Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

What we need is another Cluniac reform

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 11, 2021

Today the Catholic Church celebrates (as an optional feast) the holy abbots of Cluny. After morning Mass at a Benedictine abbey, I find myself thinking about the Cluniac reform. Among the troubles that the Church faced in that era were simony and clerical immorality.

Hmmm. History often repeats itself, but as circumstances change, things may look different the second time around. Are we not in dire need of a new Cluniac reform today?

You will grant me, I trust, that immorality among the clergy is an issue today; the headlines of the past decade leave little doubt about that. It is a different sort of immorality—not many priests are taking common-law wives—but it is rampant.

As for simony, I have not heard of wealthy men buying ecclesiastical offices for their nephews. But the “envelope culture” opens a way up the ladder for expert fundraisers like Ted McCarrick, and offers protection for sybaritic prelates like Bishop Michael Bransfield. And in Rome, for several years now we’ve been watching Vatican officials fend off complaints about questionable financial transactions.

Those two problems—sexual immorality within the clergy and the corrosive influence of money—may come together in the latest Vatican scandal. Two different people have now charged that officials of the Secretariat of State, caught up in an illicit London real-estate deal, were engaged in blackmail. Cecilia Marogna, a shady “security expert,” says that she was signed up to compile damaging dossiers about the sexual activities of Vatican clerics. Gianluigi Torzi, an equally shady financier, claims that a layman who had worked at the Secretariat of State boasted of blackmailing senior officials there. Granted, neither Marogna nor Torzi is a very credible witness; both are facing criminal charges before Vatican tribunals. Still their stories are remarkably similar and—given the available evidence—not easy to dismiss.

The same two pernicious problems, clerical immorality and financial irregularity, were troubling the cardinals who gathered for the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. The same scandals continue to plague the Church. Let’s ask the holy abbots of Cluny to intervene, to help raise up worthy successors to lead the needed reform once again.

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.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: gregorywayland204298 - May. 11, 2021 7:49 PM ET USA

    The sooner the better.