Reports of the Vigano Testament indicate that the 'controversy' is unlikely to go away any time soon. It would appear views are becoming more extreme and, seemingly, polarised. In the last 24 hours, it has been reported that during the Wednesday papal audience shouts of "Vigano! Vigano!" could be heard over the devotions of other attendees. Elsewhere, parish priests are reported as delivering hard hitting homilies in which they call for episcopal resignations, even suggesting that Pope Francis should himself resign. Others have declared a causal link between the tolerance of a culture of homosexuality within certain parts of the Church and the potential for offences against minors and others in subordinate positions. In this latter respect, commentators have rightly sought to emphasise that pedophilia and related sexual offences are not the product of sexual orientation alone.
For those familiar with the sometimes turbulent history of the Church, it is not difficult to detect in the handling of controversies and scandals a preparedness to personalise issues. This same reaction was evident in the initial responses to Archbishop Vigano's 'Testament'. Suggestions of ulterior motive, political timing and self-interest are not infrequently raised ad hominem. Whether or not the intention is to deflect attention away from the core issues, such responses miss the mark by some margin.
In contrast to those within the Church in the US, prior to the events of the last week, the name Vigano is likely to have been little known to Catholics in Northern Europe The same cannot be said of the Holy See or, for that matter, the Vatican State. An unsophisticated search of the internet confirms he was consecrated Bishop in 1992 by St John Paul II. Thereafter he held posts including Official of the Secretariat of State and Secretary General of the Vatican State. Clearly, no lightweight. But biographical details aside, the same search of 'the web' records his motto: Scio cui credidi. (i.e. I know whom I have believed).
Viewed through the lens of the present furore, the adoption of these words as an episcopal motto acquires a prophetic quality. The text itself is taken from Paul's Second Letter to Timothy. In his imprisonment, Paul counsel's Timothy to maintain his faith. in terms which should not be lost upon us now:
"Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling., not a virtue in works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago...For this gospel, I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed..." [2 Tim.1: 8-12].
The text does not admit of ambiguity. Paul, conscious of his own sacred calling, was equally acutely aware of the responsibilities from which he could not shrink. He recognised that the responsibility of his calling provided not only the ability to pronounce the gospel with authority, but also imposed the obligation to provide authentic witness. He was inviting Timothy and the community to which he belonged, to see the events of the day through the eyes of Christ himself. Adopting such a perspective leaves us in no doubt of the Church's obligation to act effectively to prevent abuses and counter behaviours which would have its mission, authority and esteem utilised for self-gratification in whatever form. It equally requires each one of us, as members of the People of God, to collaborate in the restoration of the Church's mission. In some quarters, this has prompted opportunistic calls for fundamental doctrinal reform. This is not a time for opportunism. The Church is not and cannot be reduced to an association of persons akin to a members' club. In the words of Vatican II, it represents in its essence, a 'complex reality'; an indispensable component in the mystery of salvation fulfilling its role as the sacrament of inner union between God and His people (CCC775). Where does this leave us?
Every Sunday, in every church in which the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, there is a declaration of the Creed. We profess our belief in the Church: "one, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic". The universal call to holiness, places a solemn obligation upon all members of the Church to preserve Her identity and the authenticity of her mission. Given our present circumstances, it may be thought that this requires a predisposition to justice: (i.e. discerning what is right and formulating an inner resolve to do it). In the least, this involves participation in restorative justice for all who have been wronged: the primary victims, successors in office, parishes, the universal and particular Church. It must however, be a restoration which is carefully formulated; ensuring that we do not lose sight of Him who we have come to know and believe in. It is only by fixing our eyes on Him that we can be sure to have the grace and the courage to do what restorative justice demands of us.