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A rough week for the Holy See

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 22, 2018

Today is an unusually good day to pray for Pope Francis and for the Holy See. Not only because it’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, but also because it’s been an unusually rough week at the Vatican. Consider:

  • It’s very unusual—well, you might say that usually it’s unusual—for one cardinal to criticize another in public. But Cardinal Müller has scolded Cardinal Parolin for suggesting a “paradigm shift” in Catholic teaching on marriage, just after Cardinal Zen ripped into him for selling out the “underground” Church in China. Since Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the object of these two attacks, is the Secretary of State—second in influence only to the Holy Father himself—these public rebukes are unmistakable signs of turmoil.
  • Archbishop Charles Scicluna, sent to Chile to check into complaints against the embattled Bishop Juan Barros, instead was forced to check into a Chilean hospital for urgent gallbladder surgery. The investigation will continue, led temporarily by a Spanish cleric who was Archbishop Scicluna’s deputy on the mission. But with the complaints about Bishop Barros (and about the Pope who supported him) reaching a crescendo, any delay is unfortunate. Doubly unfortunate, since no other Vatican official has the enviable credibility that Archbishop Scicluna brought to the task.
  • More than five years after he was appointed to head the Ahiara diocese in Nigeria, Bishop Peter Okpaleke resigned, having never been able to gain acceptance among the clergy and faithful of the diocese. Pope Francis had put his authority on the line, insisting that the priests of Ahiara must accept their bishop, demanding that they repent their resistance, threatening to suspend them. Yet in the end he backed down. The bishop is gone; the rebellious priests remain. John Allen of Crux commented:
    Arguably, Francis has made life more difficult not only for himself, if he chooses to issue similar threats again, but for any future pope, since the precedent seemingly has now been set that if you just complain loudly enough and hold out long enough, the pope will eventually throw in the towel.
  • Father Anthony Spadaro, the Italian Jesuit known as the “Pope’s mouthpiece,” cited with approval a Twitter comment by an ally who suggested that the Vatican should impose an interdict on EWTN unless the television network dismissed its popular host Raymond Arroyo. The Tweet suggested that Arroyo was conducting a “war on [the] papacy” by inviting guests to criticize the written works of—not the Pope, but Father Spadaro. Since an interdict is a very serious canonical penalty—comparable to excommunication, applied to an institution—this extreme reaction suggests a dangerous level of paranoia among the Pope’s closest aides.
  • The LifeSite News service exposed unprecedented controversy within the Papal Foundation, a charitable group of wealthy donors who support the charitable works of the Holy See. Ordinarily the Papal Foundation subsidizes projects in impoverished countries, with grants of about $200,000 at a time. But this year the Foundation was asked to supply an extraordinary sum—$25 million—for a hospital in Rome, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). Some members of the charitable group questioned the proposal, but the grant was pushed through, at the explicit request of Pope Francis himself. To complicate matters, the IDI has—in the words of a Foundation board member, who resigned in protest—“a history of mismanagement, criminal indictments, and bankruptcy.”
  • A senior judge of the Roman Rota, Msgr. Pietro Amenta, was sentenced on child-pornography charges. Msgr. Amenta resigned from the Vatican tribunal after entering a guilty plea to the criminal charges—raising the question of why he was not fired, especially when it came to light that he had been accused of molestation on three previous occasions. He is only the latest in a serious of Vatican officials who have recently faced charges for sexual misconduct, none of them involving women.

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 See full bio.

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