'Nobody knew who Viganò was. Many of us questioned his appointment'
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The resignation of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, head of the Vatican Secretariat of Communications, over the "Lettergate" scandal has brought to light the undercurrent of hostilities around one of the most powerful men in Rome. His swift rise to prefect of a dicastery is — according to Vatican insider Sandro Magister — one of the most "unique cases in the Roman Curia in at least 150 years": a mere priest who became "the 'czar' of the Holy See's communications system."
Despite having enemies everywhere, even among those close to Pope Francis (or, as the Italian press calls them, the "ultrabergoglians"), not even the gaffe involving Benedict XVI shook Pope Francis' trust in Viganò. Apparently it took three meetings to convince Francis to accept Viganò's resignation, and the invitation to remain in the role of councilor (assessore) at the Secretariat for Communications has actually reinvigorated Viganò's authority.
The inexplicable might of Viganò is such that it has turned Pope Francis adherents against one another. In the first group — resorting to lies and attacks to defend Viganò's actions — we have people like Fr. Mauro Leonardi, known to some as "Italy's Fr. James Martin." His defense of Msgr. Viganò involved comparing his ordeal to the trial of Jesus Himself before His executioners.
Another vehement defender of Msgr. Viganò was Alberto Melloni, prominent figure of the "Bologna School" (which pushes the liberal interpretation of the Second Vatican Council), who claimed that Viganò's actions were meant to "protect Ratzinger." He also accused Benedict XVI of acting like he still governs the Vatican.
The worst comments came from liberal liturgist Andrea Grillo, known for his unreserved attacks on Benedict (Grillo made international news last year for saying that the Pope Emeritus should "move away from the Vatican and remain silent forever"). He blamed Lettergate on the retired pontiff, again demanding Ratzinger's silence, accusing him of "speaking imprudently."
In Germany, Jesuit priest Bernd Hagenkord, editor-in-chief of the German section of Vatican News, stated in the comments section of his blog that Ratzinger himself had approved the partial publication of his letter. The comment was later edited, and the affirmation disappeared. Hagenkord also tried to downplay the scandal, as did Msgr. Nunzio Galantino, secretary of the Italian Bishops' Conference, known as "the Pope's man" (apparently Msgr. Galantino's recommendation for the position came from Viganò himself). Galantino placed the blame on the media, saying that Benedict's words weren't used maliciously and that the press "hyped up the case."
On the other side — resentful of his loss of power as a consequence of the Vatican media reform — the most outspoken dissident was Luis Badilla, a former Vatican Radio journalist who directs news website Il Sismografo (not officially affiliated with the Vatican, but supervised by the Secretariat of State because it's run by Vatican Radio journalists). Badilla, who generally sides with Alberto Melloni, penned an articletitled "Melloni must understand that it isn't necessary to lie to stand up for Pope Francis."
In another editorial, Badilla condemned Viganò's behavior, calling it "a masterpiece of unreasonableness," and stated that the Vatican media reform has so far been "a failure ... of an iconoclastic fury against Vatican Radio."
In 2016, Sandro Magister warned Catholics about the tensions caused by the renovation of the Vatican media apparatus: "[T]he first Jesuit Pope in History is the one that takes Vatican Radio away from the Jesuits." Magister also noted that many had advised Pope Francis against nominating Viganò for such an enormous task, and a few months later he reaffirmed that "the Secretariat of State does not want, at all, to give Viganò ... control over the Vatican media."
Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli recently reported on tension between Viganò and the Secretariat of State. The latter had consulted with Pope Francis before emailing the Press Office and Vatican media regarding publication of a transcript of one of the pope's talks with seminarians. Viganò, unaware that the guidelines had come from Francis himself, replied asserting the autonomy of the Secretariat for Communication, insisting it would publish the talk as it deemed fit. "[T]here is no doubt that tensions with ... the Secretariat of State contributed to Viganò's departure," Tornielli wrote.
And just last week, an archbishop spoke anonymously to La Fede Quotidiana. "Nobody knew who Viganò was. ... Many of us questioned his appointment," he said. "We don't know where this is going, and we worry."
The archbishop, who frequently eats at Casa Santa Marta, home of Pope Francis, also revealed that some bishops felt uncomfortable when the Holy Father sat facing them during lunch; after making him aware of their discomfort, the Pope now sits with his back to them in the refectory.
To add insult to injury, only 25 people attended the presentation of Pope Francis' latest book, Dio è giovane ("God Is Young"), which took place one day after Viganò's resignation. No cardinals or bishops were in the audience.