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Pope Francis prays at St. Mary's Cathedral in Dublin. Photo: Stefano Rellandini/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis spent much of his visit to Ireland over the weekend seeking forgiveness — for those guilty of “abuses of power” and “sexual abuses,” and for “some members of the hierarchy” who knew of the abuses and did nothing.

Yes, but: The Vatican’s former ambassador to Washington claims the pope falls into that second category.

  • Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò writes in a stunning 11-page letter that he told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been sanctioned by Pope Benedict XVI over numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, but Francis nonetheless rehabilitated McCarrick. McCarrick resigned last week, the first cardinal to do so in 90 years. He maintains his innocence.
  • Asked about the allegation by reporters on Sunday, Francis wouldn’t confirm or deny it, saying: “I will not say a single word on this. I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have the sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions.”

Responses to the letter have varied widely, as the Wall Street Journal notes in a piece headlined: “Pope Faces Crisis of Credibility Over Coverup Accusations.”

  • Rev. Robert Imbelli of Boston College told the Journal: “The pope leaves it to journalists in their professional competence to evaluate the truth….Clearly, their work would be facilitated by the release of relevant documents.”
  • Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University tells Slate’s Isaac Chotinerthat Viganò has made unsubstantiated claims in the past, and seems to be out to settle scores.

The backdrop: Francis has previously sought forgiveness for his handling of a major sex abuse scandal in Chile. Confidence in his ability to handle such scandals is falling among U.S. Catholics, per Pew.

The bigger picture: Sex abuse scandals are eroding trust in an institution already struggling with declining membership in nearly every country across Europe and the Americas.

  • A Pew survey found that, as of 2015, while 32% of Americans were raised Catholic, just 21% remained so — more than double the drop-off among Protestants. U.S. Catholics are also older, on average, than members of other major religions.
  • It’s not just that people are becoming less religious. In Brazil, for example, Protestantism has grown rapidly as Catholicism has become less dominant.
  • Membership in the Church has held steady at around 18% of the global population for decades, according to Vatican data, with growth in Africa making up for declines elsewhere.

Consider the case in Ireland, though: The last papal visit was in 1979, when the Church dominated many aspects of Irish life. One-third of the country's entire population turned up to hear John Paul II speak. This time, one attendee told NPR she had decided not to tell acquaintances she was going: "It wasn't a popular thing to say."

Go deeper

Democrats eye reconciliation for immigration

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Comprehensive immigration reform is a pipe dream, but some Senate Democrats are hoping to tie key immigration provisions to the next big reconciliation push.

Why it matters: Immigration is one of the most controversial and partisan issues in U.S. politics, which is why the budget reconciliation process — which allows for bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes — is so attractive.

2 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden meeting Quad amid own pivot toward Asia

Artists paint portraits of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Mumbai, India. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

President Biden plans to meet this month with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India in a virtual summit of the so-called Quad, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: By putting a Quad meeting on the president’s schedule, the White House is signaling the importance of partnerships and alliances to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

AOC challenges Puerto Rico governor over statehood

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at New York's Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2019. Photo: Erin Lefevre/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez are pushing ahead with a bill in Congress that would let Puerto Rico decide its future — a proposal threatening Gov. Pedro Pierluisi's determination to pursue statehood for the island.

Why it matters: There's an urgency among supporters of statehood to get it done while Democrats control both chambers of Congress, and President Biden has been publicly supportive. But there's a growing divide within the party about whether statehood is actually the best solution for the U.S. territory.