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Archbishop Viganò, the retired nuncio to the United States, has now issued his third attack on the papacy of Pope Francis. In his first, in August, he called on the Pope to resign. Viganò alleges that Francis has deliberately facilitated the appointment of homosexual clergy to senior positions in the Catholic Church, and that the root cause of the sex abuse crisis is “the scourge of homosexuality”. The great majority of priests implicated in abuse are gay, he says, implying cause and effect; and they are protected from censure, civil or ecclesiastical, by their gay superiors.

There is no evidence for this causal connection. Paedophilia is a devastating crime against the innocent. Homosexuality as a condition is morally neutral. Pope Francis instead pins the blame for abuse on “clericalism”: a culture which places priests on such a pedestal that they are beyond criticism, and which puts the protection of the Church’s reputation above the safety of children. Archbishop Viganò rejects this. There is a distinct aroma of a homophobic conspiracy theory about his argument.

But one phrase he attributes to Pope Francis deserves closer examination. It illuminates an inner tension within North American Catholicism amounting almost to undeclared schism. When Archbishop Viganò first met Francis and introduced himself as the nuncio in Washington, the Pope allegedly remarked: “The Bishops in the United States must not be ideologised! They must be shepherds!”

Assuming Pope Francis did say this, and it sounds quite likely, what is he referring to? There has been a pattern to senior appointments in the US Church, particularly under Pope John Paul II, which saw progressive prelates replaced on retirement by more socially conservative ones. That policy has been put into reverse. Viganò is clearly unhappy about this.

Behind all this lies the American phenomenon known as the “culture wars”, which are as much about economic policy as about sexuality, about a liberal versus a conservative interpretation of what the United States fundamentally stands for. That is why Archbishop Viganò’s personal crusade has had so much resonance in right-wing American circles. Many conservative Catholics have constructed their own version of Catholic Social Teaching, carefully selecting quotes from papal documents which appear to support the core principle of free-market economics – that state intervention, in business regulation as much as in welfare provision, is generally perverse in its effects. For Catholics of this sort, a “small state” is always to be preferred to a larger one. That is not the doctrine taught by Pope Francis, nor was it ever taught by Pope John Paul II, or any of his other predecessors.

It is a strongly individualistic creed that downplays solidarity and regards economic success as a mark of divine blessing. Its natural home is within a strand of American fundamentalist Protestantism, but it has permeated American culture to such an extent that it now pervades large sections of the Catholic Church. It has an inflexible Jansenist/Calvinist approach to human weakness, with more emphasis on judgement than mercy, and a fondness for clear, strict rules. If this lies at one end of a spectrum, Pope Francis is at the other. Without this factor, it is unlikely Donald Trump would have won the Presidency. Given a choice between Francis and Trump, it seems too many American Catholics would follow the latter. Thus the Viganò affair has unwittingly shone a light on these dark corners of the American Catholic psyche.





If corruption is when honest dealings between parties are unjustly subverted for financial gain, there is a strong case for saying the West’s whole relationship with Saudi Arabia is corrupt. This despotic Arab kingdom owns a major proportion of the world’s oil reserves. Its surplus oil wealth makes it a highly profitable place to sell armaments, on which trade many Western jobs depend. There could hardly be a plainer basis for a crooked relationship. Most Western countries have turned a blind eye to countless Saudi Arabian offences against human rights, internally and externally. Now they suddenly find themselves confronted with one they cannot ignore. Whether the sadistic murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was an act of State, or of groups operating without specific authorisation but under State protection, is hardly material. Either way it was unpardonable. Henceforth all dealings with Saudi Arabia should be conducted in the light of it.

The cynical proposition that states do not have principles, they only have interests, is often attributed to Lord Palmerston and is still widely cited. It explains why successive British and US governments have continued to maximise their arms trade with Saudi Arabia while lacking any great interest in what those arms are used for. But it is usually forgotten that Palmerston went on to say that British interests are served by the promotion of liberty and justice throughout the world. That condition now needs to be brought to the fore.

Under the government headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, there were hopes that Saudi Arabia was taking the first steps towards joining the modern world. For that it needs international investment and expertise, hence the international conference which was convening just as details of the gruesome murder of Khashoggi were beginning to emerge. The modern world should demand its price. Western public opinion is very uneasy about Saudi Arabia’s role in the civil war in Yemen. Parts of the country, already witnessing a grave humanitarian catastrophe, are threatened with famine. The Khashoggi murder has raised awareness of the Yemen conflict and Saudi Arabia’s role in it – including the use there of Western-made, mainly British and American, armaments. The British Government’s insistence that restrictions on use of British-made weapons are exemplary and sufficient rings ever more hollow, as the savagery in Yemen increases.

The only honourable course open to Britain is to wind down its arms trade with Saudi Arabia, transferring the industries involved to other purposes – and never forgetting that a corrupt relationship corrupts both sides.

2 | THE TABLET | 27 OCTOBER 2018

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