In his 11-page testimony, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador, calls for the resignation of Pope Francis “in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance.” Viganò writes:
[Pope Francis] must acknowledge his mistakes and...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.
The testimony slammed the church at a crucial moment. Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned in July after allegations of decades-long abuse of minors and adult seminarians. Viganò claims Pope Francis knew of the abuse prior to McCarrick's resignation.
This alone should serve as a basis for a resignation; if Pope Francis was aware of the abuse of any priest, cardinal, bishop, or otherwise, calls for him to step down should ring loudly within the halls of the Vatican and around the world.
However, the pope’s alleged knowledge of McCarrick's abuse does not serve as the basis for Viganò’s argument. Instead, Viganò blames “homosexual networks” residing within the clergy for the pervasive abuse, implying that Pope Francis’s perceived position on homosexuality fueled systemic sexual abuse.
In doing so, Viganò delegitimize any credibility he might have had in asking the pope to resign (something that had not been done in 600 years prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013). Viganò describes the extent of what the so-called "networks" within the clergy as having:
...concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, [which] strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.
Viganò’s derisive language proves that calls for the pope to resign are largely guided not by justice for sex abuse victims, but by opportunity to replace one of the most progressive popes the church has seen in some time.
Conservative Catholics are feeding off of nothing more than opportunity. There’s a reason the public does not choose the next pope; therefore, the public should not have the ability to dismantle the current office-holder either.
Even so, the fact that the Catholic Church has a long-standing reputation for sex abuse should be enough of a reason for drastic action.
Viganò’s claims, accurate or not, are irrelevant to the question at hand. A number of investigations are warranted in light of the Pennsylvania grand jury report; the pope’s alleged knowledge of McCarrick’s specific abuses is just one of them.
...as the leader and figurehead of the church, the responsibility ultimately lies with [Pope Francis]...It is long past due that the head of this institution answers not just for the priests who spent decades abusing thousands of children, but for the institution itself spending millions to fight accusers and cover its own tracks.
Pope Francis’ progressive stance on a number of issues ranging from climate change to poverty have made him beloved by the public and by progressives within the Catholic Church. But a positive reputation should not shield anyone from consequences; the current leader of an institution that has systematically blocked justice for decades ought to face consequences.
Someone must take responsibility beyond the abusers themselves. Early this September, Pope Francis called for a meeting of over 100 bishops to discuss the protection of minors from sexual abuse. As the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz and Laurie Goodstein put it:
After three decades of denial, the Vatican is being forced to treat the sex abuse problem as a global crisis, and not the failing of a particular country or culture.
The fact of the matter is that meetings, and even policies, only go so far. The sex abuse epidemic within the Catholic Church did not begin with Pope Francis, but he could be the first leader to take unprecedented action in the interest of solving it. This now decades-old tragedy calls for what few in the church are willing to do: widespread reform.