Explosive letter claims Pope Francis helped cover up Cardinal McCarrick sex abuse

KNOCK, Ireland — The Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States has purportedly written an explosive letter claiming that Pope Francis knew about sex abuse allegations against disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for years, but chose to cover for him and elevate his position within the church before accepting his resignation last month.

The extraordinary 11-page ‘”J’accuse,” which came as Francis began the second day of a visit to Ireland that has been dominated by the abuse scandal, was published on Sunday by The National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews and is attributed to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

NBC News could not confirm the letter’s authenticity or its claims.

In it, Viganò said “corruption had reached the very top of the Church’s hierarchy” as he called on Francis to resign.

“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,” he added.

Viganò, who served as ambassador to the United States between 2011 and 2016, claimed that senior Vatican officials knew as early as 2000 that McCarrick regularly invited young seminarians into his bed, but that they still promoted him to cardinal.

Viganò said Pope Benedict XVI eventually imposed sanctions on McCarrick in 2009 or 2010, ordering him to withdraw to a lifetime of prayer and penance, but that Francis chose to rehabilitate him, “cover” for him and elevate him to be a “trusted counselor.”

The letter appeared to be the first public claim that senior church officials not only knew of allegations against McCarrick but quietly sanctioned him long before he was stripped of his public ministry in June.

The Vatican didn’t immediately comment on the letter or confirm its authenticity.

19 PHOTOS

Pope arrives in Ireland

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Pope Francis is pictured as he leaves Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Pope Francis leaves Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Pope Francis smiles next to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis is welcomed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis speaks at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis is greeted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis presents a gift to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis speaks during his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis is greeted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis signs a visitors book next to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis arrives at Dublin International Airport, at the start of his two-day visit to Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Pope Francis is greeted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis is greeted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle during his visit to Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A monk reacts next to the officer from Ireland’s Garda (Police), in Dublin, Ireland August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Pope Francis speaks in St Patricks Hall in Dublin Castle in Dublin on August 25, 2018, during his visit to Ireland to attend the 2018 World Meeting of Families. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (R) shows the way to Pope Francis in St Patricks Hall in Dublin Castle in Dublin on August 25, 2018, during his visit to Ireland to attend the 2018 World Meeting of Families. – Pope Francis said he shared in the ‘shame and pain’ of the Catholic Church’s ‘failure’ to deal with years of sexual abuse scandals as he began a historic two-day visit to Ireland on Saturday. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, IRELAND – AUGUST 25: Pope Francis leaves after meeting dignitaries at Dublin Castle on August 25, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. Pope Francis is the 266th Catholic Pope and current sovereign of the Vatican. His visit, the first by a Pope since John Paul II’s in 1979, is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of Catholics to a series of events in Dublin and Knock. During his visit he will have private meetings with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, IRELAND – AUGUST 25: Pope Francis leaves after meeting dignitaries at Dublin Castle on August 25, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. Pope Francis is the 266th Catholic Pope and current sovereign of the Vatican. His visit, the first by a Pope since John Paul II’s in 1979, is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of Catholics to a series of events in Dublin and Knock. During his visit he will have private meetings with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Pope Francis (L) and Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar walk into St Patricks Hall in Dublin Castle in Dublin on August 25, 2018, during his visit to Ireland to attend the 2018 World Meeting of Families. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

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In the letter, Viganò wrote that he informed Francis of the allegations against McCarrick soon after he was elected pope in 2013 and alerted him to the sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict.

The former Holy See diplomat added that he was surprised to find that McCarrick, who served as the archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, started travelling on missions on behalf of the church soon after his conversation with Francis.

McCarrick had to retire as archbishop in 2006 when he turned 75, but he became a globe-trotting Vatican emissary after Pope Francis was elected — traveling to international hot spots like Iran and lobbying Washington lawmakers.

This is not the first time that Viganò and Francis have clashed. In 2015, the pair had a dust-up during Francis’ visit to the U.S., which Viganò organized.

The allegations came as Francis wrapped-up a highly charged visit to Ireland, where he met with victims of clerical sex abuse as well as other abuses committed by Catholic officials and institutions.

“None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence,” Francis said Sunday during a speech in Knock, west Ireland.

“This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice,” he added. “I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family.”

Sunday was not the first time during the visit that Francis had mentioned the abuse scandal.

Speaking at Dublin Castle on Saturday, Francis said the failure of bishops, religious superiors, priests and others to address these “repugnant” crimes, had “rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”

His words came days after he begged forgiveness and said Catholic leaders were to blame following a grand jury report found that more than 1,000 children had been sexually abused by “predator priests”in Pennsylvania for decades.

34 PHOTOS

Ireland prepares for Pope Francis

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Redemptoristine nuns Sister Petra Maria (R) and Sister Ivana prepare communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Redemptoristine nun Sister Petra Maria prepares uncut sheets of communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Sister Angela Finegan looks out of the church window at St Mary’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. “I am so excited about the day, to be in the presence of this good and holy leader of our Church (Pope Francis) and surrounded by people of faith and lovers of God. It will be a great joy and blessing. Especially in the days when the presence of God and the life of the Church are hidden in our fast-paced society,” said Sister Angela. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Redemptoristine nuns Sister Petra Maria (R) and Sister Ivana prepare communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Names spelled out in stones are laid out on the side of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Sister Angela Finegan mops the church floor at St Mary’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. “I am so excited about the day, to be in the presence of this good and holy leader of our Church (Pope Francis) and surrounded by people of faith and lovers of God. It will be a great joy and blessing. Especially in the days when the presence of God and the life of the Church are hidden in our fast-paced society,” said Sister Angela. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Sister Marie Fahy reads at her desk in St Mary’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. “The Pope is the earthly head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ. His visit means that he wants to support, guide and encourage the Irish Church. I believe his message will be one of inspiration, direction and advice for the people of God in Ireland,” said Sister Marie. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Sister Marie Fahy walks through the farm in St Mary’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. “The Pope is the earthly head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ. His visit means that he wants to support, guide and encourage the Irish Church. I believe his message will be one of inspiration, direction and advice for the people of God in Ireland,” said Sister Marie. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A religious grotto that lights up at night and is also a traffic roundabout, stands in the city centre in Dublin, Ireland, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Brendan O’Connor who lives beside Phoenix Park, sits in his yard in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Sister Kathleen carries a pot of tea at St Mary’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Shopkeeper Bernie Byrne, 74, looks out from his shop at the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. Byrne’s grandfather Dominic was one of at least twenty-two people that claimed to see Mary, Joseph and John the Evangelist hovering near the gable end of the local church in the western Irish village of Knock on a rainy evening in August 1879. “Houses are being painted and streets are being scrubbed… trying to get everything ready for him (Pope Francis), even though it’s only a short visit,” said Byrne, who like his brother Tom, runs a small shop selling religious goods to the 1.5 million pilgrims that come to Knock each year. “Because he is such a humble man, and a nice man, everybody is dying to have a look at him.” REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A souvenir lollipop called a ‘Lollipope’ is seen in Dublin, Ireland, August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A statue of the Virgin Mary stands in O’Devaney Gardens beside Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. The 1950’s complex’s statue of Mary is tended to by Joe Towell who lives nearby to O’Devaney Gardens flats. While some locals’ cars have been stolen and homes broken into, nobody touches Mary, he says. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pope Francis bunting decorates a street in the city centre of Dublin, Ireland, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A statue of Pope Francis stands in a shop window in the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Women from a haberdashery shop hold up their new Pope Francis Ireland flag in Louth, Ireland, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A statue of the Virgin Mary looks out from a shop at the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Joe Towell, 68, sits with his mother who lives with him at his home in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. Excited about the visit of “another extraordinary type of pope”, he sees Francis as bridging a generational gap that has opened between the conservative and liberal wings of the church. “He’s still preaching the same gospel as they’ve all been preaching. He’s just got a little more understanding of the present way people are feeling,” Towell said. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Heart-shaped gravestones of boys who died in a Christian Brothers’ industrial school lie in a graveyard in Letterfrack, Ireland, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A religious grotto featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a Pope Francis prayer card and several sets of rosary beads stands on the roadside near the county Mayo town of Claremorris, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

The stage where Pope Frances will lead Mass for over half a million people is under construction at the Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A station of the cross is partly hidden by undergrowth at a roadside in the Connemara village of Letterfrack, Ireland, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A nun stands in front of a scene of the crucifix of Jesus in the Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A child cycles past a roadside sign reading ‘Jesus I trust in you’ near Tuam, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A young pilgrim reads on Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A pilgrim descends Croagh Patrick holy mountain barefoot during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

A pilgrim is blessed by the newly ordained Father Gerard Quirke after Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 

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“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis wrote in a letter last week.

But neither Francis’ words nor a new meeting with abuse victims is likely to calm the outrage among some rank-and-file Catholics following new revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the United States, an ongoing crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in Australia and France.

McCarrick is one of the highest-ranking Americans to be removed from public ministry because of sex abuse allegations and resigned from the College of Cardinals in the Vatican last month.

Francis accepted his resignation and ordered him to observe a life of prayer and penance in seclusion, sanctions which Viganò said are “similar” to those imposed on him by Benedict years ago.

The Vatican announced in June that McCarrick had been removed from public office after a U.S. church investigation determined that an accusation he had sexually abused a minor was credible.

McCarrick has denied wrongdoing and said he was “shocked” when he learned of the allegation involving a minor some months ago.

As the move was announced, Roman Catholic Church officials in New Jersey revealed that the 88-year-old cardinal had also been accused of sexual misconduct by adults three times in the past. Two of those accusations resulted in secret settlements, officials said.

The accusations, coupled with the Pennsylvania report, have led to a crisis of confidence in the U.S. church.

In the letter published Sunday, Viganò accused the former Vatican secretaries of state under the previous two popes of having ignored detailed denunciations against McCarrick for years.

“Pope Francis has repeatedly asked for total transparency in the Church,” Viganò said.

“He must honestly state when he first learned about the crimes committed by McCarrick, who abused his authority with seminarians and priests.”

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