“I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalistic ability to make your conclusions. It’s an act of trust.”
The usually garrulous pontiff – not for the first time – used silence to deal with a challenge to his authority. So, what was really going on in his answer on the aeroplane to the young woman from NBC? The clue is the tone of the campaign by allies of Francis which was immediately mounted when the Vigano Testimony surfaced.
Francis’s friends have studiously avoided answering the accusations directly. Instead they have sought to discredit Vigano as a witness: the vituperative language of his paper; his personal animus against the Pope and the prelates accused; his disappointment at failure to be further preferred. Cardinal Cupich, to whom we can always look for an entertaining contribution, has sought to exonerate Francis on the grounds of pressing and important business. The Pope was too engaged with the major issues of the day – global warming and the migrant crisis.
What does this tell us about Bergoglio’s tactics?
Surely that he is, for the time being, content to rely on the secular press, which he counts as being on his side. They can, he supposes, be relied on to discredit Vigano as a homophobe and a disgruntled courtier. They will continue to sing the Pope’s praises as a liberal reformer assailed on every side by reactionaries and undesirables.
If the press comes up with the goods, Francis will have no need ever to address the issue.
But this, I think, is a serious miscalculation. It is one thing to accuse the National Catholic Register and LifeSite News of ploughing a familiar furrow: ‘they would say that wouldn’t they?’ And quite another to seek to submerge the accusations entirely in a blanket of silence.
Ordinary Catholics will remember Dallas, 2002, when (with Vatican approval) the American Catholic bishops adopted a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual abuse. Why is that policy, shocking as it was then, not being adopted now? Why is the Pope himself, as were so many American priests, not deemed to be guilty until proved innocent?
Silence will not, in this case, prove to be golden. Bergoglio will not be able to treat the Vigano accusations as he did the Dubia of the four cardinals. In the dubia case the laity were not up to speed on the issues involved, and viewed the matter as an internal wrangle among hierarchs.
This time it affects daily life in half the parishes of America, and feeds suspicions of corruption in high places which have long been privately held.