of Chascomús. The CEA is a highly-influential permanent body which unites hundreds of Argentina’s bishops and serves as the representative of the clergy at a national level
This show of support comes as Pope Francis finds himself fighting a battle on two fronts with the Church divided by a spate of infighting between different factions. On one side, there is a feeling that he has not done enough to confront and eradicate institutionalized child abuse in the Catholic Church while on the other, conservative Catholics have accused him of diluting their faith, especially with his emphasis on social issues.
In the midst of the Church’s ideological civil war, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Vatican ambassador to the United States, published an 11-page letter on August 26th in which he alleges that Pope Francis and the Vatican hierarchy covered up abuses committed by disgraced Cardinal Thomas McCarrick against young priests. Although the claims in the letter are unsubstantiated, it has been seized upon by conservative Catholic media to spearhead a movement calling for the Pope’s resignation.
In the letter he also accuses the clergy of forming a “gay lobby,” based on the Pope and his allies’ attempts to make the Church more welcoming to gay Catholics. “These homosexual networks,” the letter reads, “which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire church.”
While Pope Francis has blamed the abuse crisis on “a culture of privilege and imperviousness among priests,” conservative factions within the Church have blamed the epidemic on homosexuality in order to justify their continued rejection of non-traditional sexual preferences and identities.
Although there have been ongoing revelations about institutionalized child sex abuse within the Church for some time, it appears that there has been a recent acceleration in reports of historic crimes as high-ranking Church officials finally take measures to confront the issue. Viganò’s letter was published on the last day of Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland, in which he met with survivors of abuse by priests and issued apologies for the “open wound” of child abuse so endemic to the Church.
Days before his visit to the Emerald Isle, a grand jury report revealed that over the course of 70 years, “predator priests” had abused more than 1,000 children in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The investigation spanned decades and named more than 300 priests, although the report suggested that given the nature of the crime, the real number of victims was likely to be “in the thousands.”
After the letter was published, the conservative Catholic press began calling for Pope Francis to resign. In a column on right-wing media Conservative HQ, the company’s Chairman and prominent Catholic layman Richard A. Viguerie presented a petition calling for Francis to be replaced by his predecessor, Pope Benedict.
According to the piece, “more serious” than institutionalized child abuse was the Church’s attitude on “Biblically based Christian moral issues.” “From marriage, divorce, same-sex relations, sex outside marriage, and the love respect between men and women according to God’s laws, the Church has abandoned its role of moral teacher and spiritual guide telling people where the ‘guardrails’ are.”
“The Church’s abandonment of focus on the central and natural institution of the family has been accentuated by Pope Francis’ attention to socialist, earthly issues. His progressive politics-over-family approach is a symptom of the larger problems within the Church and its hierarchy.”
English-language editor of La Croix International told the BBC that Viganò’s letter is part of an organized campaign by the Pope’s critics to force his resignation. “At the heart of it all is this animus against the Pope,” he said. “Vigano is kind of a strange character in this case because it’s really a whole group of people. What is the motive behind this? To bring down Pope Francis in any way possible. They’re trying to catch him in a trap. And Francis is not falling for it.”
“It’s very reminiscent of what is going on in conservative politics in the United States. It’s the same playbook,” David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University told Reuters, alluding to the “close relationship between President Donald Trump’s administration and conservative-leaning news outlets such as Fox News.”
I'm sick of this dictator Pope. #FRANCISMUSTRESIGN
— Mao Almadrones #FrancisMustResign (@TheCatSaysMao) August 26, 2018
Pope Francis has declined to address the letter, instead calling on journalists to study the document carefully, saying “it speaks for itself.” However, even with the declared support of Argentina’s bishops, there is a growing call among conservative Catholics for Francis to resign, many of whom has taken to Twitter with the hashtag #FrancisMustResign. As infighting continues, only time will tell whether Francis will survive this new scandal, but his position is looking increasingly precarious.