Jeanette DeMelo, editor of the National Catholic Register, told CNA that the principal author of the letter is Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former papal emissary to the United States.
Vigano made headlines for an August 2018 letter that alleged Vatican officials had ignored warnings about the sexual abuse of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Since that time, Vigano has released numerous letters expressing his viewpoints on matters in the Church, which include criticisms of Pope Francis and other curial officials.
DeMelo said that Vigano had vouched for the authenticity of Sarah's signature.
“The Register contacted Archbishop Vigano, the principal author, and asked him specifically about the authenticity of the signature of Cardinal Sarah and he said ‘I can confirm 100% that Cardinal Sarah signed it.,” DeMelo told CNA.
The letter laments the social distancing and stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting they are contrived mechanisms of social control, with a nefarious purpose.
“We have reason to believe, on the basis of official data on the incidence of the epidemic as related to the number of deaths, that there are powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements,” the letter said.
“The imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control,” it added. (bold original)
Among the letter’s reported signatories are four cardinals: Sarah, who has now indicated he is not a signatory; Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, and Cardinal Janis Pujats, emeritus archbishop of Riga, Latvia.
Two U.S. bishops are also alleged signatories: Bishop Rene Gracida, emeritus bishop of Corpus Christi, and Bishop Joseph Strickland, the Bishop of Tyler, Texas.
Strickland told CNA by email May 7 that he “did sign off on this letter.”
Along with several other bishops, the well-known auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, is listed as a signer of the letter.
Another reported signatory is Fr. Curzio Nitoglia, a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Church. Nitoglia is the author of “The Magisterium of Vatican II,” a 1994 article that claims that “the church of Vatican II is therefore not the Apostolic and Roman Catholic Church instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
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The May 7 letter argued that the coronavirus pandemic has been sensationalized and exploited, to impede civil rights and exact government control over individuals and families.
The letter said that “the facts have shown that, under the pretext of the Covid-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted.”
“Many authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine confirm that the media’s alarmism about Covid-19 appears to be absolutely unjustified.”
Nearly 4 million people worldwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 270,000 have died. In some countries, death rates in the months of the coronavirus pandemic have far exceeded death rates over the same months in previous years, suggesting to some demographers and epidemiologists that coronavirus deaths have been dramatically undercounted.
The pandemic, and the social distancing and stay-at-home orders issued to slow its spread, have become a source of considerable controversy in recent weeks. In the U.S., protests in several state capitals have gathered demonstrators in close proximity to one another, a move public health experts say could lead to new outbreaks of the disease.
The letter said that the economic crisis occasioned by the global pandemic “encourages interference by foreign powers and has serious social and political repercussions. Those with governmental responsibility must stop these forms of social engineering, by taking measures to protect their citizens whom they represent, and in whose interests they have a serious obligation to act.”