This week: Vatican ambitions, Vatican vulnerabilities
This week’s CWN headlines have struck a couple of noteworthy contrasts. Pope Francis proposed sweeping global economic reforms, but the reform of the Vatican’s own financial affairs is still lagging. And the Vatican has created a new commission to handle the CO19 crisis, but cracks have already begun to appear in the previously united front of bishops observing a near-universal shutdown of Catholic churches.
In a message to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a coalition of his beloved grassroots activists, the Pope said that “technocratic paradigms…are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind.” Yet the Pope himself proposed a technical solution to the world’s economic difficulties.
The Pope introduced his proposal in a curious way. In his letter (which was dated Easter Sunday, but did not mention the Resurrection or Jesus Christ), he acknowledged the frustration caused by the CO19 epidemic, saying that ‘the lockdowns are becoming unbearable.” Then, in the very next sentence, he said: “This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage.” He did not explain why the expected global recession should be seen as an opportunity for a sweeping new entitlement program.
Cynics might question why the Vatican would be offering proposals to restructure the global economy, at a time when the Vatican is having so much trouble putting its own financial affairs in order. Three days after the Pope floated that suggestion, the Vatican announced the appointment of a new director for its Financial Information Authority (AIF). Giuseppe Schlitzer will be the 4th director the AIF has had since the watchdog agency was established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Tommaso Di Ruzza, the previous director, was suspended last October after Vatican police raided AIF offices. René Bruelhart, who had been president of the AIF, departed at the same time, telling the world he had resigned (although the Vatican announced that his term had expired).
And while the turnover at the AIF drew attention back to the unanswered questions about Vatican financial shenanigans, from Australia came the voice of Cardinal George Pell, newly released from prison, who said that many leading Vatican officials see a connection between his bid for economic reforms in Rome and his prosecution. Cardinal Pell added that his aggressive pursuit of financial misconduct within the Vatican has been “massively vindicated” by revelations since his departure from Rome.
Later in the week Cardinal Peter Turkson announced the creation of a high-level Vatican task force to respond to the CO19 crisis and its aftermath. “One crisis risks being followed by others,” he said, “in a cycle in which we will be forced to learn slowly and painfully to take care of our common home.” So the Vatican task force, organized into five separate working groups, will organize efforts to help victims of the disease and to plan for the economic aftermath. Few details of the group’s work were immediately available, but the cardinal indicated that Pope Francis had made the work a high priority.
Coordinating a worldwide Catholic approach to the epidemic will undoubtedly be challenging, however. Already there have been defections from the ranks of bishops complying with shutdown orders. In Italy, Bishop Riccardo Fontana of Arezzo lamented the “great suffering” of lay Catholics unable to receive the sacraments, and questioned why a massive cathedral is closed when supermarkets remain open. In the US, Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told his priests they could resume public celebrations of the Mass, although he instructed them to abide by emergency measures that will severely restrict attendance. Bishop Baldacchino observed that while temporary restrictions might be warranted, they “cannot become the status quo for the foreseeable future.”
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