This week: A curious media silence about a blockbuster Vatican story

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 04, 2019

This week’s most important CWN headline was not a big story. It was a huge story, a sensational story, a blockbuster. To be honest, I’m at a loss to explain why it hasn’t been given headline coverage throughout the media world.

Police—the Vatican’s own police, acting on directions from the Vatican’s top prosecutor— raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the most powerful office of the Roman Curia. The raid—which the Vatican acknowledged was prompted by suspicious financial transactions—also covered the offices of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), the office created precisely to stop suspicious transactions.

This story has everything:

  • Drama: a sudden raid, with police carrying out documents and electronic devices;
  • Scandal: the clear suspicion of misbehavior in high places;
  • Irony: an investigation that centers on the very offices that should be in charge of such investigations;
  • Intrigue: hints that this investigation could eventually unearth another layer of corruption in the Roman Curia.

The raids were followed by the suspension of five Vatican employees, including two in key positions. As I explained in a news-analysis piece, those suspensions, along with the few facts that have been made available about the case, appear to justify the suspicions that the Vatican’s former auditor general, Libero Milone, had about activities at the sostituto’s office within the Secretariat of State. Yet Milone was forced to resign two years ago—by the sostituto’s office, which threatened criminal action against him.

Something is seriously wrong here, wouldn’t you agree? Apparently the Vatican’s prosecutor agrees. We don’t know exactly what is happening, but we know that the case—rumored to involve millions of dollars in questionable real-estate transfers—is serious. Serious enough to justify a raid by Vatican police on a Vatican agency. This was the sort of open intramural conflict Rome has not seen for several centuries, the sort of conflict that could not escape the view of the Vatican-watching media.

And yet… Have you seen this story given headline treatment anywhere but on the Catholic Culture site?*

There was some more aggressive coverage in Roman outlets, naturally. Enough to prompt an answering complaint from the Vatican News agency, chiding reporters for disclosing the names of the employees who have been suspended. But the Vatican itself had disclosed their identities, in a flyer that was distributed widely enough so that it was inevitable reporters would obtain copies.

The Vatican News editorial sought to put a positive spin on the story, asserting that the raid showed the determination of the Vatican to root out financial corruption, and it “proves concretely that the processes begun by Pope Benedict XVI, and carried out by Pope Francis, really work.” But that’s exactly what we don’t know. We know that an investigation has been undertaken: perhaps the same investigation that was thwarted two years ago. We know that it’s being taken seriously. We don’t know whether it will be allowed to run its full courses, or whether it will be thwarted again.

For now, I’m afraid, what we know is that the world’s mainstream media, presented with a sensational story from Rome, showed only tepid interest. Because a story about dysfunction in the Vatican, a story about corruption in the Roman Curia, is no longer big news.

*—To be fair, Reuters ran a story on the day of the raid, and followed up with a bulletin the next day. Which makes it even more curious that the report was not picked up by other newspapers and other outlets.


In other noteworthy developments covered by CWN this week:

  • Pope Francis received Father James Martin, SJ, in a private audience, a gesture clearly intended to convey papal support for the priest whose crusade for acceptance of homosexuality has brought him into conflict with some Church leaders. And shortly after that meeting, the ex-Dominican priest James Alison, who had been expelled from the religious order because of his clear rejection of Church teaching on homosexuality, told The Tablet that he had received a private phone call from the Pontiff, who said, “I give you the power of the keys.”
  • On a more positive note, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints certified a miracle through the intercession of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and that great leader of Poland’s anti-Communist resistance now is eligible for beatification.
  • Finally, acknowledging that the world’s most populous Catholic archdiocese had grown beyond workable limits, the Vatican split the Archdiocese of Mexico City into four separate dioceses. Even after that trimming, the Archdiocese of Mexico City still has a population of 5 million. But it is no longer the world’s largest archdiocese; that title now goes to Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a total population of over 11 million, more than half Catholic.

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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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Cory - Oct. 05, 2019 11:45 PM ET USA

    So was this timed to coincide with the synod so that people will not pay attention because all eyes are focused on the Amazon

  • Posted by: SPM - Oct. 05, 2019 10:59 AM ET USA

    Ex opere operato

  • Posted by: JonathanC - Oct. 04, 2019 5:08 PM ET USA

    So our illustrious pope now confers "the power of the keys" on whomever he pleases, regardless of said person's agreement or disagreement with Church teaching? Hmm... what can this mean?