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The sex abuse scandal that has recently engulfed the Catholic Church is dramatically affecting Pope Francis' authority, Maurizio Blondet, a prominent Italian journalist and author, has told Sputnik, sharing his views on Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano's testimony and cases of cover-up of sexual misconduct among priests.

Pope Francis (Bergoglio) has found himself at the epicenter of the scandal over a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States (2011-2016) and ex-secretary-general of the Governorate of Vatican City State (2006-2011).

In his testimony, released on August 30, 2018, Vigano accused the pope and other top-level prelates of the Catholic Church of covering up sexual abuse of priests and seminarians by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 28, 2018 over sexual harassment allegations.

According to Vigano, he informed Pope Francis about McCarrick's sexual misconduct on June 23, 2013, but the pope did nothing to address the problem. The archbishop further presumed that Pope Francis could have known about "sanctions" imposed on McCarrick by his predecessor, Pope Benedict, over the case, but nevertheless made McCarrick "his trusted counselor."

"Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick's abuses and resign along with all of them," Vigano underscored.

Commenting on Vigano's testimony, Maurizio Blondet, a prominent Italian journalist and author who has worked for the Il Giornale, l'Avvenire and La Padania newspapers, told Sputnik that trouble had long been brewing for the Roman Catholic Church.

Cover-Up Story

According to Blondet, McCarrick's case is not the episode triggering concerns among Catholics. He recalled that in 2013, Pope Francis appointed Monsignor Battista Mario Salvatore Ricca as a head of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, despite the fact that the prelate had been accused of a reported "intolerable ménage" with a Swiss army officer in Uruguay.

"Even the nuns working within the embassy complained about it!" Blondet noted. "In 2001, Ricca was found in Montevideo's gay area [Bulevar Artigas] where he had been beaten. In August 2001, in the middle of the night, the elevator of the nunciature stopped working. The firemen had to intervene in the early hours. Inside the blocked elevator the firemen found, together with Monsignor Ricca, a young man whom the police authorities identified."

The case was detailed by L'Espresso, an Italian weekly news magazine, and The Daily Telegraph in July 2013. The Daily Telegraph noted that the Vatican Bank had refused to comment on the matter. The media outlet remarked that the pope "reportedly had no knowledge of the alleged scandal."

"Pope Francis knew all of this," Blondet insists. "Yet he promoted Ricca. Not only that, the pope had adopted a similar attitude towards Cardinal Godfried Danneels. Despite having been fined 500,000 [Belgian] francs [12,500 euros] for protecting a parish priest gay abuser, Danneels was invited by Pope Francis to the 2014-2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family."

In 2010, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in Belgium, tried to cover up a case of sex abuse by Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, who was nevertheless forced to resign over the case. On August 28, De Standaard published a transcript of tape recordings made during the meetings between Danneels and a victim whom he persuaded to delay a public statement.

Besides, in 2015 Cardinal Danneels admitted in his biography that he was part of "the St. Gallen group" or "the Mafia" that opposed Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) and sought to make the Church "more modern."

According to La Stampa, the group allegedly contributed to the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy. For its part, the National Catholic Register noted that Cardinal Danneels had endorsed Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2003.

But that is not all, Blondet noted, "Pope Francis also long defended Bishop [Juan] Barros of Chile, protector of predatory priests, allowing him to resign only after the Associated Press had issued a letter proving that the pope had been informed since 2015."

On February 5, 2018, the Associated Press reported that in 2015 Pope Francis received a letter from Juan Carlos Cruz, who warned the pontiff that Barros had long covered up sexual misconduct against minors by his fellow priest, Rev. Fernando Karadima (who was found guilty in 2011). However, the pope appointed Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 despite numerous objections from Chilean priests.

The scandal surfaced only in 2018, prompting a massive resignation of Chilean bishops. Eventually, Pope Francis accepted Barros' resignation on June 11, 2018.

Reformation 2.0?

Commenting on whether the current campaign against the pope is championed by conservatives and right-wing forces, Blondet pointed out that "this is the thesis put forward by Bergoglio's secularist and modernist cheerleaders: the Great Reformer attacked by the 'traditionalists'."

"He is a somewhat 'unscrupulous' person, chosen in the conclave by the self-described 'Mafia from St. Gallen' to complete the modernist project, i.e. the evolution of the Catholic Church into a 'general religion': devoid of sacraments, a-dogmatic and increasingly similar to Protestantism," the Italian journalist opined.

According to Blondet, this "modernist internal subversive project" was "widely documented and condemned by previous popes, for example, in Encyclical Pascendi, 1907, of Pope Saint Pius X."

"The point is that the reforms that Bergoglio has tried to implement point to the relaxation of moral standards," the journalist explained, referring to the cardinals' "dubia" (doubts) regarding Amoris laetitia, a 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis addressing the pastoral care of families.

Catholic Spring

The Italian author believes that the ongoing scandal has nothing to do with the inner struggle in the Vatican, as Pope Francis, Blondet noted, has surrounded himself with loyal allies. At the same time, the sex abuse scandal is eroding his papacy, the journalist noted.

"Of course the current pope is losing authority among believers while he is praised by the media and secular politicians," he said.

Blondet views the alleged cover-up and reformist activities as part of the so-called Catholic Spring, once discussed by John Podesta, the longtime Hillary Clinton associate, in one of his letters published by WikiLeaks in 2016.

"There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church," Sandy Newman, founder of the left-wing group Voices for Progress, wrote to Podesta in 2012.

"The aim of such a US-inspired 'Catholic Spring' would have been to turn the Church into the promoter of an open and permissive moral movement," Blondet said.

It appears that the US liberal establishment pinned hopes on Pope Francis, whose papacy began on March 13, 2013.

Apparently therefore, under Barack Obama, Pope Francis was greeted by a standing ovation in the US Congress when he visited Washington in 2015, the Italian journalist said, stressing that this sort of reaction from American lawmakers was absolutely unprecedented.

"Trump's election to the White House has since deprived [Pope Francis] Bergoglio of American support for his modernist message," Blondet presumed.

However, it seems that the US president has propped up the pope. Speaking to The Daily Caller on September 6, Donald Trump called the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church "one of the sadder stories."

"The Pope is handling it, I guess the best anyone can handle it," the US president emphasized.

The Catholic Church has largely remained silent over the release of Vigano's letter. According to the Washington Post, Cardinal Donald Wuerl had reportedly discussed the allegations with the pope last week. The latest Pennsylvania grand jury report about the sex abuse of more than 1,000 children by priests over decades has added to the controversy.

According to The New York Times, New York State's attorney general has issued subpoenas to eight Catholic dioceses, while in New Jersey a criminal investigation into sexual misconduct by Catholic priests has been launched.