The Vatican on Friday excommunicated the outspoken Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, its former ambassador to Washington, finding him guilty of schism after repeatedly questioning Pope Francis’ authority.

The Italian prelate had in recent years become one of Francis’ harshest critics. 

The Holy See’s doctrinal office announced the sanction following a meeting on Thursday. They informed Vigano of their decision the following day. 

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The Vatican said in a statement that Vigano’s vocal “refusal to recognize and submit to the Supreme Pontiff … and of the legitimacy and magisterial authority of the Second Vatican Council.” 

The statement added: “At the conclusion of the penal process, the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganò was found guilty of the reserved delict of schism.”

As a result, Vigano is forbidden from receiving or delivering the sacraments. Meanwhile, the accusation of schism — which the church has dealt with on numerous occasions over its 2,000-year history — is taken very seriously because it threatens unity and papal authority. 

In the Catholic church’s canon law, excommunication means “exclusion from communion” and is a form of censure. In the formal sense of the term, excommunication includes being barred not only from the sacraments but also from the fellowship of Christian baptism.

In 2015, Vigano, who at the time served as nuncio, helped organize Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. It was during the trip that Vigano arranged for Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk at the center of the U.S. gay marriage debate, to be present at the Vatican residence to greet Francis.  

Vigano, however, was heralded as a hero among some conservative Catholics, although he had gone into hiding. Vigano also placed a spotlight on what he believed was the pope’s slow response to dealing with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The now-defrocked former cardinal of Washington, DC, is accused of molesting young boys and seminarians over a span of decades. 

Vigano, who served as papal envoy from 2011 to 2016, even went as far as to publish an 11-page letter accusing the pope of secretly trying to rehabilitate McCarrick in direct contradiction to a decree signed off by Pope Benedict XVI. 

However, a Vatican probe released in 2020 found that Francis had done nothing wrong. The 449-page report found that the claims against McCarrick dated back decades. The report found that Francis had just continued handling the matter in the same way his predecessors had dating back to 1999.

The McCarrick scandal erupted in July 2018 after the Archdiocese of New York reported it had substantiated a claim of sexual abuse of a minor against the former cardinal, while two New Jersey dioceses had also revealed they had settled lawsuits against him in the past involving adults.

It was John Paul II who appointed McCarrick the archbishop of Washington, D.C. in 2000 and eventually cardinal. That appointment, according to the report, came despite allegations the previous year that McCarrick had sexually abused altar boys.

In recent years, Vigano’s message — amplified on his X account and by right-wing Catholic news sites and blogs — saw his power and authority with other bishops slowly erode. 

On June 20, after the Vatican announced it was going to charge Vigano, the 83-year-old prelate issued a lengthy statement refusing to recognize the authority of the Vatican’s doctrinal office that, he said, “claims to judge me, nor of its prefect, nor of the one who appointed him.”

Vigano, who has also voiced support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, had called the accusations against him a “badge of honour” and refused to show up in Rome to deal with the charges in person.

Following the Vatican’s ruling on Friday, Vigano wrote on X: “What was attributed to me as guilt for my conviction is now put on record, confirming the Catholic Faith that I fully profess.”

Clemente Lisi is the executive editor of Religion Unplugged. He previously served as deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and a longtime reporter at The New York Post. Follow him on X @ClementeLisi.