16 January 2020

Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop

Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church


Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal ambassador in the United States
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal
ambassador in the United States
Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.

Viganò, who had occupied one of the most senior positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI sent him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.

The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.

Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against the American former Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

He also called on Pope Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict when the latter unexpectedly stepped down in February 2013, to resign on the grounds that he had ignored warnings about McCarrick, who was forced to quit in disgrace when his behaviour became public knowledge, and removed sanctions placed on him by Benedict.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Viganò
to his US role in 2011
The letter prompted Pope Francis to order a “thorough study” of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick.  Interviewed about Viganò’s allegations, Pope Francis said he could not recall being warned about McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington.

The decision to appoint Viganò as Apostolic Nuncio - the official title of papal ambassador - in the United States came at a time when some believed he might be in line to become President of the Vatican City State.

Born into a wealthy family in Varese, Viganò was ordained a priest in 1968. For a period he worked in the Vatican's diplomatic corps, where he held positions at embassies in Great Britain and Iraq, and while he had other overseas postings in Kosovo and Nigeria, he spent much of his career in various roles within the Vatican secretariat of state.  He was made an archbishop in 1992 by Pope John Paul II.

In 2009 he was appointed to the high-ranking position of secretary-general of the governorate of the Vatican City State. There he earned a reputation for financial acumen. He turned  a 10.5 million dollar deficit into a surplus of 44 million dollars in one year.

Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign over sex abuse scandal
Viganò called on Pope Francis to
resign over sex abuse scandal
However, in 2011, he was informed by Cardinal Bertone that Pope Benedict was appointing him Nuncio to the United States, a move that was seen to end Viganò’s hopes of himself being made a Cardinal and attaining the position of President.

In a further controversy in 2018, a court in Milan ordered Viganò to pay his brother, Father Lorenzo Viganò, who suffered a stroke in 1996, a sum equivalent to $2 million plus interest after finding him to have failed to share profits made from a $23 million property portfolio they had jointly inherited from their father, a steel industrialist in Milan.

Carlo Maria Viganò had resigned from his position in the United States in 2016, as he was required to on reaching 75 years old.  Since publishing his 2018 allegations, Vigano has been living in self-imposed exile in a location he keeps secret, although he continues to be critical of Pope Francis.

The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in
Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
Travel tip:

The city of Varese, in an area in the foothills of the Alps that owes its terrain to the activities of ancient glaciers that created 10 lakes in the immediate vicinity, including Lago di Varese, which this elegant provincial capital overlooks.  Most visitors to the city arrive there because of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.  But the town itself and the handsome villas and palaces in the centre and the surrounding countryside are interesting in their own right, reflecting the prosperity of the area. The grand Palazzo Estense is one, now the city's Municipio - the town hall.

St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is the smallest sovereign state in the world
St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is
the smallest sovereign state in the world
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens, is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence in 1929 when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.


Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The death of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini 

1998: The death of interior designer Renzo Mongiardino


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