Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vatican excommunicates its former ambassador to the U.S.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio of the United States, reads the Apostolic Mandate during the Installation Mass of Archbishop Blase Cupich at Holy Name Cathedral on Nov. 18, 2014, in Chicago.  (Pool)
By Emma Bubola and Elisabetta Povoledo New York Times

ROME – The Vatican said on Friday that it had excommunicated Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the church’s former ambassador to the United States, after finding him guilty of schism for refusing to recognize the authority of Pope Francis and the liberal reforms enacted after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Viganò has emerged as one of the most unbridled conservative critics of Francis, calling him in public statements a “false prophet” and a “servant of Satan,” while embracing right-wing conspiracy theories and lauding former President Donald Trump.

Although excommunicated, Viganò will be able to keep his title, but he will not be allowed to celebrate Mass, receive or administer sacraments, and hold official positions within the church’s hierarchy.

Writing on the social platform X on Friday, Viganò published the full text of the decision against him by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which warned that he risked other punishments, including expulsion from the Roman Catholic priesthood. He called on his supporters to speak out.

The decision cited more than a dozen instances in which Viganò had criticized or repudiated Francis or challenged the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which the archbishop recently described in a post on a website for his foundation as an “ideological, theological, moral and liturgical cancer.”

In 2015, when he was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, the archbishop invited a critic of gay rights to greet the pope in Washington, challenging Francis’ message of inclusivity. At the time, the Vatican said it had been blindsided by the archbishop, and his standing at the Vatican began to deteriorate.

In 2018, he wrote a 7,000-word letter calling for the pope to resign, accusing Francis and Vatican officials before him of covering up sexual abuse by an American cardinal. The bombshell accusations, which were published when Francis was on a mission to Ireland issuing wrenching apologies for clerical sexual abuse scandals, amounted to an extraordinary public declaration of war against Francis’ papacy. Since then, the archbishop has adopted anti-vaccine positions and blamed “deep-state” forces in the West for triggering the war in Ukraine and demonizing Russia.

Robert Moynihan, the editor of a magazine on the Vatican that often communicates Viganò’s opinions, said the archbishop had been summoned to appear before the Vatican’s doctrinal office on June 20 but did not come to Rome to do so. The ruling from the doctrinal office states that Viganò was told that he had until June 28 to respond or a decision would be made in his absence.

On June 28, the archbishop published a statement on his foundation’s website saying he did not recognize the authority of the tribunal “that claims to judge me, nor of its Prefect, nor of the one who appointed him.”

He again attacked what he called the liberal changes in the church and accused the pope of committing a “crime against humanity” by promoting vaccines. He also condemned what he called the pope’s “adherence to climate fraud” and Francis’ conception of a church that was “immigrationist, eco-sustainable and gay-friendly.”

According to the Vatican’s decision, the court-appointed lawyer for Viganò had argued that the archbishop had accrued a “sound reputation” over the decades for his work as a top-ranking official in the Vatican, and then as the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States.

The Vatican employs excommunications as a means to persuade the transgressor to reconcile with the church. The archbishop’s lawyer argued that excommunication would not help the archbishop to reconcile, adding that instead “imposing such a censure” on the archbishop “would be a fruitless act and would only serve to inflame an already divided public opinion.”

Francis has also punished other outspoken right-wing clergy. The Rev. Frank Pavone, an American who led the group Priests for Life, was defrocked in 2022, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading figure for Catholic traditionalists who believed Francis was diluting doctrine, was evicted from his subsidized Vatican apartment last year, according to reports.

Last year, Francis also fired Bishop Joseph Strickland, one of his loudest American critics within the church, from the governance of his diocese in Tyler, Texas. Among other criticisms of the papacy, Strickland had accused the pope of undermining the Catholic faith.

But excommunication is a much rarer punishment.

In 2006, the Vatican excommunicated a Zambian archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, who crossed one line too many after marrying an acupuncturist in 2001 in a group wedding presided over by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The archbishop eventually returned to the church, living in seclusion, then returned to his wife and then installed four married men as bishops in Washington. He was defrocked by the Vatican in 2009.

In 1988, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, against Pope John Paul II’s orders, consecrated four bishops to help him carry on his battle to return the church to the Latin Mass and to preserve other practices rejected in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre and his bishops were excommunicated. He died in 1991.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.