The Viganò Testimony: Was it justified or was it a violation of an oath?

For a while I’ve been mulling The Viganò Testimony, as have we all.

When it came out, some libtards, especially those who are energetically defending the heavily embattled Card. Wuerl, said that we should attack equally other (more conservative) figures, because they knew things too, but didn’t divulge them, for example: Archbp. Broglio of the Military Archdiocese had been Card. Sodano’s secretary.  “Surely he knew things but he didn’t say or do anything!  GET HIM!”

The problem is that many of the people who “knew things” were at some point bound by the “Pontifical Secret”.  When you work in certain positions, as in the Curia, you take an oath to keep secret the work you have to do.  Violation of that oath has spiritual and canonical consequences.

Most have kept the oath.  Archbp. Viganò broke it in order to blow the whistle.

He could be censured for doing so.

However, there is an argument to be made that, given the gravity of The Present Crisis, breaking that oath was a better thing to do than to keep silent, lest greater harm result to the Church.

ChurchMilitant has a useful piece about this right now HERE.  I’d been thinking along these lines for a while, actually.  So, their piece is welcome and helpful.    There you read, inter alia:

The patron saint of moral theologians and Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, has written the following opinions in his magnum opus, his Theologia Moralis [draft translation]:

One may manifest a committed secret [secretum commissum], at least without grave sin: … 4°. Out of a just reason, namely if observing the secret might lead to damnum commune [harm to the common good] … because in this case, the order of charity postulates that it may be revealed: wherefore even if you mightest have taken an oath, in this case, you mayest divulge [the committed secret]. … [III, 970] No one is bound by a secret, even should it have been promised by oath, when the secret leads to damnum commune [VI, 698].

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  1. Dismas says:

    George Neumayr at the American Spectator has been exposing some shenanigans from Cardinal Wuerl. If what he writes is true, and there is no word of pushing libel charges, “Uncle Ted” is well cared for, and his silence is guaranteed.

  2. mrjaype says:

    If using this argument one must be ready for the counter argument that this should apply to the Seal of the Confessional.

  3. JeromeThomas says:

    I hate to even ask, but these days I feel like it needs to be explicit: do St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s statements about the necessity of breaking oaths of secrecy under certain specific circumstances cover the Seal of Confession?

  4. Fallibilissimo says:

    I find this to be a truly fascinating case. I wonder about so many things, like if an exception here could translate into an exception in the case of some very grave situation involving the seal of confessional etc. Maybe there’s no parity, I really don’t know, but I’d love to hear the argumentation one way or another.

    Whatever it is, I really don’t think it bears any matter in the greater conversation. We can’t “un-learn” what he wrote. Even if what he did was terribly wrong, the deed is done and now we have to deal with the fallout. For that, coming to establish the veracity of the accusations, finding solutions and bringing in a more healthy culture in the Church is my overarching concern. This is why I think looking into the wisdom of having such a strict oath makes sense in the first place. Maybe we should develop a mechanism that allows for a certain degree of whistle-blowing, when all other means are met with stonewalling. We hear about transparency, accountability and breaking the silence, but does such a stringent and iron-clad oath reconcile with those ideals?

  5. Fallibilissimo says:

    Just another consideration. In light of the developments that have arisen after Amoris Laetitia and how “real world” situations can often be messy, requiring a certain leniency and “acceptance” (sort of) of ordinarily sinful acts, I wonder if the violation of the oath should be met with a similar flexibility?

  6. HighMass says:

    His Grace Archbishop Vigano did the right thing. Face it, the cover uppers are running scared, they are doing all they can to discredit Arch. Vigano.

    Francis has a track record of getting ride of those who are in his way, or are not liberals like this present pontificate, has many have said, the worse s yet to come….

    Jesus and Mary help us and bless all Faithful Religious and Faithful Lay people.

  7. maternalView says:

    I don’t see the seal of confession (which is part of the sacrament) as anything similar to a Curia oath. Canon laws describes when oaths, vows ,and promises can be commuted and dispensed. Not sure if that reasoning applies here but it seems unlikely the Church would lock someone into sinning to uphold an oath. In fact, I believe you can’t promise to do something that would be sinful. It seems to me that Vigano came to the realization that to remain silent would be sinful.

  8. FrMJPB says:

    @JeromeThomas: no—the seal is inviolable

  9. Dismas says:

    I am no theologian, however I think that the question regarding the Seal can be solved logically. The good of confidentiality in international diplomacy is certainly important, yet it is infinitely less than the importance of retaining the public trust in making a good confession.

  10. How far does the power of the Keys go in a situation like this? Could Vigano’s confessor have unbound him from this oath beforehand?

  11. ArthurH says:

    There’s even a virtue associated with overriding the rule when it is necessary, as in this case. It is called epieikeia.

  12. Ave Maria says:

    There is a “need to know” and to continue to withhold the information is to be complicit with the evil. It is not the seal of confession here.

  13. gretta says:

    To my mind, what complicates this is that while some of Vigano’s letter is true and corroborates what is already widely known, some of it is false/erroneous (we don’t know if the errors were mistakes or intentional), and some of it is intentionally misleading. We know now that there was no imposed penalty for Pope Francis to lift, yet Vigano’s letter sure made it sound like there was. It also seems that Pope Francis’ involvment has been highlighted, while Popes Benedict and John Paul’s responsibilty has been minimized. Some of what he claimed, he has proof for. Other accusations have been made with no proof, and he says is speculation or surmise, but if untrue or misleading is seriously damaging to their reputations. Some of what he claims amounts to patronage, but isn’t canonically or civilly criminal. And there are important things we don’t know that could have been left out. For example, were there bishops put in place through the patronage of Cardinal McCarrick that he did not name, or was that an exhaustive list? Vigano is a canonist and has a civil law degree, so he knows canon law. He reviewed his letter with a number of poeple before publishing it, so it was clearly crafted – not a letter written in haste. All of this is to say that it is a very complex document that may result in both positive change but also potentially damaging reputations unjustly. While on the whole it is good to have much of ths mess out in the open, I’m seriously conflicted if some of what he revealed proves to be false. As someone said above, you can’t “unknow” what has been claimed, and given the climate today – will anyone believe it if an investigative entity says one of these bishops was falsely accused? At what tipping point does violating pontifical secrecy become justified, and does it become less so if it is discovered that this documents takes down the innocent as well as the guilty? Or that it makes unprovable insinuations that permanently damage reputations along with revealing the truth that should be widely known? It makes both my head and my heart hurt…

  14. Malta says:

    I know a thing or two about RICO; so, for instance, if a boy was abused in one state, crossed state lines, and was abused again, and say the pope knew it happened (even if many years ago, because the Statute of Limitations no longer exists in such cases) under the Commerce Clause, and under RICO laws this pope could get indicted.

  15. Malta says:

    The other way this pope could get indicted (and I was a Senior Trial Prosecutor) is as an accessory after the fact; meaning he knew cardinal McCarick was a child predator, and lifted restrictions on him from public ministry with children.

  16. Malta says:

    Of course even if the US Justice Department (of which I was a part) indicted this pope, it would be merely symbolic: he could never be extradicted out of Vatican City. But, he wouldn’t be allowed to fly to the US.

  17. rdb says:

    Archbishop Vigano wrote a letter of conscience, conscience not understood in the way +Cupich, James Keenan and Salzman understand it, but according to faithful Catholic teaching. +Vigano certainly understands the importance of pontifical secrets but he also understands their limits. He came to the conclusion that he MUST do something and he did. This is a textbook example of a true act of conscience.

  18. Kathleen10 says:

    If reason, morality, and virtue could be twisted such that a man is punished who speaks in order to inform others so that grave injustice done to children is brought to light, then this world makes no sense whatsoever, and whoever tries to propose the entity that created that situation is acting in any way for the public good, more closely resembles an organization created by Satan than by God.

  19. PetersBarque says:

    It is highly doubtful that The Pontifical Secret was instituted as a mechanism to force men to violate their conscience or to protect evil within the Church. Archbishop Viganò should not be censured for refusing to violate his conscience, no matter who his testimony implicates. “To everything there is a season…A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” The fact that so many for so long did not speak out is why everyone is pulling their hair out.

  20. Cafea Fruor says:

    I’m definitely no canon lawyer, but the CIC does say that the obligation arising from an oath ceases (among other possibilities) “if the matter sworn to is substantially changed or if, after the circumstances have changed, it becomes either evil or entirely indifferent or, finally, impedes a greater good;” so I would think there’s room to argue that had Vigano remained silent would have been impeding a greater good.

  21. ‘Epikeia’! I haven’t heard that term in a long while. It used to be that every liturgical innovation or other nonsense would be justified by the good and the wise and the Jesuits by appeal to ‘epikeia, epikeia!’. Abuses, all of it, more than likely. But the fact is that it is truly a virtue, when rightly understood.

  22. Pingback: Clergy & Hierarchy Scandal: VVednesday Edition – Big Pulpit

  23. AveMariaGratiaPlena says:

    Given that the stakes involve child & teenage rapists and other sexual abusers – including those corrupting seminarians – and their protectors running rampant in the clergy, I’d say Viganò was on *extremely* firm ground spilling the beans. I’d go further and say those who stay silent with knowledge of such foul crimes are in a far worse moral & spiritual position.

  24. Smiling says:

    On one hand, you have a priest upholding confidentiality regarding an individual penitent’s confession. The matter can be very grave but the seal is inviolable.

    On the other hand, you can have the same priest (say Abp Vigano) who, in the course of his admittedly confidential work for the Vatican, learns of ongoing terrible things AND has strong evidence that widespread corruption at high levels has blocked and will continue to block the ending of the ongoing terrible things. The oath he took to stay mum was surely implicitly predicated on some basic requirements that Vatican bishops and cardinals would not be facilitating ongoing horrible crimes. Having evidence to the contrary, isn’t the oath invalidated?

    [I think that’s the point of the quote from St. Alphonsus, above. However, I would say that a person is still bound to keep silent about normal operations and work.]

  25. JesusFreak84 says:

    If I were Archbishop Vigano, I would be reminding myself that Joan of Arc died excommunicated, but today she’s a Saint.

  26. Malta says:

    JesusFreak 84: the same might be said of Archbishop Lefebvre someday.

  27. MitisVis says:

    It must be obvious that a man with Archbp. Viganòs experience and position knows FAR more than he revealed. When McCarrick fell and we were demanding accountability, he was well aware, as we all saw, the extreme push to make homosexuality accepted and minimize not only McCarrick’s actions but forcing the homosexual issue in the face of doctrine. This certainly wasn’t the response any of us expected, and I believe knowing what he knew Archbp. Viganò was compelled to come forward. He could easily know or find out whom and what was behind the WMoF and the blitz on social media and where it was leading in the plan of things. It’s as if he was warning the parties involved he was giving them a chance to rectify and repent, more than blowing the lid off the whole works so to speak. To me, it’s a race to find Archbp. Viganò before he takes it a step further, and the meeting with DiNardo, Gomez and O’Malley (which will probably have Wuerl’s influence and input) will turn out to be damage control/info gathering.

    Whom would decide if the prolonged cover up and abuses, not to mention what has not yet or ever will be revealed to us, canonically justifies breaking the oath? Would anyone be able to give a reasonable chance of Archbp. Viganò receiving a fair hearing? I for one am very proud of Archbp. Viganò because it was such a heart wrenching decision. I, and I see several others here have taken oaths through employment or positions and it’s very serious business. So much to pray for.

  28. Ranger01 says:

    RDP’‘s post says it well.
    Viganò looked, saw, contemplated and acted.
    Thank you, Archbishop Viganò, your reward in Heaven is great.

  29. blena316 says:

    In any case, it is apparent that the homosexual predators and those that turned a blind eye or worse enabled have absolutely no fear of hell or judgement, In my opinion, the vow of what happens in the Vatican stays in the Vatican is reassurance to those whose actions reduce their ordination to a farce

  30. jplsr says:

    Before raising quibbles about the papal secrets oath, maybe we should reimpose the anti-modernist oath, conveniently dropped in 1967. Any one judging Vigano should first take the anti-modernist oath, inocluding Pope Francis.

  31. PTK_70 says:

    I’m no biblical scholar, so I won’t attempt to make any definitive claims about the applicability of James 5:12-13 across time, place and circumstance; however, I do wonder why Churchmen – ostensibly doing the work of the Gospel – are taking oaths in the first place.

    “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be, yea, yea: no, no: that you fall not under judgment.”

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