CHICAGO — A former top Vatican official is accusing Pope Francis of taking part in covering up sex abuse by Catholic priests, saying the pope himself knew about specific abuses for years.
Carlo Maria Viganò was the top Vatican diplomat in the United States, but is now one of the pope’s most outspoken critics.
He's calling for the pope’s resignation as Catholics grapple with the newest allegations of abuse at churches around the world.
On the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, a small group of Catholics gathered to pray and to discuss the newest shocking allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up in the church Sunday.
"Public prayer is a valuable way to raise awareness of child sexual abuse in our church and in our society,"said Mike Hoffman, who says he was a victim of abuse himself while growing up in Lake Forest. "I was sexually abused by our Catholic priest at the time when I was a little boy.”
The latest allegations leveled against the church came in a 7,000-word letter written by Viganò alleging much of the Vatican hierarchy, including Pope Francis, was complicit in covering up accusations that former D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians. Viganò wrote:
“He knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator. In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, 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.”
Father Rocky Hoffman from Relevant Radio described the letter as a bombshell, but cautioned Catholics not to overreact until the allegations are verified.
"When a car is driving off the road that’s not the time to take the driver out of the driver’s seat that’s the time to diver to get a hold of the wheel and get the car back on the road," Hoffman said.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the head of the Archdiocese in Chicago, rejected portions of Viganò's letter that said McCarrick organized his appointment in exchange for keeping quiet about abuse.
"I consider these remarks astonishing," Cupich said in a statement released Sunday. "As for the rest of the 'testimony,' a thorough vetting of the former nuncio’s many claims is required before any assessment of their credibility can be made."
After mass at Holy Name, many Chicago Catholics said they still trust the pope.
"They’re not going to brush it under the carpet and that’s the way the church has to handle it if its going to survive in the future," Dale Charles said.
Abuse survivors like Mike Hoffman have serious concerns and new questions.
"I don’t know what the leaders did or did not know, I don’t know what they did or did not do," Hoffman said. "It’s all going to come out anyway. What I do know is that my faith is strong.”