(as posted on DailyKos)
Pope Paul VI appointed the American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus as president of the Vatican Bank (aka IOR, the Institute of Religious Works) in 1971. Marcinkus allowed a group of criminals under the leadership of Lucio Gelli and Michele Sindona to take control. They had ties not only to the mafia but also rightwing politicians and terrorists, men who had carried out the Strategy of Tension in Italy in the 1970’s (domestic bombings carried out so as to appear to have been directed by the communists) and were allied with Latin American military dictators.
After Pope Paul died on Aug. 6, 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice was elected pope. Taking the name Pope John Paul I, he announced he was going to get rid of those running the IOR and, as many believe, was poisoned sometime during the night of September 28, 1978, as a result.
In the run up to the second conclave in 1978, two cardinals were favored to be the next pope by reporters who specialize in Vatican affairs – Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, orthodox and traditionalist, and Giovanni Benelli of Florence, a progressive who wanted to advance the liberalizations following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). “On the eve of the ceremony to seal the 111 cardinal/electors into the Sistine Chapel, an extraordinary set of maneuvers hardened all lines.”1 A newspaper interview was published which was very unflattering to Siri. “Siri ridiculed John Paul I, spitefully attacked the secretary of state, Jean Villot, and insulted the interviewer in terms that do not draw favorable comparison to a wise and kind shepherd.” The reporter claimed that Benelli had urged him to publish it before the conclave began.2 “As it turns out, says Fr. Francis X. Murphy, a veteran Vaticanologist, their acrimonious rivalry insured the election of a non-Italian pope.”3
When the conclave began, the cardinal/electors split between Siri and Benelli. Cardinal Franz Konig of Vienna, who had accompanied Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow to the Roman headquarters of Opus Dei a couple of days before the conclave4, placed Woytyla’s name for consideration as a compromise candidate. In the week preceding the conclave, Opus Dei had launched a subtle campaign to make sure Woytyla’s name became familiar to the cardinal/electors.5
After being elected, Pope John Paul II kept the Marcinkus in position at the Vatican until 1989. An Italian reporter notes: “In the curia [the Vatican bureaucracy], John Paul II had conceded unlimited freedom of action to controversial representatives of the financial community who were able to support him in his historic battle against communism. After the fall of the Berlin wall, that [arrangement] was not converted back into ordinary administration of the curia.”
The conclave of 2013 is different in that the announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI occurred a month earlier allowing more time for everyone to discuss who should be elected to replace him and without the usual reservation about speaking ill of the dead.
The revelation of a gay lobby subject to blackmail within the curia and the resignation of the homophobic-speaking Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien after it was revealed he had preyed on his priests and seminarians for sexual favors, dominated the news during this month.
Since every member of the current College of Cardinals was appointed by either Benedict or his predecessor on the basis of adherence to dogma and doctrine, there are no longer any important ideological differences remaining. So for many electors the issues are selecting a new pope with no scandal lurking in his background and who can prevent future scandals in the curia. There is little talk about actually making the Vatican morally honest, just that its staff should be better at keeping secrets.
In 2013 there are no widely acknowledged frontrunners, but the Americans are attacking the Italians in order to gain influence in the conclave beginning this Tuesday. The U.S. has 11 cardinals, Italy 28 and it’s the only nationality with more than the Americans. In order to elect a pope, a 2/3 vote of the 115 cardinal/electors is required. So 77 votes are needed to elect, more than 38 to block. No country has enough votes on its own to elect a pope or prevent an election without forming alliances.
Beginning last Monday, the cardinals gathered in General Congregations which are meetings held in an auditorium. Each one has the opportunity to address his fellow prelates. Each one is sworn to secrecy. Yet all are aware that you don’t reveal confidential information in a hall that is probably bugged as a result of Pope Benedict’s efforts to identify those responsible for the Vatileaks. (In early 2012, confidential Vatican documents showing power struggles and corruption within the curia were given to the press.)
The Vatican press office announced it would give daily press briefings headed by its director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, who had called in special help during this media-intense period. The Canadian, Fr. Thomas Rosica, was recruited to speak to the English language press; Msgr. Giorgio Costantino, Italian; Mrs. Romilda Ferrauto, French; Msgr. José Maria Gil Tamayo, Spanish; and Msgr. Marcus Graulich, German.
The American cardinals arrived with their own press corps and equipment. The cardinals live and have their press headquarters at the Pontifical North American College of Cardinals. They began their own daily press conferences which were a huge success seeing as how there are 5000 members of the press in Rome with nothing very much to report.
Italian cardinals Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, and Tarsicio Bertone, carmerlengo (i.e. in charge of running the Vatican during the interregnum) were not pleased with the Americans running a parallel news agency which concentrated on showing the U.S. cardinals as accessible, transparent, as well as media and technically savvy. On Monday, the Americans were told they were being inappropriate. On Tuesday, they were asked to stop.
The American cardinals began waging a campaign to discredit the Italian cardinals as men unable to prevent the Church’s dirty laundry from being aired – unlike the American Church which was able to keep its horrific and systemic torture of children hidden until ordered by courts to open their records.
On Wednesday, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent an email to all media outlets that, “concern was expressed” in the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals “about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”
Sister blogged: “An exciting day started with La Stampa, an Italian daily, running a story that violated the confidentiality of the General Congregation. It named names and reported who said what. I heard cardinals were upset, and one even stopped the bus [American cardinals were transported by minibus to the Vatican] to the Synod Hall at a newsstand to buy a copy of La Stampa. We steeled ourselves for the inevitable: a shut down of interviews.”
Sister scored a PR triumph in the English-speaking and Catholic press:
• “The Vatican was accused of censorship” by The Daily Telegraph
• “Vatican muzzles cardinals.” Reuters
• “Vatican-style secrecy wins out over American-style transparency” AP
• “It was so like the curia: distressed by leaks to the Italian press from Italian cardinals about the machinations of electing a new pope, the hierarchy muzzled the Americans.” The Daily Beast
• “Now that a lockdown has been imposed, nostalgia for the 48-hour ‘Prague Spring‘ [of U.S. bishops’ press conferences] may become another factor in pre-conclave politics.” The National Catholic Reporter.
• “The primary reason for the cancelation was that some Italian cardinals were divulging too much information to the Italian press.” Catholic News Agency
• “Italian media outlets had been running unattributed stories describing the cardinals as sharply divided, over both the timing of the conclave and how deeply to delve into the corruption and mismanagement sensationally documented in the 2012 ‘VatiLeaks’ of confidential correspondence,” per the USCCB’s Catholic News Service. (In reality, there wasn’t a Vatican correspondent who didn’t report that the curia wanted an early start to the conclave and the Americans didn’t. As to “delving into corruption,” the USCCB is “running an unattributed story.”)
When asked if he thought Italian cardinals were fueling the leaks, the Vatican’s Fr. Lombardi said, “I don’t accept that.” Lombardi refused to lay blame for the U.S. cardinals ending their news conference on any reason other than the “sensitivity, the desire and indications of the whole College of Cardinals.”
We were never told by Sister, nor by any other reporter, what exactly the La Stampa article disclosed which would cause a cardinal to stop the bus. With a city full of hungry-for-any-news reporters, this is strange indeed. The truth is that any nationality of reporter prints just about whatever they can get from a cardinal, such as American correspondent John L. Allen Jr.’s interview with Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan who expressed “frustration with some of the oratory currently being delivered in the General Congregation meetings of cardinals.” Or Allen’s report that an anonymous cardinal said “that he had raised the question in the General Congregation meetings of whether the cardinals had done enough to help Benedict — by which he meant, in part, pressuring the pope’s support team to get their act together.”
Other than the fabulous work done by SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in exposing the miserable records regarding the sex abuse of children for most cardinals mentioned by the press as papal contenders, nothing of great interest was reported about any cardinal this week. This left the news-starved media to run the generic “So-and-So says we need a (fill-in-the-blank) type of pope” variety of article all week.
Sister continued her Wednesday blog: “We got out statements fast and gave an interview to Rachel Zoll of AP to get the story straight before oddball ideas begin to circulate. I compared the shut down to the old Catholic school style of one kid talks and everyone stays after school.”
This led a reporter to question the Vatican’s Fr. Rosica about “why Americans were doing penance for the Italian cardinals”? Rosica replied that it was “not up to” the Vatican spokesmen to settle potential disputes between national conferences. “If someone knows who leaked the information…it would be good to tell us, or make it known to others,” Rosica challenged but got no response.
(Rosica couldn’t manage, though, to keep his foot out of his mouth. When another reporter, referring to a video showing a woman sewing cloth hangings for the Sistine Chapel, asked if women were involved with the conclave in other ways, Rosica responded, “There could be other women involved in the whole preparation for the conclave, in serving the fathers” at their hotels.)
In a second statement made on Wednesday, Sister added, “The U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased to share a process-related overview of their work with members of the media and with the public, in order to inform while ensuring the confidentiality of the General Congregations.”
The next day, Sister won the award for how many times one could use the word “leak” in a single paragraph: “The leaks at the Vatican continue. The morning La Repubblica newspaper ran a story claiming revelations from the secret Vatican Report on Vatileaks. Meanwhile, a few Italian journalists apparently have the minutes of the General Congregation. [Again without attribution] The topic came up at today’s briefing. Stopping the leaks will be one challenge in a media culture which lives on leaks. It’s just the way to do business here in Rome and has been for years. One journalist asked how they could be sure a cardinal will not leak the papal election result before the new pope comes out on the balcony.” Sister also told the Los Angeles Times: “Our culture is to call a press conference and tell everyone.” Italy, she added, “is a land of leaks.”
The article Sister was referring to in La Repubblica was an interview of an anonymous source who claimed to have been part of a network of Vatican employees who gathered together the documentation which prompted the VatiLeaks scandal. The source confirmed what Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI, had already told us – that there are “more than twenty people linked to the Holy See” who provided the journalist with documents, not just Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler who was tried, convicted and pardoned for his part. There are enough additional documents given to Nuzzi to produce another book, he/she added. Also, a report prepared by three cardinals at the behest of Pope Benedict to investigate the sources of the leaks should contain the “names of cardinals and monsignors, bishops and officials” as well as “financial matters related to the IOR.”
The groups’ purpose: “We thought that making known what was going on in the curia might be a way to raise public awareness of certain topics. Unleashing a cleaning operation that would lead to transparency…. We tried to help the pope.” What the group wants is “a Church free, strong and transparent. Free of private interests, including those of some cardinals… Towards a Church able to talk again to the faithful. The same faithful that today no longer go to church… A victory if the ultimate gesture the pope will mark the end of a decline. Giving an opportunity to his successor to start from scratch.” Mission accomplished? “It depends on who will be elected pope, by which faction will be voted on, and who will be the next head of the Secretariat of State.”
If judged by how many employees are willing to take risks for the good of the entire Church and not just the hierarchs, the score is Curia +20, USCCB 0.
Like Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, the Catholic News Agency is officially sanctioned by a Catholic bishop (i.e. they derive their 501(c)(3) tax code exemption from being listed in the Official Catholic Directory.) Both are used by the U.S. bishops’ for extreme rightwing points of view they don’t want connected to the USCCB. Regarding La Repubblica’s article, CNA stated, “’The problem is not the kind of news, but that such confidential news broke out,’ said a Vatican Secretariat of State official who spoke to CNA under the condition of anonymity.” In other words, another “leak” with no attribution printed by the U.S. Church’s media making the point that corruption isn’t a problem for the American bishops, only keeping it hidden.
Several journalists, including David Gibson of Religious News Service, have noted the American v. Italian story. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh blogged: “A clash of cultures between U.S. and Italian media? Could be.”
The question is what effect, if any, this has had on the rest of the world’s cardinals. Will they take offense that Americans think they’re too stupid to remember that the last two popes who appointed the present curia officials were not Italian? Will they see “ugly American” hubris trying to pound them over the head with USA money and media know-how? Or will they side with the Americans that Italians are so undisciplined they can’t keep their mouths shut and, therefore, are unfit to sanction any candidate? Can the Americans convince the other cardinals to elect a “tough guy” who will make heads roll and get rid of the “leakers”?
Russell Shaw, communications director of the USCCB from 1967-1987 and the Knights of Columbus from 1987-1997 wrote: “I just hope he’s strong…a tough-minded realist, with a backbone of steel. That’s what the Church needs now.”
George Weigel, American theocon “theologian” best remembered for giving Bush the “moral” thumbs-up on invading Iraq by twisting the criteria for a “just war” to fit the crime, “has named a series of reforms a determined pope could make, including introducing a 40-hour work week, turning the staff from an Italian fiefdom to a truly international team, and creating an executive staff for the pontiff. ‘The Curia is still deeply influenced by Italianate work habits and that’s problematic,’ he said. ‘If you look at the rest of this society, it doesn’t happen to be functioning very well.’”
In a case of you-better-be-careful-what-you-wish-for, it could be disastrous to have neither an Italian pope nor secretary of state. The Vatican has always been an Italian institution. There are approximately 2,000 employees, for the most part Romans who commute daily. The language of the Vatican is Italian as is the culture – the office hours and vacation schedules, what do people chat about, etc. The Vatican is described as “a serene atmosphere where old-world courtesy prevails.”
Once upon a time, the pope used to hold pre-scheduled audiences throughout the year, not just with prefects of Congregations, but also with secretaries; so even deputies had contact with the pope and could get a first hand idea of the problems the Church was facing, helping them in their decision-making.
Can someone not comfortable in Italian do the same?
Reuters noted, “the curia is not noted for its efficiency” and “hiring is not always on merit.” But then, why would a dictatorship be otherwise and this election is not going to change that.
Like Wojtyla’s candidacy benefitted from the Siri/Benelli rivalry, is there a third group waiting to make hay from the American/Italian standoff? My last prediction about this conclave (Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson for pope before he gave CNN an interview equating pedophilia with homosexuality) couldn’t have been more wrong, so y’all can take the following as nonsense. But I believe in the wily Germans.
Germany sits at the crossroads between north and south and east and west Europe. They have a history of accommodating differing factions. As I previously wrote, the Italian bank accounts of the IOR closed under suspicion of money-laundering were in the process of moving funds to Frankfurt. In February 2012, La Repubblica reported that the IOR had “abandoned Italian banks” and has “transferred much of its financial assets to Germany.” In May, La Stampa stated the IOR “now works almost exclusively with Deutsche Bank.”
Pope Benedict’s last official act was to place a German lawyer, Ernst Von Freyberg, president of Blhom+Vhoss Group shipyard in Hamburg, as president of the IOR. Von Freyburg is a member of the old German nobility and the Knights of Malta. Catholic European aristocracy has been loyal to the Vatican for centuries.
John Thavis, Vatican correspondent for nearly 30 years for the Catholic News Service, the official news agency of the USCCB, saw Von Freyburg’s appointment differently. Disregarding the fact that Von Freyburg’s predecessor, Italian banker and economist, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi was ousted for trying to clean up the IOR to international standards and that it was the Bank of Italy which seized the IOR accounts and shut off the Vatican’s ATM machines under suspicion of money-laundering, Thavis accused “Italian bankers who were less than honest” of abusing the Vatican Bank. He said most of the IOR’s “murky dealings…involved Italians who have, sort of, an Italian way of doing things in the Vatican. And I think that’s one reason why one of [Pope Benedict’s] last acts was the appointment of a German head of the Vatican bank. I think the pope hopes that this may help his successor.” When the interviewer asked Thavis what he meant by “the Italian ways of doing things,” he replied: “You know, for an Italian business operation, perhaps awarding contracts to your friends in the industry is not an unusual thing.” Meaning Thavis also doesn’t know much about the world of business.
As Matthew Fox, former priest and author of 30 books on culture and spirituality, explained:
Opus Dei is this movement that was backed wholeheartedly by the last two popes, and they’re secretive, and they’re very powerful. I’ll tell you a story. I was in Frankfurt a few years ago and a journalist took me to lunch in downtown Frankfurt, and he said “Look out there. How buildings do you see being built?” I said, “It looks like seven skyscrapers.” He said, “Yes. Every one is about finance, because the head of finance is moving from Switzerland to Frankfurt because of the Euro,” and he said that “At the top of each of those skyscrapers will be Opus Dei.” So, Opus Dei goes where the power is.
As do the cardinals. And the Germans have the power right now.
Which doesn’t mean that the next pope will be German; only that the next pope and secretary of state could be men who the Germans deem suitable – men who, like Karol Wojtyla, will present a very agreeable facade to the public, but who will go along to get along where it counts.
1.Kenneth L.Woodward wih Loren Jenkins, Elaine Sciolino and Paul Martin, “A Pope from Poland” Newsweek, October 30, 1978. 2. Gunther Simmermacher, “The Conclave of October 1978: How John Paul II became Pope” Southern Cross, October 15-21, 1978. 3. Woodward op. cit. 4. John Folain, City of Secrets: The Truth Behind the Murders at the Vatican (Wm Morrow, 2003) p 109. 5. Jesús Lopez Saez, El Dia de la Cuenta: Juan Pablo II a Examen (Asociacion Comunidad de Ayala, 2002)
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