By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A conservative Italian archbishop who has publicly criticised Pope Francis over a sexual misconduct case on Friday denied he was trying to foment an overthrow of the papacy.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who is now in hiding, threw the Roman Catholic Church into turmoil in August when he called on the pope to resign, accusing him of covering up sexual misconduct by a now-disgraced senior churchman in the United States.
Vigano has also charged Pope Francis with turning a blind eye to what he said were homosexual networks in the Church.
In his latest statement issued on Friday through an ultra-conservative Italian journalist, Vigano no longer called for the pope to step down.
"It does not surprise me...that I have been accused of disloyalty towards the Holy Father and of fomenting an open and scandalous rebellion," he said.
"But rebellion would imply urging others to overthrow the papacy. I am exhorting no such thing. I pray every day for Pope Francis more than I ever did for the other pope," he wrote in Italian.
Vigano, who has been defended by powerful Catholic conservative media, again asserted that the Church was rife with homosexual priests and bishops, a recurring accusation in his missives.
"There is overwhelming proof of how the scourge of homosexuality is endemic, spreads by contagion, with deep roots that are difficult to pull up," said Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington.
He said that heterosexual misconduct by the clergy was not as insidious as homosexual activity because the former "does not spread similar behaviour, cover up similar misdeeds".
He also stood by his main assertion that Pope Francis knew about sexual misconduct by Theodore McCarrick, 88, the former archbishop of Washington, but did nothing about it.
Vigano says that Francis lifted sanctions placed by former Pope Benedict on McCarrick. The Vatican denies this, saying there were no sanctions to lift.
In July, McCarrick became the first cardinal to resign in
nearly 100 years after U.S. Church officials said allegations that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy almost 50 years ago were credible and substantiated.
McCarrick, who rose to be a power-broker in the U.S. Church, said he had no recollection of the alleged abuse of the minor and has not commented on other accusations of sexual misconduct with seminarians.
Vigano made his latest broadside nearly two weeks after a point-by-point rebuttal of his original accusations by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican department that oversees the office that appoints bishops.
On Oct. 6, the Vatican said the pope had ordered a "thorough study" of all documents in Holy See offices concerning
McCarrick to determine how he was able to rise in the U.S. Church hierarchy despite rumours of his sexual misconduct with adult males.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Angus MacSwan)