What’s really behind the Figueiredo Report and who is the author?

church crisis

When Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign last summer for allegedly covering up the sexual crimes of the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, it was “like an earthquake for the Church.”

That’s how Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, a former Vatican official and a longtime consultant for CBS News, described Viganò’s “testimony,” an 11-page dossier of accusations and innuendos that targeted the pope and nearly a dozen high-ranking Vatican prelates.

Msgr. Figueiredo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Newark (New Jersey) who has been living in Rome since 2006, immediately defended Viganò’s credibility.

“I know him personally,” he told CBS. “I know him as a man of great integrity, honest to the core. He’s worked for three different popes, and [was] sent to a Vatican position, a diplomatic position as big as the United States, which means he’s a trusted man.”

The very bright and articulate Newark priest vouched for Viganò on Aug. 27, 2018, just one day after the former papal nuncio carefully coordinated with LifeSite News and the National Catholic Register to publish his 11 pages of accusations.

Taking Viganò’s lead

Now nine months later Msgr. Figueiredo is back in the news. And how!

Following in the footsteps of his friend or acquaintance, Archbishop Viganò, the 55-year-old priest has become the latest clergyman with a public profile to blow the whistle on Church cover-up in the hierarchy.

He did so this past May 28 when he released – simultaneously through CBS and the Catholic publication, Crux – excerpts of personal correspondence with McCarrick, a man whom (you will see in a moment) he once considered a father figure and patron.

These carefully chosen excerpts reinforce claims made by Viganò and others that a number of high-ranking Church officials were aware that Benedict XVI had quietly placed restrictions on the former cardinal but they did nothing to enforce them.

Most notable among the accused is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the recently retired archbishop of Washington. Wuerl has already denied any knowledge of sanctions.

But what’s new in Figueiredo’s cache of documents is that McCarrick himself claims in letters, which the monsignor relayed to officials in Rome, that he discussed his restrictions with Wuerl. But, as the now defrocked McCarrick has been proven to be less than truthful on a number of other matters, it’s only his word against Wuerl’s.

Why release the documents now?

Msgr. Figueiredo has posted the documents – and warns that he may post others – on a special website, called… the “Figueiredo Report.” Despite the self-referential name of the site, he offers noble reasons why he’s become a whistle-blower.

“My actions in releasing this report at this time are encouraged by the Holy Father’s motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi… based on the overriding principle that it is imperative to place in the public domain, at the right time and prudently, information that has yet to come to light and impacts directly on allegations of criminal activity, the restrictions imposed on my now laicized former archbishop, and who knew what and when,” he says.

Figueiredo expresses his “unswerving affection, loyalty and support for Pope Francis” and claims he wishes “only to present facts that will help the Church to know the truth.”

He says he’s going public now after making “attempts since September 2018 to share and discuss these [documents] with the Holy See and other Church leaders.”

The implication, of course, is that such attempts have been fruitless.

“The hierarchy’s abuse of authority and cover up, in their various and serious manifestations, have inflicted consequences upon me, too,” the priest reveals, expressing regret that he’s harmed others by “seeking consolation in alcohol.” He says therapy is now helping him “to embrace a life of sobriety.”

In fact, on Oct. 1, 2018 – just five weeks after defending Archbishop Viganò for publishing his screed – Msgr. Figueiredo was arrested for causing an accident while operating a motor vehicle in the state of inebriation. He ended up pleading guilty for drunk driving and hitting a car driven by a pregnant woman.

Greg Burke, who was the head of the Holy See Press Office at the time, said Figueiredo had been recalled to his home diocese. It certainly must have been a low point for a man who had been living permanently in Rome since 2006.

Washing his hands of McCarrick

It is only natural that, having lived in Rome and followed ecclesiastical affairs and politics for more than 30 years, I get just a little skeptical when a cleric has a sudden conversion and starts airing the Church’s dirty laundry. There is often more than what meets the eye.

Without calling into question Msgr. Figueiredo’s integrity or motives, there are a number of aspects of his personal history and vocation that should push any journalist to scrutinize more carefully the full reasons for his latest actions.

This priest knows an awful lot more than what he’s shared so far in this parsimonious and careful selection of correspondence with Theodore McCarrick.

He’s known the former cardinal since at least the early 1990s and the two men became very close in the ensuing years.

Long before falling into disgrace, McCarrick was perhaps Figueiredo’s most influential and well-connected Church patron.

Now, any connection to McCarrick is Figueiredo’s greatest liability. It is understandable why the priest would want to distance himself from the man he once held in such high esteem.

McCarrick is the first person Figueiredo mentions in the list of acknowledgments found in his doctoral dissertation, which was published by the Gregorian University Press in 2001.

“I am indebted to God for Theodore Cardinal McCormick, who, as Archbishop of Newark, conferred upon me the gift of the priesthood and assigned me to graduate studies in Rome,” Figueiredo wrote in 2000 in the “acknowledgments” page of his doctrinal dissertation.

“His Eminence has been a true ‘father-in-Christ,’ supporting me with his Christ-like care, confidence and correction,” the priest wrote.

The Neocat connection

Figueiredo’s path to ordination was through the Neocatechumenate Way, a dynamic but controversial post-Vatican II movement in the Church commonly called the Neocats. Born in Kenya, and originally from Goa, his family moved to England when he was three.

Upon completion of university studies in the UK, he “embarked upon a career in international banking in the City of London.”

But according to a biographical sketch from a 2011 Church conference in the United States, Figueiredo “gave up his prestigious position” three years later and did missionary work “in places as diverse as New York, Los Angeles and Ethiopia.”

The experience awakened his desire to become a priest.

It is not clear how he ended up in Newark, but it is certain that he attended the fledgling Redemptoris Mater Seminary that the then-Archbishop McCarrick had just allowed the Neocats to open in the archdiocese. Figueiredo was in the seminary’s very first ordination class of 1994.

He says on his new website that he served as McCarrick’s personal secretary from September 1994 – June 1995. That’s only nine months. But he adds that he resumed assisting the former cardinal “in a secretarial capacity” when he moved to Rome.

Post-graduate studies, a Vatican job and time at the North American College

A little more than a year after ordination, Father Figueiredo did missionary work in Estonia with the Neocats. Afterwards, McCarrick sent him to Rome for post-graduate studies (1996-2000).

The young priest eventually earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University where he worked under the direction of the late Karl Becker SJ (d. 2015), a German theologian whom Benedict XVI made a cardinal in 2012.

Freshly minted with a prestigious degree in hand, Father Figueiredo then worked for six years (2000-2006) in Newark’s diocesan seminary and the adjoining Seton Hall University, before returning to Rome to be a staffer at the now defunct Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (2006-2011).

When he finished his job at the Vatican, where he was given the title “monsignor,” Figueiredo was hired to direct the Institute of Continuing Theological Education for priests on sabbatical at the North American College (NAC) in Rome.

He left that position in 2014, but stayed on at NAC as an adjunct spiritual director for the seminarians.

It appears that his association with NAC came to a sudden halt at some point in the summer of 2016.

Despite being listed in the official 2016-2017 college catalogue as continuing in the post, Msgr. Figueiredo was no longer at the NAC at the start of that academic year.

Angling for another job at the Vatican

It is at this point where the monsignor’s resume becomes murky.

Several people, all colleagues or associates with whom he’s been engaged in various work and ministerial activities during his time here in Rome, have noted Figueiredo’s determination to find a permanent job in the Eternal City.

But nothing materialized.

“He seemed like he was on the career track and then, all of a sudden, he was without a job,” one said.

Figueiredo has gone to China each year for the past decade to give retreats to bishops. He says the annual appointments began in 2008 when he was still working at “Cor Unum” and went to Southern China on an earthquake relief mission on behalf of the Holy See.

“Cor Unum” was officially suppressed in January 2017, but it had already been merged some months earlier into what is now the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

In regular speaking engagements from the past, especially in the United States, Msgr. Figueiredo has sometimes been described as a permanent consultor to the dicastery’s section for migrants and refugees.

But, in fact, his relationship to that office lasted for only three months some two years ago.

“Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo worked with the new Migrants and Refugees section from approximately mid-February until mid-May 2017, and since then has had no relationship with the section. He was not a permanent consultor but a temporary staff-member,” confirmed Father Michael Czerny SJ, that office’s under-secretary.

Figueiredo also was a “special contributor” to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), following his stint back at the Vatican. He also served as a sort of chaplain to EWTN, celebrating Mass with the staff every Friday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

But the conservative network appears to have severed its working ties with him following his drunk driving arrest.

More recently the Newark priest has been writing for the British paper, Catholic Universe, which describes him as its senior Vatican correspondent.

La Croix International sent an email to Msgr. Figueiredo on May 29 requesting clarification about his canonical status, current ministerial assignment and whether he is still incardinated in the Archdiocese of Newark. As of now, he has not responded.

And the archdiocese has issued no public statements about him or his current status, either. It has merely published the Catholic News Service reporting his new whistle-blowing effort.

So for now there are as many – and perhaps even more – questions pertaining to Anthony Figueiredo as there are to the now-disgraced Christ-like father figure who ordained him 25 years ago.

  • Robert Mickens is editor of La Croix International. He writes from Rome, Vatican City.

LaCroix International

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , ,