Research Publication Title

Battle of the Ethos: An Analysis of Archbishop Viganò’s Testimony Against Pope Francis

Major

Rhetoric

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Downing

Keywords

religion, rhetoric, rhetorical criticism, Catholicism, Neo-Aristotelian, communication

Abstract

Deeply rooted in thousands of years of doctrine and tradition, the cultural memory of the Pope among Catholics is one of unquestioned moral authority. The teaching of papal infallibility and the powerful legacy of Pope Saint John Paul II have created a sort of cultural icon out of the Pope, especially as Pope Francis has been heralded as the “progressive Pope” by the faithful and non-religious alike. However, following a 2018 grand jury report accusing over three hundred priests of sexual abuse and countless more of covering up these crimes, former Vatican employee Archbishop Viganò published a scathing letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up abuse and calling for his resignation. At a time when the Catholic laity’s trust in the Church hierarchy has been deeply shaken, such a bold, unprecedented statement by a high-ranking Church official prompts us to ask: how will this affect the cultural memory of the Pope? I analyze this artifact of rich rhetorical significance using the Neo-Aristotelian method, which guides the exploration of a text’s contents, driving motivations, and the context of the rhetorical situation as a whole. Through this analysis I find that Viganò, in all aspects of his letter, focuses on destroying the ethos of Pope Francis and many other high-ranking officials in the Church in a way that calls into question the trust in the papacy instilled by ages of tradition. This analysis reveals implications concerning the letter’s impact on the image of the Church for years to come, the weight of cultural memory, and considerations of differences between sacred and secular rhetorics.

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Battle of the Ethos: An Analysis of Archbishop Viganò’s Testimony Against Pope Francis

Deeply rooted in thousands of years of doctrine and tradition, the cultural memory of the Pope among Catholics is one of unquestioned moral authority. The teaching of papal infallibility and the powerful legacy of Pope Saint John Paul II have created a sort of cultural icon out of the Pope, especially as Pope Francis has been heralded as the “progressive Pope” by the faithful and non-religious alike. However, following a 2018 grand jury report accusing over three hundred priests of sexual abuse and countless more of covering up these crimes, former Vatican employee Archbishop Viganò published a scathing letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up abuse and calling for his resignation. At a time when the Catholic laity’s trust in the Church hierarchy has been deeply shaken, such a bold, unprecedented statement by a high-ranking Church official prompts us to ask: how will this affect the cultural memory of the Pope? I analyze this artifact of rich rhetorical significance using the Neo-Aristotelian method, which guides the exploration of a text’s contents, driving motivations, and the context of the rhetorical situation as a whole. Through this analysis I find that Viganò, in all aspects of his letter, focuses on destroying the ethos of Pope Francis and many other high-ranking officials in the Church in a way that calls into question the trust in the papacy instilled by ages of tradition. This analysis reveals implications concerning the letter’s impact on the image of the Church for years to come, the weight of cultural memory, and considerations of differences between sacred and secular rhetorics.