International News

In New Interview, Pope Francis Says He ‘Knew Nothing’ About McCarrick

By Inés San Martín

Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 15, 2019. The pope has issued a new universal church law establishing procedures for reporting and investigating abuse within the church. The new church law goes into effect June 1. (Photo: Catholic News Service photo/Paul Haring)

NEW YORK (Crux) – In his first direct comments about the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis said that “about McCarrick I knew nothing, obviously, nothing, nothing.”

“I said it many times, I knew nothing, no idea,” the pope said in an interview with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

Speaking about the allegation made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who claimed last August that he had told Pope Francis about Vatican-imposed restrictions against the former Archbishop of Washington, the Holy Father said that “I don’t remember if he told me about this. If it’s true or not. No idea! But you know that about McCarrick, I knew nothing. If not, I wouldn’t have remained quiet, right?”

McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals last year, after he was alleged to have sexually abused both minors and seminarians. Earlier this year, the Vatican announced Pope Francis had removed him from the clerical state, after he was found guilty.

In a wide-ranging interview, he also spoke about the United States and Mexico.

Speaking about the trip he took to Mexico in 2016, where he said Mass at the U.S. border, Pope Francis said that he doesn’t understand this “new culture of defending territories by building a wall.”

“We know of one, the Berlin one, that brought us many headaches and a lot of suffering … But it seems that what man does is what animals don’t. Right? Man is the only animal that falls twice in the same hole. Right? We go back to the same. Right? [Man] lifts up walls as if this was the defense. Right? When the defense is dialogue, growth, welcoming and education, integration, or the healthy limit of saying ‘we can’t [welcome] anyone else.’”

Still talking about migration, the pontiff turned to the example of what’s going on in the Spanish region of Ceuta and Melilla, which is on the coast of North Africa and is separated from Morocco by razor-wire fences. He said that it’s cruel to separate children from their parents, and that it goes against natural law.

Asked what he’d say if instead of Alasraki he was facing American President Donald Trump with no cameras on, Pope Francis said that he would say the same thing because he’s said so in public before.

“I also said in public that who builds walls ends up prisoner of the walls they build,” he said, adding that the territory can be defended, but perhaps through a bridge and not a wall. “But I’m talking about political bridges, cultural bridges. We cannot build bridges at every border, right? It’s impossible.”

The Case of the Disgraced Argentine Bishop ‘Parked’ at the Vatican

Alazraki also asked Pope Francis about Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, the former Bishop of Oran, in northern Argentina, who was transferred by the Holy Father to the Vatican, and who’s currently suspended from his position at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA).

The journalist said many don’t understand why Pope Francis brought him to Rome to begin with, when there were already allegations against the Bishop.

The pontiff confirmed that Bishop Zanchetta is currently being judged by the Vatican.

“Before I asked for his resignation, there was an accusation, and I immediately made him come over with the person who accused him and explain it,” Pope Francis said. The accusation involved the Bishop’s phone, which contained homosexual pornography, and explicit sexual images of the Bishop in his bedroom.

“The defense is that he had his phone hacked, and he made a good defense,” Pope Francis said, adding that it created enough doubt, so the pope told Bishop Zanchetta to go back.

“Evidently he had, some say, despotic treatment of others – he was bossy,” and a “not completely clear dealing of finances,” though as the pontiff noted, this hasn’t been proven.

“But certainly, the clergy didn’t feel well treated by him,” Pope Francis said. “They complained until they made an allegation as a body to the Nunciature,” meaning the Vatican’s embassy in Argentina.

Pope Francis says that he then called the Nuncio, who told him that the allegation of mistreatment was “serious,” and he understood it to be a case of “abuse of power.” So, he sent Bishop Zanchetta to Spain to receive psychological treatment and asked him to resign from the Diocese of Oran.

The treatment, Pope Francis said, found that Bishop Zanchetta was within the normal range, but they advised he received further treatment once a month in Madrid, so Pope Francis took him to Rome. In his own words, “parked him” in Italy.

When it comes to the fact that Bishop Zanchetta is accused of misusing funds, Pope Francis said that at present there is no evidence of that, only that he wasn’t “ordered” when it came to money. Despite not being good at keeping track, the pontiff said, the Bishop had a “good vision.”

Once he had a replacement for the Bishop, the pontiff said, he opened the investigation of the allegations. He received the result of the investigation 15 days ago, “and I decided that it’s necessary to have a trial. So, I gave it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Regarding the “impatient ones” who accuse him of having done nothing, Pope Francis said that the pope doesn’t have to “go publishing everyday what he’s doing, but I was never not on this case from the first moment.”

As PopeFrancis noted, he asked for the investigation late last year, but between the holidays and the slowness of Argentina’s summer-  which takes place from December to March – things took longer than they should have.

“There are cases that are long, that wait more [like this one], and I explain why, because I didn’t have the elements,” he said. But now that he does, Bishop Zanchetta is on trial. “Meaning, I didn’t stop.”

The pope also said that he must always follow the principle of “presumption of innocence,” something even the most “anti-clerical judges” follow. However, he said, there are cases where the guilt “is evident,” as was the case of McCarrick, which is the reason why he removed him from the college of cardinals even before the trial had ended.

The Council of Cardinals

Speaking about the Council of Cardinals that advises the pope on the reform of the Roman curia, Pope Francis said that it was “obvious” that Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, Emeritus of Santiago, Chile, couldn’t continue to be a part of the team. Pope Francis doesn’t give a reason, though he does lump him in with Australian Cardinal Goerge Pell, who’s “imprisoned and condemned, well, he appealed, but he has been condemned.”

Bishop Errazuriz is one of nine Chilean bishops who’ve been subpoenaed by the Prosecutors’ Office on charges that he covered up cases of clerical sexual abuse.

As Alazraki noted, there are also allegations against the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras. Pope Francis said that “the poor [man] will get things from every side, but there’s nothing proven, no … He’s honest and I made sure to find things out. In this case, it’s calumnies.”

“No one has been able to prove anything to me,” the pontiff said. “Maybe he made some mistakes, he’s done things wrong, but not at the level that they want to hang on him. It is important, so I defend him on this.”

Violence Against Women

Pope Francis said that he wouldn’t know how to give a sociological explanation for what’s happening with violence against women, but “I would dare to say that women today are still in a secondary place.”

In the collective imagination to this day, he said, when a woman reaches a position of power, it’s noted as a thing: “Oh, see, a woman made it! She got a Nobel prize. Great coincidence.”

Going from being “in second place” to being treated as slaves, the pope said, it’s not a long road. It happens in Italy, he said, in the streets of Rome, where women are forced into prostitution. “They are enslaved women. Enslaved. They’re for that … And well, going from there to killing them …”

The number of femicides is growing throughout Latin America, with one woman being killed every 40 hours in Argentina by a partner or former partner.

“The world without women doesn’t function,” he said. “Not because she’s the one who brings children [into the world], let’s leave procreation to the side … A house without women doesn’t function. There’s a word that is about to fall out of the dictionary, because everyone is afraid of it: Tenderness. It’s the patrimony of the woman. Now, from there to femicide, slavery, there’s one step. What is the hatred, I wouldn’t be able to explain it.”

Alazraki came to international attention when she was asked to address the Vatican summit on clerical sexual abuse which took place in Rome Feb. 21-24. She told the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences that journalists will be the bishops’ “worst enemies” if they continue to cover up abuse.