Home Christian News Conservative Prelate Warns That Excommunicating Viganò Will Lead to Further Division

Conservative Prelate Warns That Excommunicating Viganò Will Lead to Further Division

Carlo Maria Viganò
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, left, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, right. (Left: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky; Right: video screen grab)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — An outspoken critic of Pope Francis, the Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, said that while Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s public opposition of the pope “is irreverent and disrespectful,” the Vatican should think twice before excommunicating him.

“I think the pope would be wise and prudent if he were to not excommunicate Archbishop Viganò,” Schneider told Religion News Service in an interview on Monday (June 24), adding that, “with this act, the Holy See will increase divisions even more.”

The Vatican Department for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Vatican’s Inquisition, summoned Viganò to trial on June 28 under charges of schism, which can incur the penalty of excommunication. Viganò wrote in a public statement that he has no intention of attending the “fake trial” and doubled down on his criticism of the pope and the Vatican.

Schneider said Vatican officials should invite Viganò privately, and not in a judicial setting, to smooth over differences. “I lament that Archbishop Viganò uses disrespectful language,” he said, adding that “it’s not edifying or helpful to anyone.”

Viganò, who was papal nuncio to the United States, rose to fame in 2018 when he published a lengthy letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up reports of sexual abuse of minors by the influential U.S. ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the letter he asked the pope to resign from his position.

In the following years, Viganò’s positions became increasingly radical, criticizing the Second Vatican Council, condemning the COVID-19 vaccines and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin as the savior of Christianity.

The archbishop also claimed Pope Francis’ election was illegitimate, leading many conservative prelates to distance themselves from Viganò.

“He is in error, because he is voicing a new theory of the probably invalid theory of Francis’ illegitimate election,” Schneider said, adding that Viganò’s positions have “no foundation.” Schneider also claimed to have asked Viganò, who has been living in hiding since he published his public statement in 2018, to avoid using disrespectful language concerning the pope.

Regardless, the Kazakh bishop believes Viganò should not be excommunicated. “I think that today the church has so much internal division that it would be imprudent, even if there is some canonical ground to judge Archbishop Viganò.”

Schneider is the latest among a number of conservative papal critics who have disassociated themselves from the fiery archbishop. Conservative Italian pundits welcomed the pope’s decision to finally take action on Viganò, while the traditionalist Society of Pius X, founded in 1970 by the schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, stated that they do not support Viganò’s claims that Francis’ election was illegitimate.

An ethnic German raised in Kazakhstan under the Soviet Union, Schneider emigrated to Germany with his family to escape the communist repression of Catholicism. He has criticized Pope Francis’ limitations on the Latin Mass and his decision to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. When Pope Francis prayed with Indigenous people at the Vatican gardens during the 2019 summit of bishops on the Amazon region, Schneider said it constituted “implicit pantheism.”

He has also criticized the pope’s ecumenical and inter-religious efforts to foster dialogue, claiming they undermined the “one true religion.” His diocese was the first to reject the application of the 2023 Vatican declaration “Fiducia Supplicans,” allowing priests to bless same-sex and irregular couples.