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Pope v. Curia – A Catholic Civil War


The above is paraphrasing the title of a recent article by Damian Thompson, associate editor of Britain’s oldest magazine, The Spectator. Thompson was referring to a speech delivered Oct. 24 by Pope Francis at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family. The pope provoked hostilities with Catholic traditionalists to strengthen the perception that he is wants to liberalize the Church but is prevented by prelates with “closed-hearts.”

Pope Francis has also cast his employees as the villains blocking his “reform” of the Vatican bureaucracy known as the Curia.

In his 2014 Christmas “greeting” to his Curia, Pope Francis “launched a stinging attack” denouncing their “hypocrisy” as “typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness,” “existential schizophrenia,” having a “lust for power” and being guilty of “careerism and opportunism.”

After sharing an assessment of Vatican finance in a meeting with curial cardinals, the pope gave them a 16-minute “scathing, even humiliating dressing-down” described as “harsher than any that had been expressed by a pontiff to an assembled group of cardinals.” The pope told his Princes of the Church, “If something is done without authorization, it doesn’t get paid,” according to a transcript of a secret recording of the meeting.

Referencing the pope’s Oct. 24 speech insulting his traditionalist bishops, “One priest close to the Vatican was appalled but not surprised. ‘You’re seeing the real Francis,’ he said. ‘He’s a scold. He can’t hide his contempt for his own Curia. Also, unlike Benedict, this guy rewards his mates and punishes his enemies.’”

In a Nov. 27 open letter to the pope, a former high-ranking member of the Curia wrote, “Unfortunately, I know that you are not yet capable of dealing well with such criticism – that is why I do not put my name on this letter. I want to protect my superiors against your wrath.”

Twice during his recent trip to Africa, Pope Francis accused his employees of corruption although by now he has appointed or approved every man with authority in the Vatican.

The Decider

In the run-up to 2013 conclave, cardinals called for reforms in the Curia, including “streamlining” and better communications between the pope and Vatican department heads.  “You’ll have a hard time finding anyone in the Holy See [the juridical name for the Church’s central government] who did not think the Curia’s work left a lot to be desired.”

“Pope Francis was given the primary mandate of reforming the Curia by the cardinals who elected him.”

Being a 1700-year-old institution headed by an absolute dictator, the approximately 4,000 Vatican employees understand that every pope replaces his predecessors’ loyalists in positions of authority with his own. They were prepared for a bumpy road but not abuse.

Jesuits at the time of their final profession in the Society of Jesus, “promise that I will never strive for or ambition any prelacy or dignity outside the Society; and I will to the best of my ability never consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin.” Therefore, there are few Jesuit hierarchs and none currently in College of Cardinals who will elect the next pope.

The Jesuit Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was appointed assistant bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and was cardinal primate of Argentina by 2001 – a rapid rise in power. Bergoglio came in second to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in the 2005 conclave. The current Vatican employees were not expecting to be attacked for “lust for power” or “careerism” by this pontiff.

“The fiercest opposition to Pope Benedict XVI arose from within the gang of diplomats [who] consolidated their influence during the last years of John Paul II’s pontificate … When Benedict XVI was elected, step by step he replaced the old guard of the Secretariat of State.”

Pope Francis said he admired the “old time curialists,” not the ones appointed by Benedict  but those who served under John Paul II. The man responsible for his own meteoric rise in power was John Paul II’s secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Sodano held the position from 1991 when “the star of Jorge Mario Bergoglio starts rising” from “anonymity,” until Pope Benedict replaced him in 2006. Previously, Sodano had been nuncio in Chile where he supported the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As secretary of state, Sodano “exerted his influence over Latin America. With the struggle against Liberation Theology as background, Sodano built a network of papal nuncios and bishops.”

When Sodano celebrated the last Mass preceding the opening of the 2013 conclave, “the homily seemed like a specific endorsement of Bergoglio’s character. Sodano took note of the prevailing winds and anticipated the cardinals’ move. Sodano spoke of mercy and of reaching out to the peripheries of the world. Looking back, each word – and in the Vatican, nothing is accidental – seems to be a clear endorsement of Pope Francis’ views.”

Thirty days after his election in March 2013, Bergoglio created a Council of Cardinals to act as his closest advisers. Only one of the eight was from the Curia.

He chose archbishop emeritus of Santiago, Chile, Cardinal Francisco Errázuriz Ossa,  who “forged ties with then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the Latin American Episcopal Council in the decade before.”  Errazuriz had “criticized human rights lawsuits in Chile against Pinochet and other officials of the former regime.”

Pope Francis appointed Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga as head of this Council of Cardinals, “some might say vice pope.” Rodriguez is “Francis’ point man on overhauling the papal bureaucracy.”  Rodriguez was “an accomplice of the military dictatorship” in the 2009 coup against the constitutional and progressive President Manuel Zelaya. “You cannot be against your people and allow violence and repression in the name of supposed safety and law and the committing of serious human rights violations,” an Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote to Rodriguez.

Pope Francis selected Archbishop (later elevated to cardinal) Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State. Parolin is described as a “protégé of,”  “raised by”  and “close to”  Sodano.

The pope further increased Parolin’s power by appointing him to the supervisory commission of the Vatican Bank and to the important Congregations of the Doctrine of the Faith, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples and for the Oriental (non-Latin) Churches as well as making him the ninth member of his Council of Cardinals. (Vatican departments are ranked by importance: secretariats, then congregations, councils, tribunals, offices, commissions, etc. The Secretariat of State was the only secretariat when Francis was elected.)

Between June 2013 and January 2014, Pope Francis appointed numerous advisers and hired 6 international firms as consultants or auditors from outside the Vatican to help him manage his treasury. Some are men who define the word “plutocrat.” The firms are known for promoting the interests of the 1% and facilitating the Great Recession.

The pope chose his friends  as watchdogs over his own appointments in the area of finance. “This means supervision is deemed necessary.”

In February 2014, Pope Francis made Australian Cardinal George Pell, already a member of his Council of Cardinals, his financial czar by creating the new Secretariat of the Economy, “which has authority over all economic and administrative activities,” and naming Pell as prefect.

While Pell was archbishop of Melbourne, the parents of a daughter who committed suicide after being repeatedly raped by a priest said Pell showed “a sociopathic lack of empathy.” As cardinal archbishop of Sydney, Pell instructed his lawyers to “crush” a victim who went to civil court for compensation.

On Dec. 11, 2015, citing health concerns, Pell told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that he couldn’t appear in person to give evidence at an inquiry. Among other allegations, Pell had been accused of bribing a victim of Australia’s most notorious convicted pedophile priest to remain silent.

In 2014, Pope Francis created the Council for the Economy. He also appointed an auditor general and a new supervisory board to review the functions of the consultors in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) which manages the Vatican’s investment and property portfolios. He replaced the director and board of the Financial Information Agency instituted by Pope Benedict “to prevent and counter potential illicit activities in the monetary and financial sectors.” and replaced the president, director and supervisory boards of the Vatican Bank. One of Pope Francis’ appointees to the board, Clemens Boersig, is on trial in Germany for fraud at Deutsche Bank.  Again, some of these men are vulture capitalists.

On Dec. 12, 2015, Pope Francis appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit the Vatican’s financial statements. PwC has helped hundreds of multinational corporations avoid taxes, was AIG’s auditor through years of “questionable dealings,” paid US$229 million to shareholders over an accounting fraud, was fined by the Accountancy and Actuarial Discipline Board (AADB) of the UK a record £1.4m for wrongly reporting to the Financial Services Authority, and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) found significant deficiencies in their auditing of US public companies.

Three days later, a European financial watchdog agency cited the Vatican for “no real results” in terms of “serious” prosecutions of financial crimes by Vatican law enforcement or the confiscation of questionable assets “which involve allegations of money laundering.”

Appointing new officials, some of dubious morals and ethics, watched over by other appointed outsiders, some of dubious morals and ethics, has been unanimously lauded by the American media as Pope Francis “cleaning up,” “cleaning house,” and “reforming” the Curia in spite of being thwarted by the malicious and/or incompetent bureaucracy of Benedict appointees. The media let it be understood “that in the Curia there were no men of goodwill, or that everything has been badly managed until now.”

In another big change, Pope Francis created a Secretariat for Communications. “The professionalization of media communication, based on the model of the secular world, has led to a personalization of communication, completely focused on the leader.”

On Dec. 21, 2015, Pope Francis named American layman, Greg Burke, a 10-year veteran of Fox News,  as the vice director of the Holy See Press Office. It’s believed that Burke will become the next official Vatican spokesman.

One official who met with the pope – touted for his “gift for improvisation” – admitted that “he discussed the idea of the embrace with the pope” before appearing in front of the cameras. “There are numerous testimonies from longtime acquaintances of Bergoglio who have described him as a ‘chess player,’ a refined strategist, whose every day is perfectly organized and every move carefully studied.”

Pope Francis released a rock album, Wake Up!, on Black Friday for this holiday shopping season. “He opens the record with hordes of fans screaming for him. Like Jay Z on ‘Encore,’ Francis is ‘Back to take over the globe.’”  The album continues with “several intrusions of cheering crowds” on recordings of his speeches.

“Heads of the Church have often been narcissists” Pope Francis said, calling the Curia “the leprosy of the papacy.”

In the Nov. 27 anonymous open letter to Pope Francis, the former Curia official asks, “Do you really believe that the approval which you receive from the opinion-makers in the realm of politics and of the media is a good sign? Christ did not promise or prophesy to Peter popularity in the media and status in a star cult … Did Saint John not say: “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease”?

At least two Italian reporters see things differently than the American media.

“There is always something that does not match between what he says and the people he is surrounded with.”

“There is a sort of divided Church. The pope is divorced from the institution he represents … Even communications are fragmented. He is very suspicious toward the Curia (which he defined in a recent interview as “a plague”); he trusts only his friends; the pope’s vision of the Curia corresponds and feeds the image of the Curia portrayed by the media: a nest of plots, corruption, and wrongdoings.”

“Some commentators have written about the secular world’s ‘positive bias’ toward Pope Francis. It does so in a subtle way, by personalizing the Church in the image of its leader and by characterizing any critical, or even a different, opinion as a voice ‘against Pope Francis.’”

The pope “often and intentionally does without” the Curia. Decisions are made and actions taken without asking their opinion. “Pope Francis is not the type who likes to delegate.”

“The pope established a parallel Curia …. He wanted to show that he is the new man, something that the media also wanted, but this ambition led to further opposition within the Curia.”

By disregarding canonical (Church law) norms, “the papacy has ended up in a pool of shadow. The light is all for him, the pope. Not the institution, but the person.”

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI first came to work in Rome in 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was elected pope in 2005. Most Vatican employees were accustomed to and respected his leadership when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March 2013. Not only are they resentful of Francis’ use of the global media to defame them but also what they consider to be this pope’s shabby treatment of his predecessor.

“Everything of Pope Francis’ pontificate has to be presented as something brand new, as different from the past … This is not just the way secular media portray the pontificate; the pope himself wants to advertise to the world what he is doing.”

“Benedict had the same wish [of reforming the Curia].  However, he addressed the issue in a softer way. He was conscious that any decision coming from above would be badly welcomed by Curia functionaries. Pope Francis took a different course. As much as Benedict XVI based his reform work on collegiality, Pope Francis has based his exclusively on some trusted advisers.”

“The media have been anxious from the beginning to credit Francis for revolutions that never took place or for changes that came to be during his pontificate only thanks to the huge amount of work carried out during the previous pontificate. [He] states a clear ‘no’ to abortion [and]  stressed over and over again that “gender ideology is crazy” and that marriage is always between a man and a woman. Sometimes, his words were just downplayed. Other times, his words were completely ignored.”

Benedict was criticized in the global press when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denier Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) bishop. John Paul II had declared the SSPX, a traditionalist religious order, as separated from the Church and the four priests who were elevated to bishop without his permission as excommunicated. That same press is silent when Francis is seeking full reconciliation with the SSPX, declared as “hard core, anti-Semitic” by the Southern Poverty Law Center this past October.

Benedict was declared the “Green Pope” by the National Geographic Society in February 2013. “One of Benedict’s lasting legacies might be how he steered the global debate over climate change” by giving the issue a high profile. “He delivered homilies and speeches asking world leaders to take seriously the harm being inflicted on the planet. He approved a plan to cover the Vatican’s Paul VI hall with solar panels, enough to power the lighting, heating, and cooling of a portion of the entire Vatican City State. He authorized the Vatican’s bank to purchase carbon credits that would make the Catholic city-state the only country fully carbon neutral. And several years later, he unveiled a new hybrid Popemobile that would be partially electric.”

“Pope Benedict’s 45-minute visit to the Vatican’s shelter for the poor and homeless was distinctly simple and low-key. The visit highlighted one of Pope Benedict’s favorite themes: personal charity as the ultimate expression of faith in Jesus Christ. The oldest existing form of papal charity is the Almoner’s Office,” also known as the Office of Papal Charities. The almoner “said Pope Benedict told him to ‘never let our charity be lacking’ and to come to him personally if he needed additional funds. [E]ach year more than $2 million is distributed.”

Headline: “Pope Francis Pays Surprise Visit To Homeless Shelter In Rome.” Waiting to greet him and share the “surprise” was “the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski; Msgr. Diego Ravelli, also of the Office of Papal Charities; Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, General of the Jesuits; and Fr. Joachin Barrero, Superior of the Community of the General Curia.”

The Office of Papal Charities is financed “through offerings collected from the distribution of apostolic blessing parchments, the generous contributions of individuals”  and by “papal lotteries,” in addition to whatever funds may be contributed by a pope.

In his “high-profile moves” to help the poor, such as showers at the Vatican, Pope Francis accepts credit for charity at least partly funded by others.  The almoner gave poor people a free trip to see the Shroud of Turin along with “a caress from the pope … some pocket money so that they can buy themselves a cappuccino or a drink during the journey.”  A group of homeless men and women were given a private tour (i.e. separate from the paying tourists) through the Vatican museums. “The pope described the visit as a ‘small caress’ for those present.”

The almoner gave tickets to “the poor, the homeless, the refugees and the especially needy” to a preview of a new film about Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life. The poor were also offered a brown-bag dinner “donated especially for the occasion by several benefactors.” “It’s the pope’s caress,” Fr. Krajewski said.

Pope Francis’ personal income was €428 Million in 2013. The Peter’s Pence collection totaled €378 million in 2013 as revealed in confidential documents.  (Peter’s Pence is an annual collection from Catholics worldwide asked to donate to the pope’s charitable works.)  The Vatican Bank’s annual profits are also “offered the Holy Father in support of his apostolic and charitable ministry.” This was €50 million in 2013.

The American media has been unceasingly repeating since Bergoglio broke with tradition and took the name Francis that this pope wants a “poor Church for the poor.” St. Francis and his followers gave everything they had to the poor.

Pope Francis makes no public accounting of what he does with this money although he boasted in an interview that he “wired US $54,000 to the Congo to build three schools.” In 2010, Pope Benedict gave $300,000 to Catholic charities in Haiti following the earthquake. He didn’t mention it in an interview. (Benedict’s Peter Pence collection ranged between approximately $101.9 million and $67.7 million as shown by public records.)

Corruption in the Vatican

The Vatican is a city-state immune from any law enforcement or prosecution save its own. (The Vatican Bank was reformed only so far as was necessary to comply with international regulators’ demands in order to participate in global financial markets.) The pope is an absolute dictator – the executive, legislative and judicial functions rolled into one person. Such a government breeds corruption and popes are vulnerable to their employees’ exposing secrets.

Pope Francis may not have directed any “serious” prosecutions of financial crimes, but he “gave the judges the concrete charges”  and “personally approved” the arrests of Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda and PR expert, Francesca Chaouqui, on Nov. 2, 2015, for passing confidential information to two Italian reporters. The charges were based on a law Pope Francis had enacted in July 2013 criminalizing information leaks and he expected their trial to be a speedy one.

Vallejo Balda remains under house arrest in the Vatican. Chaouqui was released after being held for one night and has maintained her innocence. “Many in the Vatican want Francis dead,” she claimed in a recent interview.  “It is unacceptable that the Australian Danny Casey, Cardinal George Pell’s right arm, makes five times more than the head of the Gendarmerie who commands 200 people. In the new department there are salaries never before seen in the Vatican,” Chaouqui added.

Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui had been appointed by Pope Francis to one of his advisory commissions “in spite of the fact that the Secretariat of State had warned him about the clear untrustworthiness of both.”  When asked directly by an Italian reporter, “Do you believe you made a mistake?” Pope Francis replied, “A mistake was made.”

A couple of days after their arrest, two books about financial corruption in the Vatican during the reign of Pope Francis were released: Avarizia (“Avarice – the deadly sin grew as a parasite in the fiber of the Church”) by Emiliano Fittipaldi and Via Crucis (released in English as “Merchants in the Temple”) by Gianluigi Nuzzi. “Fraud worth millions, the machinations of the Vatican Bank, the true extent of the pope’s treasury” were covered by Fittipaldo. “Offerings of the faithful (i.e. Peter’s Pence) withheld from charity,  theft and trade scams” were among Nuzzi’s subjects. Pope Francis claimed that  all this information came from Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui and that he was already familiar with the contents of both books.

Not only Peter’s Pence, but Fittipaldi reveals there are also several accounts in the Vatican Bank designated for charity which also withhold funds from the poor.

In 2013 and 2014 the fund available to the bank’s Commission of Cardinals – led by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, appointed by Pope Francis and “a close friend” – gave nothing to charity despite a “net surplus” of €425,000.

The fund for Holy Masses – where the faithful donate money to be given to priests often in poor areas to offer masses for their special intentions – has €2.7 million. In 2014, it gave only €35,000.

The fund for Missionary Activities has €139,000 but gave only €17,000 in the last two years.

Both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi are currently on trial by the Vatican along with Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui for “unlawful disclosure of confidential information and documents.” None of the information disclosed has been denied.

AP, Reuters, AFP (Agence France-Presse), Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, Religion News Service, NPR, the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Esquire, New Yorker, Bloomberg, Fortune, CNBC, BBC, the Guardian, Independent and CTV News (Canada) all similarly reported that the books proved that Pope Francis was “reforming” the Vatican but his enemies were blocking him and that the pope was bringing transparency and accountability to his “Church of the poor.”

Various confidential documents have been stolen but not yet made public, secret papers that recount events in recent years at the IOR, the Vatican Bank … The investigative strategy involves calling in new potential suspects simply as “people with knowledge of the case,” in order to ensure their willingness to cooperate. Some of them in fact work at the Vatican and in addition to possible legal consequences, risk losing their jobs. The scenario is similar to that of three and a half years ago, when it was discovered that although there were various “spies”, only one paid the consequences – at least officially –, namely the secretary of Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele …

The stakes this time are even higher, since the program of renewal pursued by the pope is involved, but especially because economic and financial aspects of the Holy See are at issue …

The IOR remains at the heart of this new investigation on Vatican moles because, despite commitments to cooperate fully with the Italian judiciary, widespread reticence has marked relations with prosecutors in charge of investigations into accounts held with the IOR or links with other banks, above all Deutsche Bank. This reinforces the suspicion that the latest leak may actually regard the identity of the account holders, and transactions performed to bypass checks. Consequently, and since it is contained in confidential documents, the information may also be used for blackmail … The account holders are in fact lay people, while the IOR’s bylaws prohibit the bank from having customers outside the Church.

On Dec. 7, 2015, the Vatican judiciary agreed “to admit the requests for further witnesses presented by various counsels for the defense” including Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State; Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, head of the IOR Commission of Cardinals; papal almoner, Archbishop  Krajewski; and Msgr. Abbondi, an official at the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. “The decision raises the prospect of the Church’s dirty linen being laundered in public.”

Four days later, the Vatican announced the trial was put on hold for two months. Don’t be surprised if the pope’s Year of Mercy extends to the charges and/or the prosecution being dropped.

(Betty Clermont is author of The NeoCatholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America)

3 Responses

  1. Sorry to say I find Francis more and more the great chess player in the style of Machieaveli….Burke’s appointment is very bad news. That Pell is still in place is disgusting. And one could also say: A synod on the family in Octber? Did it really happen…or what happened?

  2. Thompson is of course essentially a nasty piece of work too.
    Full of the usual unexamined pretensions that misinform such back-to-the-past “traditionalists”. Completely unwilling to admit that the church has always had an enormously huge very dark shadow. Forgetting that power always inevitably corrupts those who wield it, especially when it is justified in the name of “God” or age old “tradition”.

    Not recognizing that those who got to define the “official” institutional party line were the ones that won the inevitable culture wars of their time place. Who consequently used their thus gained power to consolidate their power and privileges. And the political power to deal with the inevitable dissenters and “heretics”, quite often via the business end of a sword or gun.

    • I totally agree with your comments. But Thompson’s “nasty” doesn’t justify the pope,
      who has the bully pulpit of the global media, being “nasty” to falsely position himself
      as a liberal.

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