ROME — For nearly a year, Pope Francis remained mostly silent in the face of a searing accusation by a former papal ambassador to the United States that he knew, and did nothing about, the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick — a silence that fueled criticism that he was tone deaf on the issue of sex abuse that was plaguing his church.
But in an interview published Tuesday, just weeks after Francis issued the first law requiring that officials in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide report cases of clergy sexual abuse to their superiors, he directly denied the accusation.
“About McCarrick I knew nothing. Obviously, nothing, nothing,” he said in the wide-ranging interview with the Mexican television network Televisa, a transcript of which was also published by the Vatican’s own news outlet, Vatican News. He added that before a church investigation revealed the misconduct, “I knew nothing, no idea.”
Last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former ambassador to Washington, said that he had personally told Francis about penalties imposed on Mr. McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, by the pope’s predecessor, Benedict XVI.
In the interview, Francis said, “I don’t remember if he told me about this. If it’s true or not. No idea! But you know that about McCarrick, I knew nothing. If not, I wouldn’t have remained quiet, right?”
The pope accepted Mr. McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals last year after he was accused of abusing seminarians and minors and then, after he was found guilty by a church court, expelled him from the priesthood.
Also on Tuesday, the Catholic news outlet Crux revealed letters that seemed to confirm that Pope Benedict imposed restrictions on Mr. McCarrick, as Archbishop Viganò had asserted in a long accusatory letter.
The correspondence from Mr. McCarrick, provided by his former personal secretary, Monsignor Anthony J. Figueiredo, also suggests that Mr. McCarrick’s successor as the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was, despite his repeated denials, aware of the Vatican-imposed sanctions on travel and public appearances by Mr. McCarrick.
Cardinal Wuerl himself resigned his position under pressure related to his being named in a Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused church leaders of covering up abuse.
Nothing in the correspondence suggested that Pope Francis knew of the sanctions, and he said in the interview that he wanted journalists to find out for themselves that it was baseless.
“I will not say a single word about this,” Francis said last August, when first asked if there was any merit to the accusation during a flight back to Rome from Ireland. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalistic ability to make your conclusions. It’s an act of trust.”
The interview published Tuesday was conducted by the Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, who spoke at an extraordinary Vatican summit meeting on sexual abuse in February, when she told church leaders that journalists would be their “worst enemies” if they covered up abuse.
In the interview, she also asked Francis about the case of an Argentine bishop, Gustavo Zanchetta, who was accused of sexual misconduct but was returned by Francis to the Vatican, where he was given a position at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, a powerful agency that controls the church’s real estate.
Bishop Zanchetta has been suspended from his post, but for months critics of Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, suggested that the pope was protecting him. The Vatican press office repeatedly declined to shed more light on the situation.
Homosexual pornography and explicit photos of Bishop Zanchetta himself had been found on his cellphone and adult seminarians had accused him of abuse. None of the allegations appear to involve minors.
In the interview, Francis said a Vatican court was now judging the bishop and he sought to explain why he brought Bishop Zanchetta to the Vatican.
“Before I asked for his resignation, there was an accusation, and I immediately made him come over with the person who accused him and explain it,” Francis said, adding that the bishop made a “good defense” that his phone had been hacked.
That led Francis to let the bishop return to Argentina, but allegations of financial impropriety and complaints by the local clergy about the bishop’s style of management were relayed back to the pope. Francis said he then sent the bishop to undergo psychological treatment in Spain, where, at the conclusion of his care, additional monthly visits for treatment were recommended.
All of this, Francis said, led him both to ask for the bishop’s resignation and bring him to Rome, where, the pope said, he “parked him” while the Vatican carried out an investigation into the allegations that he had abused adult seminarians. Francis blamed the slow pace of the investigation, which he called for late last year, on the lack of activity during the Argentine summer between December and March.
Earlier this month, Francis decided a church trial should go forward against the bishop.
He attributed the delay to gathering all the necessary evidence.
“I didn’t stop,” Francis said in the interview.