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By Rev. Michael X., J.C.L.
In 1898, the French writer Émile Zola published an open letter entitled "J'Accuse", accusing the French President Félix Faure of antisemitism and the unlawful imprisonment of an army staff officer in what history has come to dub the "Dreyfus Affair." In response, the French president had Zola prosecuted for libel and won. Zola was found guilty and fled to England.
A hundred and twenty years later, retired Vatican ambassador to the United States Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò has had his testimonianza disseminated on a global scale against a sitting Roman Pontiff, the likes of which the world has never seen. As a reply to Viganò's open letter, Pope Francis gave this basic answer to journalists seeking his comment on Viganò's damning letter: "Fate voi il vostro giudizio," translated, "You formulate your judgment" regarding the veracity or less of this modern day J'Accuse, inviting journalists to read the letter carefully, stating that it was an "act of trust" on his part to offer to them such a response.
What did the journalist Anna Matranga ask to prompt this remarkable reply on the part of the Pope? Two questions, in paraphrase: 1) In 2013, did Abp. Viganò explicitly inform you, Holy Father, of the conduct and sexual abuse perpetrated by ex-Cardinal McCarrick?; and 2) Is it true that Pope Benedict punished Cdl. McCarrick, forbidding him from residing in a seminary, celebrating Mass in public and traveling?
Why, one may ask, did Pope Francis not just answer the question by saying, "Yes" or "No" or something else than just, "Read the text yourself and make your own judgment"?
The answer to this puzzle worthy of having been given by the Sphinx perhaps lies in a footnote of the English translation of the letter written by Abp. Viganò on page two: "All the memos, letters and other documentation mentioned here are available at the Secretariat of State of the Holy See or at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C." (my emphasis).
When faced with Pope Francis's response, and the basic question in conscience of what one is to believe of the incredible accusations made by Viganò, one is immediately forced like a rock in a hard place of having to decide, at first blush, whether to believe the retired ambassador or not.
In canon law, in the absence of direct evidence, indirect proof and credibility are at times employed exclusively by canonical judges in order to reach "moral certainty" regarding the veracity of a claim, whether it concerns the validity or less of one's marriage, the truth regarding an allegation that the accused has committed a crime, etc. And in the situation where a party in a trial refuses to respond to a judge's questions, "it is for the judge to decide what can be inferred from that refusal concerning the proof of the facts (can. 1531, § 2 CIC)."
Francis' very Jesuitical response is nothing less than an attempt on his part to misdirect the press to evidence that he himself knows is tucked far, far away under lock and key which, as Abp. Viganò writes in his testimony, is to be found within the Vatican's Secretariat of State and the Vatican Embassy of Washington, D.C. — beyond the grasp of any journalist.
Knowing that the press will never obtain access to the direct evidence of memoranda, correspondence and ciphered communications supporting the frightening claims of Viganò's accusations shows just how utterly gratuitous the Pope's invitation to the press was and remains: free, because it is of absolutely no cost to him.
As of this date, as Supreme Pontiff, he easily could have ordered any and all of the evidence pointing to any grave negligence or worse, malfeasance on his part or the part of others to be transmitted posthaste to the Vatican in order to be sealed away within the 55 miles of bunkered corridors of the Vatican Secret Archives, or in a worst-case scenario, totally destroyed.
Unless members of the College of Cardinals act very quickly, we may never really know the truth of the grave allegations made by Abp. Viganò or the full extent of the canonical or civil crimes alleged to have been committed by McCarrick — and Francis knows this.
"The burden of proof is on the one making the allegation" (can. 1526, § 1 CIC). The nearly 1.3 billion faithful of the Roman Catholic Church, who have a right to know that plain, unvarnished truth of these alleged criminal matters have been left by the Holy Father in the dark to make their own judgment as to whether a pope or an ambassador are telling the truth.
Although Francis may think that he has doled out to the world nothing more than a Rorschach test, he seriously risks getting his fingers stained by the darkest ink with which he is playing psychologist.