Pope Francis is being accused by ultra-conservative Catholics of protecting a priest over sexual abuse. Picture: AFP
Pope Francis is being accused by ultra-conservative Catholics of protecting a priest over sexual abuse. Picture: AFP

Allegations that Pope Francis Pope Francis covered for a senior US cardinal accused of abuse have raised questions about a possible plot against the pontiff by figures within the Catholic Church’s ultra-conservative hierarchy.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican envoy to the US, dropped an 11-page bombshell at the weekend accusing the pope of ignoring sexual abuse allegations against prominent US cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The pope "knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator", Vigano alleged. "He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end."

The timing of the letter’s release — in the middle of the pope’s landmark trip to Ireland — immediately raised speculation about a campaign against the Argentine pontiff.

Some ultra-conservative Catholics regard the pope as a dangerous progressive who is more interested in social issues than traditional church matters.

But so far, the pontiff has remained silent, refusing to address the allegations and saying only that Vigano’s missive "speaks for itself".

Since then, two of the pope’s fiercest critics have stepped forward to support the archbishop.

Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, who runs a staunchly anti-Pope Francis blog, said on Tuesday he had helped Vigano craft and edit his testimony.

Tosatti praised the "courage" of Vigano, who was exiled to Washington as the Holy See’s ambassador after blasting the Vatican for poor financial management. On Wednesday, US cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, the pope’s fiercest critic within the Vatican, backed Vigano’s call for the pontiff to step down.

"I cannot say if it is wrong to demand the resignation of the pope, I only say that to get to that, you have to investigate and act on what’s found," Burke told Italian daily La Repubblica. "A resignation request is legitimate regardless. Anyone can make it for any clergyman who has made a grave error."

In 2016, Burke was one of four cardinals who wrote that the pope should be sanctioned for confusing Catholics after permitting remarried divorcees to take communion.

AFP