The Vatican in disarray
The past few weeks have brought several positive signs from Rome:
- The Chilean bishops resigned as a group after meeting with Pope Francis, thereby raising hopes that the Holy Father is finally following up strong statements with strong action against bishops who cover up abuse.
- In a talk with Italian bishops, the Pope showed further evidence of a new attitude, with a reminder that homosexuals should not be admitted to seminaries.
- The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued his own reminder that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood, and that teaching can never change.
- And the CDF, with the Pope’s approval, instructed the German bishops not to proceed with a new policy on intercommunion.
Each one of these new developments left some questions unanswered. (We don’t know how the Pope will react to the Chilean resignations, for instance; and the message to the German bishops could be read as “not yet” rather than simply “no.”) But at worst, these stories were not bad news for orthodox Catholics who have been shell-shocked by previous developments in Rome. Taken together, the welcome news items prompted both Jeff Mirus and myself to wonder aloud whether perhaps Pope Francis was shifting his sights. That question, too, remains unanswered—and is reason (as Jeff observed) for faithful Catholics to redouble their prayers.
However, to keep things in the proper perspective, it’s only fair to remark that there are also reasons to be discouraged about developments—or the absence of developments—at the Vatican. Casual readers may not have noticed, but…
- Almost a full year ago (one week from today it will be exactly a year), the Vatican’s auditor general, Libero Milone, abruptly resigned. Milone was rushed out of office amid a flurry of charges and counter-charges. No full explanation was ever provided, but it seems that top Vatican officials decided that Milone was exceeding his authority, although he had been promised “full autonomy and independence” to do his work. The Vatican announced that a replacement would be found “as soon as possible.”
So are we to understand that it is not “possible” to find a competent auditor in the space of a year? Or, more likely, that no one capable of doing the job would accept it under the existing conditions?
Milone’s sudden departure is part of a larger pattern, in which the Secretariat for the Economy—created to bring accountability to Vatican finances—has been effectively gutted:
- The prefect of the Secretariat, Cardinal George Pell, has been on leave for nearly a year, and is unlikely ever to return to duty at the Vatican. He has not been replaced.
- The cardinal’s #2 man at the Secretariat, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, was appointed in February as apostolic nuncio to Korea and ordained an archbishop. He, too, has not been replaced. So the office is left with no chief, no deputy, no auditor, and no real ability to carry out its vital mission.
- The Congregation for Religious has been forced to issue a public denial of complaints that it has been sheltering Luis Fernando Figari, the founder of the Sodality of Christian Life. Actually the Vatican has found Figari guilty of various abuses, and ordered his complete separation from the movement he founded. But he has appealed the sentence, and while the judicial process runs its course he remains in Rome. The process seems to be working in this case, albeit slowly. But complaints along these line will undoubtedly continue until the Vatican establishes a clear policy of holding leaders accountable for committing and/or tolerating abuse. To date we haven’t seen a clear commitment to effective discipline. And by the way, what is happening in Chile—where those bishops are still in place, waiting for the Pope to act on their resignations?
- In Argentina, the La Plata archdiocese is regarded as second in prominence only to the Buenos Aires see. Archbishop Hector Ruben Aguer had governed the La Plata archdiocese for 20 years, compiling an admirable record as a defender of orthodoxy and the culture of life. In May, upon reaching his 75th birthday, he duly submitted his resignation to the Pope, as required by canon law. In most cases, a healthy prelate is allowed to remain in office for months, even years, after turning 75. But not Archbishop Aguer. As he discussed during his homily on the feast of Corpus Christi, he was called by the apostolic nuncio just a week after his birthday, and told that his resignation would be accepted immediately. He was not to remain in La Plata as a retired archbishop; he was not even allowed to stay for the ceremonial installation of his successor. He was, in short, rushed out of town.
And who would replace him? Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez , a close adviser to Pope Francis, who has welcomed the radical changes of this pontificate by saying that there must be “no turning back.” The incoming archbishop is author of Heal Me With Your Mouth—The Art of Kissing. He is also, reportedly, responsible for drafting Evangelii Gaudium and for inserting a passage of his own work, from a controversial 1995 essay, into Amoris Laetitia. His appointment—and the abrupt way it was handled—indicates that Pope Francis has not varied from his pattern of rewarding his allies, nor from his harsh treatment of those with whom he disagrees.
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