A Vatican enemies list?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 19, 2016

Last week the Vatican Insider—ordinarily a solid source of news and reasonable analysis from Rome—published a remarkable piece with an inflammatory headline, “Catholics who are anti-Francis but love Putin.” The article is troubling, for several reasons:

  • The article seeks to convey the impression that there is a conspiracy against Pope Francis. “The attack against Francis is global,” the authors write, a bit breathlessly.
  • The authors lump together disparate groups and individuals, with very different ideas and priorities, as if they formed a united front of opposition to the papacy. All those who have questioned public statements by Pope Francis are seen as “enemies,” not as loyal critics.
  • As its title suggests, the article smears the Pope’s critics with the claim that they are more enthusiastic about a Russian strongman than about the Vicar of Christ.
  • The authors, Giacomo Galeazzi and Andrea Tornielli are not ordinarily prone to sensationalism. They are respected reporters for La Stampa, with solid Vatican sources. Tornielli in particular has frequently broken important news stories, demonstrating that he has access to ranking insiders. Therefore....
  • Most disquieting of all, it seems likely that what Galeazzi and Tornielli wrote reflects what they have heard from their contacts in the Roman Curia. If that is the case, then some of the people surrounding Pope Francis believe that the Pontiff is the victim of a budding conspiracy. Having adopted the paranoid style, they see enemies wherever there is resistance to their agenda.

Pope Francis undoubtedly has his critics, as does any public figure. The Vatican Insider fails to distinguish among them, to recognize that they differ not only in their tone (some are harsh and hostile, others cautious and respectful) but also in their prescriptions. The result is an analysis that collapses under its own weight. After suggesting the existence of a conspiracy, the piece quotes sociologist Massimo Introvigne as saying that the effort against Pope Francis “is not successful because it is not united.”

No, of course it is not united! Someone who worries about the pastoral consequences of Amoris Laetitiae does not thereby repudiate the Vatican II stand on religious freedom; someone who has reservations about open borders does not necessarily long for the return of Pope Benedict XVI. The element of conspiracy exists only in the minds of the writers—and, again, perhaps their sources inside the Vatican.

On the list of papal “enemies” identified by Vatican Insider, possibly the most curious entry involves Chinese Catholics who are worried about the state of current negotiations between the Vatican and Beijing. Here it is very difficult to see how someone could be registered as an “enemy” of the Holy Father, since Pope Francis has made only a few circumspect comments about those negotiations. Nevertheless it seems clear that someone(s) inside the Vatican are unhappy with those who publicize the worries of the ‘underground’ Church in China, and remind us of the dangers of yielding to a regime that is determined to control the Church.

Think about that. The Vatican is negotiating with China. The talks are secret; no official stands have been taken, except in the most general terms. Friends of the Church in China are urging the negotiators to be mindful of the concerns of Chinese Catholics who have already suffered so much for their faith. Why would that sort of urging be seen as a sign of opposition—unless the negotiators are, indeed, prepared to sell out the interests of the ‘underground’ Church? And why would it be seen as opposition to the Pope, who has not spoken on the issue and has presumably not been presented with an agreement to approve or reject, unless the negotiators are wrapping themselves in the mantle of papal authority?

Father Bernardo Cervellera, whose AsiaNews service appeared on this Vatican enemies list, reacted strongly with his own essay about The “enemies” of Pope Francis. First he defended the attention that his agency has paid to the Catholics who are acting outside the law in China:

If I were Pope Francis I would appreciate my Cardinals telling me about the problems that these Christian suffer who are ... very much on the peripheries, the face of the suffering Christ, part of my flock for which I have to give my life.... Unfortunately Pope Francis has few friends of this caliber.

The Pope, Father Cevellera notes, “does not need public defenders.” Still less does he need supporters who will dismiss all critics as hostile and presume all reservations about papal statements and initiatives are motivated by hostility. As Father Cervellera puts it, in a ringing conclusion to his defense: “You can also betray a person with too much applause.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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