Pope Francis has denied he knew about sexual misconduct by former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick before the start of Church investigations that found him guilty.
McCarrick, once one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, was expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood in February after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.
"I knew nothing about McCarrick, naturally nothing," Francis said in an interview with Mexico's Televisa broadcaster which was published in Vatican media on Tuesday. "Otherwise, I would not have remained silent."
Last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano issued a bombshell statement accusing a long list of current and past Vatican and Church officials in the United States of covering up for McCarrick, 88, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.
Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador in Washington, said he told Francis shortly after his election in 2013 that McCarrick had preyed on adult seminarians for years.
Vigano claimed that Francis disregarded the information and effectively rehabilitated McCarrick, who had been quietly sanctioned by Francis predecessor, former Pope Benedict XVI, five years before Francis' election in 2013.
Francis says he "does not remember" Vigano ever telling him.
The interview with the pope was published on the same day that Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, McCarrick's former priest-secretary, posted a document on the internet with excerpts of emails and letters between him and McCarrick.
They showed that the Vatican never made the sanctions public and that high-ranking Vatican officials looked the other way as McCarrick openly flouted restrictions that had ordered him to keep a low profile.
Figueiredo's document was first reported by the Crux website and CBS.
McCarrick has said he has no recollection of abusing minors decades ago but has not commented publicly on the allegations of misconduct with adults by coercing them to share his bed, which was an open secret in the U.S. Church.
Francis ordered a "thorough study" last year of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick and four U.S. dioceses where he served have launched independent investigations.
In the excerpts of emails published by Figueiredo, currently a priest in Newark, New Jersey, McCarrick acknowledges "an unfortunate lack of judgment" with adult seminarians in their 20s and 30s but denies that there was any sex involved.
"I have never had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child, nor have I ever sought such acts," McCarrick says in a 2008 letter to a Vatican official.