Dysfunctional Dioceses

Dysfunctional Dioceses



Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening to his Anna Karenina novel reads,

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

A glance at three troubled dioceses east of the Mississippi shows a portrait of local dysfunction, but with interesting differences among them:

  • The Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown in central Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio are linked through a ‘monster cleric’ now deceased, who preyed upon dozens of minors in both dioceses.  While this may not be news in the wake of the scandal in Boston, the new news is the aggressive role of Pennsylvania’s attorney general resulting in the recent criminal indictments of three Franciscan Minister Provincials charged with conspiracy and child endangerment. 

  • In the Archdiocese of New York, there are two distinct ‘situations’ that may soon come together and conflate to form a critical mass (physics, not liturgy):

    In the wake of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s wholesale batch of mergers of more than fifty parishes in 2014-2015, thousands of local parishioners now await the disposition of more than a dozen canon appeals at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy; and

    There are plausible allegations of an inner network within the leadership of the diocese, involving favoritism in assignments and massive financial irregularities; along with the running story since last December of a law suit brought by parishioners against a pastor for misappropriation of over $1 million to support a flamboyant lifestyle; this first surfaced in The Daily News. But it took a specialized website, Church Militant to report the story of inner circle network within the archdiocese.  In due course, these twists of allegations may precipitate more litigation. 

Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown, PA and Youngstown, OH

The local developments break into new legal territory:

  • Three Provincial Ministers of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regulars are now under criminal indictment for conspiracy and child endangerment; these Provincial Ministers were successively in charge during the period 1986 through 2010, essentially they are the religious order’s bishops for central PA.

  • While these indictments echo the prosecution of Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn of a few years ago by the city’s DA, they represent a significant escalation because they now bring center stage the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and three religious leaders.

  • As reported by the AP, “Last August, agents [Special Agents of the Attorney General’s office] raided diocesan offices in Hollidaysburg and carted off 115,042 documents from filing cabinets…”

The link between the Altoona and Youngstown Dioceses is a predator, Brother Stephen Baker, who served in Youngtown from 1982 until 1992, including a stint at a Catholic high school in Warren, OH as a sports trainer; he then moved to a Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA where he had unsupervised access to minors.  Given settlements with 91 former students at Warren/JFK High School reached in late 2015 – to which the Diocese of Youngstown was a party, for Youngstown the major issues become: (a) What did the diocese know at the time when Brother Stephen Baker moved from OH to PA; and (b) Did Youngstown pass to Altoona what it knew about Baker?

From Pennsylvania’s Investigating Grand Jury’s recent presentment (a 33-page report of findings):

“The Diocese of Youngstown said…they were alerted to the allegations in 2009…”

“The diocese [of Youngstown] said they had no legal liability but participated in the settlement negotiations…”

“JFK [the Catholic high school in Warren], T.O.R. [the Franciscan Order] and the Youngstown Diocese also agreed to pay attorney fees and expenses.”

“The [settlement]  agreements…said the payments will be made ‘solely upon pastoral concern’ and was not an admission of any wrongdoing [by the three named parties].

The Youngstown prelate tagged as the Damage Control Officer for the diocese is Chancellor John Zuraw.  On the issue of Youngstown’s chancellery archives subject to seizure by law enforcement, he is reported as saying that the diocese does not have a secret archive.  Hmmm, I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘secret archive’. 

Under Canon 482, in all dioceses “…a chancellor is to be appointed…to ensure that the acts of the curia…are kept safe in the archive.” 

And under Canon 487, “The archive must be locked and only the Bishop and the chancellor are to have the key.”   Perhaps the Youngstown archives have been moved to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington where they are shielded by diplomatic immunity.

Comment: from my direct knowledge, the Diocese of Youngstown is a case study in decline, going back to 2010/2011 when several ill-advised mergers were executed by Bishop George Murry, SJ, installed in March of 2007; these mergers have resulted in widespread parishioner alienation, falling church attendance, and shrinking collection plates.

Local Catholics feel strongly that it is high time for the Vatican to launch its own investigation into the management of the diocese through a formal Apostolic Visitation.  Confession might be good for the soul.

Archdiocese of New York

NY, NY is a wonderful town, tra la la.  But the outlook for the archdiocese (which excludes Queens and Brooklyn) is stormy.

Again from direct involvement, parishioner feelings are running high because of the dozens of mergers decreed in two waves (2014 and 2015) by the cardinal.  After some sleazy games were played by the archdiocese to deny parishioners the decrees regarding their own parishes (which is their right under canon law), decrees were grudgingly ‘made available’ for viewing at the chancellery.

Well over 20 canon appeals went to Rome in due course, and currently at least a dozen (probably more) have been accepted by the Congregation for the Clergy for review.

When the appeals have been decided, in the event of turndowns or only minor alterations to the cardinal’s merger decrees, there could be thousands of NY parishioners asking themselves the WTF question. 

And if the broader context within the archdiocese is gross financial mismanagement and turning a blind eye to credible allegations of embezzlement, with the connivance of an inner nomenklatura of UNcelibate clergy, that spells trouble.

In that regard, a couple of unusual ‘situations’ are materializing:

  1. The grotesque scandal Father Peter Miqueli, pastor to a couple of parishes who is now accused by parishioners – through a civil law suit – of financial improprieties involving over $1 million, along with allegations of $1,000/hour payments to “his hunky lover.”  Link below to The Daily News article of last December for the lurid (sic) details: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-priest-sued-allegedly-stealing-1m-churches-article-1.2462101

  2. And detailed allegations involving the second-highest ranking official in the diocese, Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo

As reported in several postings on the Church Militant website, Mustaciuolo is a hierarchical triple threat as: 

Vicar General, i.e. Executive VP of the archdiocese;

Moderator of the Curia, i.e. Chief of Staff to whom all curia department heads report, and

Chancellor, i.e. keeper of the archive (aka secrets); bear in mind Canon 487 above, ‘The archive must be locked and only the Bishop and the chancellor are to have the key…’

The Mustaciuolo story has not yet jumped from one specialized website to the mainstream media. And yet, the specific detail of what is alleged is striking.  Per Church Militant, one of Mustaciuolo‘s favored subordinates, Msgr. Michael Hull, was also a triple office holder in the archdiocese until Hull’s sudden and dramatic departure from the New York City area in 2014: 

Professor at St. John Seminary;

Pastor of the Church of the Guardian Angel in Chelsea, and according to the website, 

Mustaciuolo is also said to have secured a third full-time position for Hull – as director of the Sheen Center…a performing arts complex in Lower Manhattan that cost around $20 million to convert from a homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities.”

But in the spring of 2014 “Hull had suddenly vanished from the New York archdiocese, leaving no indication of his whereabouts…he surfaced in the news months later as Director of Studies…in the Scottish Episcopal Institute (SEI) – married and with a baby.”  Hmmm. 

One important detail:  Most Archdiocese of NY parishes are structured as non-profit corporations under NY State law, each parish with a five-person board of trustees.  As such, these corporations enjoy exemption from certain categories of taxes, and donations to them are tax exempt.  The quid pro quo is that the State attorney general exercises oversight through the Charities Bureau.  So, if donations are diverted to purposes inconsistent with the non-profit’s charter, there could be legal trouble.  Which in the first instance would draw into the situation the corporation trustees through oversight and fiduciary duties, i.e. the bishop, the chancellor, the pastor, and two lay members of the parish.

Comment:  You might wonder how NY’s newspaper of record has covered all this, with hundreds of newsroom reporters including their usual Religion and Metro beats.  Keep wondering.

And remember that it took the Boston Globe’s swat team – Spotlight – to break the 2002 scandal – after a brand new executive editor rode into Beantown in mid-2001 and re-mobilized Spotlight which disrupted the comfortable reporting arrangements that passed for coverage.

If it had not been for the Spotlight Team, do you think we would be having this conversation?  Do you think there would be today’s global awareness of clergy sex abuse of minors?

Coda:  Boston Archdiocese – A Glimpse into the Future?

If you want a preview of the longer-term consequences of the current situation in the Archdiocese of New York, just have a look at the Archdiocese of Boston today, 14 years after its own scandal:

Per the FY-2015 audited financial report, the Archdiocese of Boston recorded an operating loss of $5 million.  

Maybe not a big deal, BUT – coincidence (?) – net gains from the sale of closed parish properties in the year were just over $5 million, otherwise the losses would have been $10 million.  This is the business model for how dioceses manage their decline:

Cover operating shortfalls with sales of parish properties.

In financial terms this is unsustainable; it amounts to self-liquidation.  And beyond these clever financial maneuvers, consider the following:  

The most telling indicator of a diocese’s spiritual vitality is its Mass Attendance Ratio, the percentage of self-described Catholics in the diocese who actually crawl out of bed to go to Mass regularly.   Per Georgetown University’s annual survey,

The national average for all U.S. dioceses is 24% in 2015

(down from 55% in the halcyon days of 1960!). 

But for the Archdiocese of Boston the Mass Attendance Ratio was:

11.9% in 2015, down from 17% in 2010…dropping by one percentage point for each year, between 2010 and 2015.

And finally, a softer indicator:  

In September of 2014 the owner of the Boston Globe (and the Red Sox) funded the launch of CruxNow, a free weekly on the web covering the Catholic Church, staffed by expert Vatican reporters and with frequent ‘name’ contributors.   A few weeks ago, after a mere 18 months,

“…The Boston Globe has bailed…the Globe’s editor…’We made the words work, but not the numbers…So we decided…to cut our losses’.” (The Atlantic, March 11, 2016).  

Yet the Boston Archdiocese has a flock of almost 2 million faithful (2015 diocesan data).

Jeremiah, 2:31:

Why do my people say, ‘we have moved on, we will come to you no more?’


Prequel to Spotlight: Cardinal Law 1.0

Prequel to Spotlight – Cardinal Law 1.0

 Summary  As the old saying goes, victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan. In the aftermath of the two Oscars won by Spotlight for Best Film and Best original Screenplay, many of the picture’s heroes are emerging for their deserved moment in the sun.

Internationally, the official daily of the Vatican – the redoubtable Osservatore Romano – now describes the movie as “not anti-Catholic” and something that gives voice to “the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities.”

Oh my how the music from Rome has changed, but meglio tardi che mai (better late than never).

The basso profondo undertone of this story is the enigmatic figure of Boston’s cardinal, Bernard Francis Law, who has been beyond the reach of civil and criminal authorities since December of 2002. IMO he is something of a Shakespearean figure, a protagonist with great talents and flaws. Before essential aspects of the Boston abuse scandal get lost in the Oscars’ after-glow, it is worth recalling the context that pre-dated the eruption of the Spotlight team’s story in January, 2002. I offer some observations below on unmistakable signals going back to the 1980s – that there was a problem of clergy abuse of minors; and on some key events in the pre-scandal career of Cardinal Bernard Law.

Early Signals in the mid-1980s  One of the unsung heroes in this drama who did not get a role in Spotlight is the remarkable Tom Doyle. In an account he circulated a few days ago, he goes back three decades to when he served as a monsignore in the mid-80s at the Vatican Embassy in D.C. This kind of assignment put Monsignor Doyle into a very elite category, particularly since it had taken about two centuries for the U.S. and the Holy See to establish full diplomatic relations – from the beginning of George Washington’s first term until the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term.

To summarize Doyle’s fascinating account, by the mid-80s the Vatican Embassy (aka the Apostolic Nunciature) was receiving highly confidential reports from some U.S. bishops sounding the alarm about clergy abuse. Given the invisible walls separating the 175 Catholic dioceses in America (‘stovepiping’ in Washington-speak), the Vatican Embassy was the only entity with a wide-angle view of what was brewing in Catholic America. And Doyle was responsible for handling these issues.

He grasped quickly the systemic nature of the abuse problem, and after careful analysis he and two colleagues put together a recommended solution that even by today’s 20/20 hindsight was a sensible and compassionate response. Early on there was reason to believe that the association of Catholic prelates, now known as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, would get in front of the problem pro-actively, so Doyle and colleagues drafted a comprehensive manual recommending best practices, ready to be presented to the American episcopate.

But nothing happened….business as usual in the 175 dioceses.

What did happen behind the scenes was that ranking members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy did not want to ratify a solution to a problem they were reluctant to acknowledge. And yet, one of the rising stars among the bishops, Boston’s then-Archbishop Law, seemed ready to endorse the initiative, and to give it much-needed support among the bishops. But then…according to Doyle, “Cardinal Law and I spoke a few times…and he assured me it was beyond his control, which I believed then and still believe.

Tom Doyle’s article of March 1 is at http://www.awrsipe.com  Then open the link to BEFORE SPOTLIGHT

The irony is that the American prelate most directly involved in the eventual scandal might have been – instead – one of the scandal’s leading heroes. Which brings us to Bernard Law’s unusual Church career.

Law’s Clerical Career  Born in Mexico where his father was running an airline after WWI service as a pilot in the Army Signal Corps, young Law acquired a world-view broader than the typical seminarians of the 1950s who usually came of age within the diocese they would serve as priests. He enrolled at Harvard, graduating in 1953 and concentrating in medieval history, which in the Vatican is probably classified as current affairs.

While a Harvard undergrad, he was president of the Newman Club (the WiFi hot spot for Catholic students in that Godless environment) and his nickname – according to a classmate – was Your Holiness, “reflecting his evident papal ambitions.” From college he went into the seminary, and was eventually ordained almost at age 30 – somewhat late by the clerical norm.

His first assignment was as a parochial vicar (assistant pastor) in the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, deep down in the impoverished Delta; not exactly a trophy parish area such as NYC’s Upper East Side or Boston’s Chestnut Hill. As a young priest Bernard Law was a genuine civil rights activist, and received the death threats that went with that territory during the early 1960s for his fearless articles while editor of the diocesan weekly. Fast-forwarding the years, his talents were recognized and he rose rapidly, working in Washington as director of a bishops’ committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and eventually rising to ecclesiastical flag rank when he was named Bishop of Springfield and Cape Girardeau in 1973 at the early age 42.

In 1984 – then in his early 50s and an outsider to the Boston area – he was the surprise selection as Archbishop of Boston, one of the crown jewels of Catholic America which carries with it rapid promotion to the personal rank of cardinal – i.e. a prince of the Church and a papal elector. Not long afterwards that he emerged as dynamic spokesman for Catholic America, and a crucial link between the U.S. government and the Holy See. It is no coincidence that with full bilateral diplomatic relations established in 1984, the fiercely anti-Soviet heads of these two States, one on the Potomac and the other on the Tiber, found it convenient to cooperate. Which they did. But it was vital to have a trusted go-between.

The story of the money flows from the American intel community, through (sigh) the Vatican bank and then into a grassroots network of Catholic parishes in Poland, has been told. But not much has been written about the Catholic mafia in the Reagan administration: Secretary of State Al Haig; national security advisers Dick Allen and Bill Clark; Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey; Director of Defense Intelligence Agency Dick Walters; etc., etc. These were not tepid believers. And there was an Evil Empire to be brought down. But someone had to manage the bumps along the road, given the inevitable (and not totally bogus) Soviet complaints of provokatsya, as well as transactional frictions in moving funds through the (sigh) Vatican bank during the troubled years of the Banco Ambrosiano money-laundering scandal.

Yet during that period another kind of evil reality kept intruding in the U.S.: The first clergy sex abuse scandal to get extensive media coverage erupted in Cajun country, the Fr. Gilbert Gauthe case in Lafayette, around 1984. In due course this played itself out. However, some years later the notorious Fr. James Porter case detonated. Porter was eventually accused of abuse by close to 100 victims and did time. The national media were in full outcry over him, including a cameo of Porter running away from a Diane Sawyer ABC film crew. By 1992 Cardinal Law concluded the media had gone overboard, and although his own diocese was not in the cross-hairs, at a Boston antiviolence event he thundered from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Church in Roxbury:

“…we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the [Boston] Globe.”

Perhaps the vehemence of Law’s fatwa had something to do with what Tom Doyle had brought to his attention in the mid-1980s. Perhaps this was an effort by Law to put the abuse genie back in the bottle.

But somewhere along the way the idealistic young priest in the Mississippi Delta had changed. Only a candid memoir would give us the whole story, but that ain’t likely. The most interesting judgment about the cardinal’s career was delivered by Law himself when he was posing for an oil portrait during his glory days in Boston.

The artist asked him, “What is the toughest part of your job?”

The cardinal replied, “Judgment – the decisions I must make. That is the half of it. The other half is the judgment I must face one day myself.”

That day may nearer to hand than the cardinal might have expected. Or maybe it has passed.

Coda Today in Rome another prince of the church is in the hot glare of the media: Australian Cardinal George Pell who is being deposed by Australia’s Royal Government Commission investigating Pell’s conduct in the national scandal over clergy sex abuse. Depending on which vaticanista you talk to, Pell is either #3 in the hierarchy, or perhaps #2 (nosing out the Secretary of State because of Pell’s iron control over Vatican finances).

As reported in The Global Pulse this week, when summoned by the commission, the Rome-based cardinal pleaded that ill-health prevented him from traveling to Oz. So instead, the commission is deposing him by video link while he remains in Rome. According to Global Pulse, this might have been “a deliberate attempt to make things more complicated”, but if so, it “backfired spectacularly…the cardinal has brought the trial-like atmosphere into the pope’s backyard and commanded huge media interest” even within the jaded Vatican press corps.”

The boomerang is indeed an Aussie invention.

Reflecting on the twilight of the careers of these two famous cardinals, it is easy enough to quote Lord Acton’s famous dictum on the corrupting effect of power. What is less widely known is what Lord Acton added to this:

There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Acton was commenting on the papal dogma of infallibility, pronounced by Pius IX and ratified by the Vatican I Council in 1870 during the last days of the Papal States. With fallible princes coming into the spotlight today, maybe Vatican I that should be revisited since Vatican II has been dismantled so effectively over the past half century




Spotlight and the Oscars



Spotlight and the Oscars: Hooray for Hollywood – A look behind the camera   (February 27, 2016)


American viewers (almost 37 million last year) will tune in for the Oscars’ pageant on Sunday evening, February 28. One of the contenders will be Spotlight, the true story of how the Boston Globe’s specialized team of investigative reporters, known as The Spotlight Team, broke wide open in early 2002 the story of clergy abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Boston. The movie’s six Oscar nominations are for:

Best picture; Best director; Best supporting actor and actress; Best editing; Best original screenplay.  

From anecdotal information, many moviegoers have stayed away from Spotlight fearing that it is a graphic portrayal of child abuse. Not so. The center of gravity of the movie is the real-life tension in the Globe’s newsroom, and the relentless efforts of the Spotlight team that would not be pushed off the story.  The movie has just about broken even, with box office receipts through mid-February of $38 million which is almost double the production budget of $20 million.  That is close to break-even under the Hollywood 2:1 rule of thumb for box office coverage of post-production marketing and distribution costs.  But one of the executive producers, Pierre Omidyar, has truly deep pockets, a net worth of almost $9 billion thanks to his eBay and Paypal investments. Interesting that a French-born member of the Iranian diaspora chose to bankroll this movie.

IMO, Spotlight is the best media movie since All the President’s Men and the Watergate scandal; and there is a family link between these two pictures:

Ben Bradlee père, was the Washington Post’s managing editor who stood up to major heat from the Nixon White House; and Ben Bradlee Jr fils, was #2 in the Globe’s newsroom hierarchy, but in the movie he seemed to curb his enthusiasm when it came to support for the Spotlight team.

The Globe story broke , appropriately enough, on the Feast of the Epiphany – Sunday, January 6, 2002 – not many months after 9/11. In retrospect, this was really a case of two major paradigm shifts hitting in close proximity, and shattering the conventional wisdom of that era about national security and about the Catholic hierarchy.

As a Bostonian, and with some perspective on the workings of the Church and the Archdiocese of Boston, I offer the comments below that are part of the back-story of the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Church worldwide over the past decade and a half. The discussion is structured around two of the major institutions involved: the Globe and the Vatican.

As for the Archdiocese of Boston, at the time the scandal broke in 2002 there were just under 400 parishes across the archdiocese. Today after two rounds of pastoral planning there is a plan to downsize in a couple of years to 125 parishes. This is nothing less than a story of the accelerating decline in one of the oldest dioceses in Catholic America, established in 1808.  Details for a posting in the near future.

The Globe                                                                                                                    

What’s truly scary about Spotlight is that the now-global clergy sex abuse story did not become a story until the newsroom of the Globe decided it was a story; then, it went viral and eventually became global, but it developed in slo-mo over a ten-year period.

The Globe’s Editors                                                                                                                          

The movie makes clear that other media in Boston had parts of the story before the Globe, notably the Boston Herald as well as the Boston Phoenix – a counter-cultural weekly. But it took the departure of the executive editor of the Globe in mid-2001 and the arrival of a genuine outsider (doesn’t like baseball!) to bring the story off the shelf of the Spotlight team’s archives.  The movie studiously avoids naming the departing editor. While several Globe staffers are named in full, the movie’s opening scene shows the awkward farewell for the exec editor who is tagged simply as “Stewart.” During “Stewart’s” editorial regime, several stories casting shadows on the archdiocese had not run – spiked. And the departing editor’s next job was as a tenured professor of journalism at a major Catholic university. Post hoc ergo propter hoc?

The Globe’s Beat Reporters                                                                                                 

The movie ends by posing the root question, if this was so pervasive within the archdiocese, how did we miss it?                                                                                  The Spotlight team takes the blame, but in fairness to them they were a Special Ops kind of outfit, moving quickly from crisis to crisis.

IMO, the Globe’s major failure prior to the Spotlight team’s mobilization was somewhere between its Religion reporting beat and its Metro reporting beat:   With over 400 parishes across the archdiocese, with over 700 active priests in the archdiocese, and with Cardinal Bernard Law as the most powerful prelate in North America, was there really nothing for the beat reporters to sniff out?

The Vatican

                                                                                                                    The movie ends on Sunday, January 6, 2002, when the story breaks. But in the aftermath a fascinating sequel unfolded in Rome. Here are some of the major protagonists.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos                                                                            

Regarding the Vatican, it has to be kept in mind that by 2002 the Holy See was essentially leaderless. The long decline of the Polish Pope, St. John Paul II, had become painfully visible. Visiting cardinals ‘communicated’ with the Pope through His private secretary who would whisper into the Pope’s ear something in Polish, and then repeat aloud in translation to the visitor what the Pope had supposedly uttered sotto voce.                                        

In this bizarre environment, the reaction of the Rome cardinals was to deny and contain.

The first visible Vatican effort at damage control was to summon the American cardinals to a meeting in Rome in March, 2002 (the closest thing on Planet Earth to an actual Come to Jesus meeting).                                                                                                                    The (metaphorical) elephant in the room, of course, was Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law who was in Rome but too busy to attend the inevitable post-meeting presser. ..dinner plans! His fellow cardinal, Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, presided and dropped this acid comment:

Concerning the problem of sexual abuse and pedophilia…It’s already an X-ray of the problem that so many of the questions [are] in English

This remark suggested that clerical pedophilia was a disease found mainly in English-speaking countries. However absurd that might be (as proven abundantly in subsequent years), the wisecrack reflected a view I encountered frequently in Rome over the following years, that clergy sex abuse of minors was really a function of America’s declining moral values, obsession with sex, and materialism run wild.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (elected pope in 2005)

In 2002, shortly after the Spotlight reporting had begun, the cardinal said:

I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign.”

But three years later on March 25, 2005, literally days before the death of St. John Paul II, while delivering his Meditations on the Way of the Cross, Cardinal Ratzinger had this to say:

How much filth there is in the Church.”

Something of a U-turn, in the glare of media attention of the last days of Pope John Paul II and prospects for the inevitable conclave,  And few weeks later, on April 19, 2005 Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. The runner-up was Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

An American Monsignore, working in the Vatican’s ‘West Wing’                               Touted by some as on a fast track to cardinal, the monsignore said to me: “The problem with Catholic Boston is that it is too Catholic (sic)!”

He explained that in his home state, part of the Bible Belt, if a Catholic priest so much as jay-walked he would spend the night in the county jail – but in Boston no police chief or DA would take on the Church.  This comment came back to me in July of 2003, 18 months after the scandal broke, and six months after Cardinal Law slipped out of town, when the Massachusetts Attorney General issued a scathing on report titled The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. By then it was politically safe to pile on.  A Profile in Caution.

Cardinal Bernard Francis Law                                                                                      After the Vatican accepted his resignation as archbishop of Boston in December, 2002, and a stint doing penance at a convent in Maryland, the cardinal surfaced in Rome as the archpriest of a church. A Boston reporter called me to confirm that this was punishment, namely spending the rest of his life as a humble parish priest.  I told the reporter that the church in question was the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome’s trophies, but this did not make it into his story. A couple of years later during the Novemdiales, the traditional nine days of mourning for the deceased Pope (St John Paul II), the reporter realized that Cardinal Law was the celebrant for one of the nine High Masses. He called me with a question, “Is this a big deal?” Answer, “Yup.”

There is an interesting sidelight on Cardinal Law’s last months as archbishop of Boston.  A source in-a-position-to-know told me that preparations were well-advanced to have the archdiocese file a petition for bankruptcy. This was viewed as a ploy to pressure the attorneys for hundreds of alleged abuse victims into a settlement.  But it was not a bluff: One of the major RCAB creditors had given the o.k. for a ‘haircut’, namely payment of much less than 100 cents on the dollar; this would have set the benchmark for many other creditors. Paperwork for the filing was in ready to go, with the expectation of a swift in-and-out of Chapter 11 proceedings.                                                                          However, Law’s brother cardinals in the U.S. lobbied hard in Rome against this step, fearful of the precedent. For the Vatican, the clinching argument against a Boston archdiocese bankruptcy filing was two-fold:

Fear of the bankruptcy discovery process, where relevant communications between the archdiocese and congregations in Rome would be fair game; and fear that the sovereign immunity shield of protection for the Holy See as a state recognized by the U.S. might be breached.

Over the past 13 years eleven Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have filed for bankruptcy, the latest in January of 2015. Who is next? Stay tuned…  


During Napoleon’s campaigns in Italy, one of his generals had a heated argument with a Vatican cardinal, and the general burst out:                                                                     “Your Eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?”

Cardinal Ercole Consalvi responded:

Mon general, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the Church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.



Everything’s NOT up to date in Vatican City…

‘Everything’s NOT up to date in Vatican City…”

[February 17, 2016]


Shortly after his election to the papacy in March, 2013, Pope Francis set up an advisory group of eight cardinals to advise him on reforming the Vatican Curia. The cardinals were chosen as representatives of major geographic regions; for North America it has been Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley.

Over time the “Group of Eight” has morphed into the “Council of Nine,” by adding – after the unceremonious departure of Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone – his successor as the Vatican’s deputy pope – Cardinal Pietro Parolin. And the group was given official status as a “Council,” hence its current moniker in the media, the C9.

Perhaps C4 (the plastic explosive Semtex) would have been more appropriate, because after almost three years of quarterly deliberations in Rome with the Pope, the C9 may well be seismic in its impact.  Some of the C9’s major recommendations are seeping into the blogosphere, notably in Global Pulse and Zenit.it, and through the Catholic News Agency.

But not much is being heard from mainstream media, even those few print outlets with religion reporters or a Rome presence.

The C9 recommendations, of course, are just a piece of paper until they are endorsed and promulgated by Francis. That’s how absolute monarchies work. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the pope.

With extensive prep work by some prominent consultants and advisers, notably McKinsey (corporate structure), The Promontory Group (financial strategy), and KPMG (accounting and financial reporting), some interesting specifics are emerging:

As widely reported, there is to be a Congregation for the Laity, Family, and Life; this would be a merger of existing Pontifical Councils; yawn;

Less commented upon, and causing quite a ruckus within the Curia and the Vatican bar, a dicastery [major departmental entity on a par with congregations] would be created for Justice, Peace and Migration; hmmm, as several prelates have been muttering; and

As a preview of coming attractions, next on the C9 agenda there is to be a review of the all-powerful Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s central coordinating mechanism for almost two-dozen congregations, councils and commissions. This is causing an OMG reaction across the Curia, not as a serene prayer but as an expostulation.

The C9 is scheduled to meet again in April and in June. Speculation is that consistent with the standard practice of major Curia announcements before the summer break (July-August), something official with the pope’s imprimatur might be announced officially and implemented over the next four months.  The discussion below focuses upon the “Justice” dicastery. For the upcoming C9 review of the Secretariat of State, stay tuned.

The Justice (etc.) Dicastery

The focus here is upon the Vatican’s judicial system, includes three of its separate tribunali:

The Tribunal of the Roman Rota, best known for its marriage annulment proceedings; traditionally it has moved at glacial speed – for those who followed the annulment proceedings of a Kennedy clan couple, it took eight years from the time the contested case reached Rome until a decree was issued by the Rota annulling the annulment from the lower-level Boston diocesan tribunal;

The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, currently at the pinnacle of the canon law’s appellate system, and familiar to the thousands of American Catholics who have challenged parish and church closing decrees by their bishops; and with a care-taker management (this is not a guess);

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts which, created almost a century ago, is responsible “ for the authentic interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.” If you can explain clearly how this quasi-tribunal meshes with the Signatura’s appellate function, you could also explain to me some of the off-season trades of Boston’s Calzini Rossi.

Oh, there are also The Tribunals of the Vatican City State, consisting of three levels of courts, but apparently not within the scope of the sweeping reorganization now being planned by the C9.  However, one of its tribunals is very much in the news today as the venue for Vatileaks II, the trial of five individuals involved in yet another massive leak of sensitive Vatican financial (yes) documents. The legal offices of the avvocato for one of the defendants were broken into a few months ago. More about that ongoing trial at a later date.

The principal judicial reorganization option currently under consideration is to merge the three entities noted above into a single one, with the Rota touted at the preferred choice. Think of this in the context of a parish merger, where one lucky parish emerges as the winner, and the other is on the road to canonical extinction. Putting aside the tedious detail, what would this mean to Catholics in pews?

Answer:  A lot…

The Rota (maybe renamed) has now essentially gone out of the marriage-annulment business, which is a growth industry at the diocesan level. Effective last December, most all appeals involving uncontested annulments now do NOT go to Rome, but to an adjoining ‘metropolitan tribunal’ in the country where the annulment process started; these two-step kwikie annulments are known on the street as ‘Divorzio all’Americana’.

And the same treatment is now being proposed for ‘administrative appeals’, i.e. challenges to parish and church closings so dismally familiar to tens of thousands of American Catholics.  As planned, in almost all cases of appeals against parish and church closings there would be the two-step process, first back to the diocesan bishop, and then (if He doesn’t change his mind) to an adjoining metropolitan tribunal.

Frankly it mystifies me that this radical [as in ‘going to the root of the matter’] approach has been ignored by national as well as specialized media.  And there are some yooge implications:

The Church’s power over an essential aspect of Catholic life, marriage, has already been devolved to some 2,800 dioceses (and their good neighbors, on appeal) around the globe.  This devolution revolution has already happened, with an official pronouncement last December. Shrewd Vatican observers viewed that as a testing of the waters, but limited to a highly specialized canonical function, so it has not attracted much attention.  Needless to say, diocesan bishops and national episcopal conferences like this – they really like.

As the old Washington saying goes, where you stand is a function of where you sit.

This could be the shape of things to come for the governance of parishes and churches.  But with almost 2,800 Latin Rite dioceses around the world, it is fair to say that a wide variety of practices, compromises and accommodations could emerge. Presumably the 220+ Eastern Rite eparchies would be left alone.

End Comment

So, what happens to the binding force of Roman Catholicism:  Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam? Particularly to the Unam?

In the years ahead, we might see the birth of a Catholic Confederation, or perhaps a broader Christian Commonwealth.embracing other Christian tradition creeds.

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

Pope Francis’ recent surprise meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Havana airport is a striking indication of this pope’s willingness to reach across current divides, without preconditions (to the dismay of some in His diplomatic corps, Havana not being a neutral venue.  It is beyond any doubt that by now the Patriarch will have debriefed his Moscow mentor, who rules within sight of the Lenin Hills.  But Francis’ direct-report resides at a  much higher altitude.  Chi vivrà vedrà (whoever lives that long will see.)



The Pope’s Magnificent Seven: With Friends like This….

The Pope’s Magnificent Seven: With Friends like This….

One of Italy’s leading news magazines recently ran a cover story titled “Sabotage in the Vatican” with a compelling graphic inside showing Pope Francis at the center of a wheel, circled by seven leading cardinals with a caption identifying them as the principal opponents of Francis’ reform efforts.  As the drip-drip of Vatileaks disclosures continues, the perennial issues becomes:

Cui bono?  Who benefits?  Who are the wholesalers of this stream of highly classified information?  Without pointing the finger at any particular cardinal, this is Il Panorama’s line-up.  The commentary on each of the Princes of the Church is my own.

  • At 12:00 o’clock high, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, former prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy;
  • At 2:00 o’clock Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;
  • At 3:00 o’clock, NY’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan;
  • At 4;00 o’clock, Bologna’s Cardinal Carlo Caffarra;
  • At 6:00 o’clock directly below the Pope, Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy;
  • At 8:00 o’clock, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, long-time head of Italy’s bishops conference;
  • And at 11:00 o’clock, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and almost 88 years old.

These Seven may not be altogether Magnificent in the opinion of some Vatican watchers, but they are individuals that the Pope will have to deal with in any serious effort to change the status quo.  In plainer words, they are in a position to do major damage to, and perhaps break, Francis’ papacy. Hyperbole?  The original Vatileaks scandal of 2012 did in fact break the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI almost three years ago, as recounted towards the end of this post in the paragraph on Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Detailed comments on each of the M-7 in the Discussion Section below.


  1. More than two year ago Cardinal Mauro Piacenza was abruptly demoted by Francis from his powerful post as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, entrusted with oversight for diocesan clergy world-wide and for 220,000 parishes across the globe. ‘Clergy’ is the first appeal level for parishioners who challenge their bishop’s decision to close parishes and churches. From ‘Clergy’ the cardinal made a decidedly hard landing, not a soft one, since he is now serving as the ‘Penitenziere Maggiore’, i.e. the Vatican’s jailer-in-chief. There is in fact a jail within the 105 acres of the Vatican, and business picked up in 2012 with the detention of Vatilieaks 1 culprit – The Butler (aka Paolo Gabriele).  And now Spanish Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda is in detention in connection with Vatileaks 2. Cardinal Piacenza has nine more years as a cardinal-elector in papal conclaves, before his eligibility times out in 2024.
  2. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller was handpicked by Pope Benedict in mid-2012 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is the Vatican’s official keeper of orthodoxy and not hesitant to ‘explain’ to all and sundry what Francis really means when the Pope speaks.  In faith-based institutions such as the Church, the USSR, and the Red Sox, the position of Keeper of Orthodoxy is very powerful. It should be kept in mind that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as ‘CDF’ prefect from 1981 until his accession to the papacy in 2005, and it is beyond any doubt that he gave careful thought to filling the position of CDF prefect in 2012, since doctrine is a large part of Benedict’s legacy. Surprisingly, however, during the recent synod Cardinal Mueller lined up with his fellow German bishops in support of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Given the twists and turns involved in stretching doctrine to cover this innovation, and the razor-thin margin of approval by the synod, it is fair to wonder whether the German bishops’ collective alarm at losing the tithes of more than 820,000 Catholic during the period 2009-2013, and another 218,000 reported for 2014, injected a dose of Yankee pragmatism into the cardinal’s orthodoxy..
  3. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, was one of the most prominent signers of the notorious letter sent by 13 cardinals to the Pope and made public during the Synod for the Family, complaining that the synod was rigged in favor of the Pope’s policies. The back-story to this is that going into the synod most of the American bishops were lined up against the Pope’s initiatives, so Francis tried to level the playing field within the U.S. contingent by exercising his papal prerogative to name directly some of the synod delegates.  That is how Cardinal Dolan became one of the synod’s 270 delegates, having been passed over by his American colleagues. Kiss the ring and bite the hand that signed your admission ticket, all in one fluid motion.
  4. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, was also a signer of the Gang of 13 letter. But Francis lost no time in responding. Caffarra had turned 75 in June of 2013, and at that time submitted his pro forma resignation as archbishop of Bologna. Yet Francis waited almost two-and-a-half years to accept this.  And then, suddenly, the Vatican announced on October 27, a mere two days after the closing of the synod, that the cardinal’s resignation was accepted. Post hoc ergo propter hoc [cause and effect]?  Caffarra was elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict. And not surprisingly the Bologna cardinal has been rigidly orthodox, lining up with the most vocal opponents of contraception.  This was especially noticeable in the turbulent wake of Benedict’s bizarre statement in 2009 [disavowed but taped during a press availability during his flight to Cameroon] that condoms might make the AIDS problem in Africa worse. The orthodox position is that abstinence and fidelity are the answer.  That might not work in zip code 90210 and other parts of LA.
  5. Cardinal George Pell had a major role in the G-13 letter, reportedly delivering it in person to Francis. The Aussie cardinal was handpicked by Francis soon after the March, 2013 conclave, to head what became in February of 2014 the Vatican’s economic super-department – the Secretariat for the Economy. Not surprisingly, bureaucratic warfare within the curia has been alive and well since that time. There is an alphabet soup of Holy See agencies involved and unhappy with being ‘coordinated’: The notorious bank, the IOR; the holding entity for Vatican assets, APSA; the Prefecture for Economic Affairs (kind of an OMB at the Vatican, OMG!); the Comptroller General; and the budgets for all Curia dicasteries. Above the Secretariat there is supposed to be adult supervision via the Council for the Economy. And somewhere on the sidelines is the Vatican’s Financial Authority Agency, set up in response to criticism from the Council of Europe (not the European Union;  and please don’t ask why, it has to do with the cuisine in Strasbourg – seat of the Council).  The function of the Vatican’s FIA is to implement anti-money laundering efforts, and it is tasked with bringing the Vatican’s financial operations up to the Council of Europe’s code of good conduct. Confused now? And isn’t confusion the work of the devil?
  6. Cardinal Camillo Ruini is the former head of Italy’s bishops’ conference. He is one of the longest serving presidents of the conference (1991 through 2007) and as a result he has an extensive network among most of Italy’s prelates. Going into the 2013 conclave that elected the Argentine cardinal, the Italian episcopate – with active lobbying by Cardinal Ruini – got solidly behind their favorite son, Italy’s Angelo Scola, who is Milan’s cardinal-archbishop.  Cardinal Scola was also, of course, a G-13 signer. As reported in the Italian media before the 2013 conclave, part of the lobbying theme by the Italian Bishops Conference (“CEI”) was, that after 35 years of a Polish and then a German papacy, it was time to bring an Italian back to the Palazzo Apostolico. Legit, I suppose, rah for the home team. But on the evening of March 13, when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the CEI got carried away and tripped on its collective cassock.  The conference posted on its website the following breaking news item:  Congratulazioni Papa Scola. Big oops.
  7. And finally Cardinal Angelo SodanoHe is currently dean of the College of Cardinals, almost 88 years old. As dean, he presided over the College of Cardinals during the 2013 interregnum between the effective date of Pope Benedict’s resignation, February 28, and the date of Cardinal Bergoglio’s election, March 13. The ‘coordinator’ role of the dean is very powerful indeed.  The ‘decano‘ oversees a lot of the ceremonial, including which cardinals get to celebrate the traditional Nine Masses during the period of papal vacancy known as sede vacante.  Some of the homilies during these Masses can be campaign speeches by ambitious cardinals, although Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley informed the world during the 2013 pre-conclave maneuvers that ‘no cardinal enters the conclave with the ambition of being Pope’ (!).  Cardinal Sodano served as the Vatican’s secretary of State (i.e. prime minister) from 1991 through 2006, including the painful years of decline of Saint John Paul II, when Sodano ruled the Vatican virtually unchallenged.  There is an important aspect regarding Cardinal Sodano’s near-election to the papacy in 2005. At that conclave assembled after the death of Saint John Paul, Sodano was an early odds-on favorite as papabile (‘popeable’). The next two contenders, Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, decided that if they both ran, they would split the conclave vote and Cardinal Sodano would waltz in…so Cardinal Martini stepped aside for his German colleague, BUT staked out his condition for withdrawing:  If Cardinal Ratzinger as the eventual pope, would be unable to break up the ruling Curia clique, then Joseph Ratzinger would resign as pope. Cardinal Ratzinger agreed to this. As Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger visited Cardinal Martini in the summer of 2012 as the old Jesuit was on his death bed. According to Cardinal Martini’s confidant, Jesuit priest Silvano Fausti, the cardinal ‘called in his promise’. Preparations were set in motion quickly.  In September of 2012, Pope Benedict quietly gave the start to remodeling what is now his retirement home inside the Vatican; and the resident nuns were relocated.  In January of 2013, Benedict ordained his longtime private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, as archbishop in a ceremony at Saint Peter.  And on February 11 Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign.  The name Sodano might sound familiar to American readers because the cardinal’s nephew, Andrea Sodano, was quite the guy around NYC ten years ago with actress Anne Hathaway as his arm-candy. There is a long-form story that ran in Vanity Fair involving young Andrea Sodano’s property development venture to buy ‘surplus’ Catholic churches from some of the 197 U.S. dioceses, fix ‘em and flip ‘em. Part of the business plan involved the notion that the surname Sodano would open a lot of diocesan chancery doors. And to add to the tabloid aspect, there was a cameo appearance in this drama by LA’s billionaire Ron Burkle, an investor in Andrea Sodano’s deal. (Burkle was also Best Pal to former President Bill Clinton, for a while..private jets around the world and so forth.) In due course, Burkle sued Sodano (the nephew, not the cardinal), the Andrea Sodano church-flipping venture went up in smoke, and in October of 2008 in federal criminal proceedings Andrea Sodano pled guilty, receiving a 54-month sentence and becoming a guest of a Club Fed.

 It is widely anticipated that Francis advisory group of nine cardinals, launched in the spring of 2013, will present recommendations for reorganizing the Vatican bureaucracy at its upcoming 2016 meeting in March.  A leading American consulti ng firm, McKinsey, is reported to have a major role in the work.  Like many such reorg efforts, there are rumored to be several options, including a Big Bang approach that would involve drastic mergers among Vatican departments, outright elimination of several these entities, and a significant devolution of power to 2,989 ‘ecclesiastical territories’, i.e. the dioceses and eparchies around the globe.

In fact, the Devolution Revolution (subject of a future post) has begun, rather quietly:

  • Under certain defined circumstances, marriage annulments become the prerogative of the dioceses and eparchies, eliminating the mandatory step of second appeals to Rome for affirmation; and
  • The synod’s fragile compromise solution for the major issue of Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is to devolve the resolution of this to the local pastors, under the guidance of the bishops.

This might turn on its head the notion of Ex Pluribus Unum.  But this approach would be consistent with Francis’ emphasis upon collegiality among his brother bishops, underscored by his frequent references to his title of Archbishop of Rome, which is only the fifth of his seven formal titles ranging from Vicar of Jesus Christ to Servant of God’s Servants.

There is also a truly far-out scenario as part of reorganization:  that Francis is considering a move away from the Papal domicile close to the banks of the Tiber to the St. John the Lateran complex, which is in fact the historic seat of the papacy. That would be a surpise…from a Pope who never ceases to surprise.




The Curia Romana: “A Wilderness of Mirrors”


The Curia Romana: “A Wilderness of Mirrors”


Vatileaks 2 is now upon us, officially. On Saturday, October 31, 2015, the Vatican Police arrested a man and a woman who have been deeply involved in the Pope’s efforts to reform the Vatican’s financial and economic institutions:

Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, the coordinator of a task force (“COSEA”), commissioned by the Pope in July, 2013; andSignora Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, the only woman member of the COSEA task force.

The two were summoned to the Vatican and then placed under arrest in the sovereign territory of the Vatican City State.

Monsignor Vallejo Balda is being held in the Vatican cell previously occupied by The Butler, Paolo Gabriele, the chief culprit of the original Vatileaks scandal. Signora Chaouqui was released since she has been cooperating with the investigation. The charges against the two are theft and dissemination of classified documents, per a Vatican law enacted in July, 2013, just as the COSEA task force began its work. The arrests are a preemptive move against the imminent publication of two tell-all books about Vatican financial misdeeds, and worse:

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Via Crucis (on Amazon as Merchants in the Temple), and Emiliano Fittipaldi’s Avarizia (Avarice, also on Amazon).

Nuzzi is widely credited with breaking the Vatileaks story in 2012 (now Vatileaks 1), think of him as the Bob Woodward of the Vaticanisti press corp.

And Vatileaks 1 was probably the catalyst for Pope Benedict’s bomb-shell resignation in February of 2013.

The leaked documents

It is a virtual certainty that the classified Vatican documents on which these two books are based are genuine, not forgeries or dezinformatsiya. For the flavor of the disclosures consider the opening paragraph of Avarice, translated from Il Fatto Quotidiano:

Outside of here there is a parked car full of documents. From the IOR [the Vatican bank], from APSA [the holding company for many of the Holy See’s assets including portfolio investments and real estate], from the auditors summoned by COSEA [the Msgr. Vallejo Balda task force]. This is why I asked you to come by car. You would not have been able to haul them away with a motor-scooter.”

 The speaker is identified as a monsignor who has leaked files to the journalist, “224 pages of undisclosed classified documents that reveal the wealth, the scandals and the secrets of Francis’ Church.”

This is serious:  Vallejo Balda has been a key official in the Vatican’s financial nomenklatura, listed in the 2015 Annuario Pontificio as “secretary” (i.e. chief operating officer) for the Holy See’s Prefecture of Economic Affairs…something like Washington’s Office of Management and Budget, with supervision of spending by the Vatican curia, including major departments: twenty-one congregations and pontifical councils. As the coordinator of COSEA, the sharp edge of Francis’ reform effort, Vallejo Balda had the major role in the task force’s recommendations presented to the Pope.

It has been reported that the monsignor was keenly interested in the newly created position of “general secretary” for the economic super-department recommended by COSEA and created in 2014 by Francis.

This department is formally known as the Secretariat for the Economy headed by Cardinal George Pell, a former rugby champion in Australia aptly described as a bull who hauls around his own china shop. But Vallejo Balda did not get the job of general secretary, which went instead to the Pope’s former personal secretary. Motive, anyone?

Some of the sordid details

Daily excerpts from the two books are dribbling into the media. Since most of the oxygen in the U.S. media is sucked up by Donald Trump, The Kardashians, and Fantasy Football, here are some of the nuggets – all unproven allegations so far – as reported in the Italian media:

Item: The computer of the Holy See’s Comptroller General, Libero Milone, has been hacked. Milone is not a glorified bean-counter, he reports directly to the Pope who named him to this newly created job last June.

Item: Several premium residential properties in the Vatican’s real estate empire throughout Rome and Italy, allegedly have been offered at deep discounts (30% to 100%! Per The AP).These sweetheart deals were allegedly offered to several Vatican-friendly media personalities, including the host of Italy’s leading political talk show (Porta a Porta).

Item: There are allegations of diversion of funds donated to the Vatican’s childrens hospital, to remodel luxurious apartments of a leading cardinal. The most eye-catching allegation involves former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now in retirement. Until he was replaced by Pope Francis in the fall of 2013, Bertone had been the Vatican’s de facto prime minister, with lots of latitude given to him by Pope Benedict who put him in the job in 2006. The cardinal was roundly criticized for redecorating his 3,000 SF apartment inside the Vatican’s 105 acres, where space is tight. In context, the Pope’s spartan quarters at the Casa Santa Marta are 500 SF.

It is alleged that about €200,000 (about $220,000) was spent on redecorating the cardinal’s flat, with the funds coming from the Foundation of the Infant Jesus, the leading children’s hospital in Rome. The cardinal wrote to the author of Avarice, [translated],

“…the undersigned [Bertone] paid the requested amount as my contribution to the restructuring.

But the president of the Infant Jesus Hospital Foundation at the time the repairs were made has stated that it was the hospital foundation that paid for the work.

Item: Peter’s Pence is the annual contribution to the Vatican from the pews of 220,000 parishes, world-wide.   As of 2013, it is reported that the fund totaled €378 million (about $416 million). But a report by Moneyval, the European Union’s agency with oversight for banks and financial transfers, had this to say about the final destination of moneys that had been donated to Peter’s Pence:

“[translated] in 2010 the disbursements [from Peter’s Pence] consisted principally of ordinary and extraordinary expenses of the dicasteries [congregations] and the institutions of the roman curia [pontifical councils and commissions],” [emphasis added].

Not unlike donations from the pews for clergy retirement, in a major American diocese (Go Red Sox), that went instead to? Destination unknown, but never got to the nearly busted Clergy Retirement Fund.

Item: The Vatican’s financial holding entity APSA is apparently being pulled into a money-laundering scandal. The Vatican’s prosecutor (known as the Promoter of Justice) has been investigating since last February allegations that APSA was used to move funds illegally between Italy and Switzerland, on behalf of a bank. The bank involved is not the notorious Vatican Bank (“IOR”), but an Italian private bank: ‘Banca Finnat Euramerica SpA’.

There are also allegations of market manipulation, where APSA would have sold securities which were then purchased by Banca Finnat.

It is worth bearing in mind that there is an as-yet undetonated IED in this situation: In mid-2014 APSA’s chief accountant, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, was arrested at Rome’s general aviation Ciampino airport after arriving from Switzerland on a private jet, lugging a suitcase with €20 million (about $22 million) in cash. The monsignor was subsequently released on bail, and claimed that he was ‘following orders’ of his superiors in APSA.

It has been reported that he has been telling the investigators about the ‘Finnat system’, including the complicity of APSA officials in money laundering and manipulation of securities’ prices.

Item: In the latest media sampling running today, November 5, 2015 it is reported that a lot of money has changed hands in the Congregation for the for the Causes of the Saints. The key official for beatification and canonizations is the Postulator, and only two individuals are members of this select bar. As reported in Il Fatto Quotidiano:

In Avarice it is claimed that the ongoing process to beatify (not canonize) Archbishop Fulton Sheen involved fees of €332,000 (about $365,000) between 1998 and 2013, when the process was suspended because the Archdiocese of New York declined to have Archbishop Sheen’s remains moved from NYC to his hometown of Peoria.

For the beatification of Spanish philosopher Antonio Rosmini, the costs were reportedly €750,000 (about $825,000).

Item: Checking accounts in the IOR! Again. From Il Fatto, translated:

When Pope Bergoglio [shortly after his election] ordered an investigation of [the Congregation for Saints], COSEA [the finance task force coordinated by Vallejo Barda] ordered the blocking of 409 accounts in the IOR…for a total of €40 million (about $44 million). Among these [accounts] there was also a very heavy name, that of Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the long-serving [private] secretary to Benedict XVI [and still holding that job with the pope Emeritus].”

Drip, drip, drip.


This is very much of a developing story, and the books’ publishers are doing what publishers do, to build up anticipation and pump sales.

The Vatican has heightened public interest with the extraordinary arrests over the weekend of October 31 last, all but naming their prime suspects in this industrial-sized theft and leak. However, the official Vatican commentary has been feeble:

Blaming the media; but what else would the media do?

Stating that “Vatileaks has been already dealt with through the Pope’s reforms;” apparently not so, especially in the matter of IOR accounts;

Pushing back against the Cardinal Bertone story about hospital funds, by announcing that several new members have been appointed to the hospital’s board. Basically, ‘he didn’t do it, and it won’t happen again’.

The question hanging in the air is Who? And, Why?

Lets just suppose that the Inspector Jacques Clouseau ploy used for Vatileaks 1, the butler did it, won’t work this time. CONFUSED? Welcome aboard.

In the world of murky affairs – espionage, complex business deals, Middle Eastern politics, Red Sox pitching, and the like – there is a memorable phrase from one of T.S. Eliot’s poems, Gerontion, which encapsulates the head-spinning difficulty of separating reality from illusion:  “…a wilderness of mirrors…”










Synod: The Tectonic Altar Plates are shifting…slowly

Synod: The Tectonic Altar Plates are shifting…slowly


The centerpiece of Pope Francis’ reform agenda – Communion for divorced Catholics – squeaked through the Synod plenary by one vote above the two-thirds super majority of 177 (or by two votes, according to some media reports). It will now be up to the diocesan ‘presbyterate’ (priests), acting in accordance with the teaching of the Church and the guidance of the local Bishop, decide the matter.

On the issue of gays, there was strong pushback against a more welcoming Church attitude from bishops in the developing world, particularly Africa. The result is a reiteration of the classical definition of marriage, along with the imperative of respecting each person (however intrinsically disordered the person might be).

What have we learned from the three week “14th ordinary general assembly of the Synod of the Bishops,” a mechanism devised by Pope Paul VI during the mid-1960s in the turbulent aftermath of Vatican II? Here are some impressions.


The geographical center of gravity of the Roman Catholic Church is shifting as Southern Hemisphere continental blocs are bringing forward their distinct viewpoints.

The number of Catholics in sub-Sahara Africa passed the 200 million mark in 2013, and with the help of robust demography, in perhaps one generation Africa’s Catholic flock will probably overtake Europe, which is currently at 290 million faithful; and note that this total makes no allowance for the very elderly demographic profile of practicing Euro-Catholics, as well as growing numbers of lapsed Catholics.

The ever-present fault lines under the Church are multi-layered and run deep in ways not easy to map:

a) On the surface there is the conventional spectrum of progressive/conservative/traditional; but other fissures are visible, namely:

The continental blocs mentioned above v the Northern Hemisphere Church groupings (North America and Europe);

b) The Vatican’s Curial apparatus v the diocesan ‘peripheries’, i.e. the Bishops.

It is remarkable that the resolution of Communion for the divorced was to devolve the solution down to 3,000 dioceses and eparchies.

Presumably this compromise created the paper-thin two thirds majority, since local Bishops and priests will now have considerable latitude.

But this is the opening gambit of much more devolution, which raises the question: what will happen to the Church’s unity?

The next Shoes of the Fisherman to drop will probably be at the spring session of the Council of Nine Cardinals, tasked since April, 2013, with reviewing the structure of the Curia Romana.

Don’t forget how the pope gob-smacked the Curia Romana in his traditional pre-Christmas address in the Sala Regia of the Palazzo, mentioning that it seemed to be afflicted with a kind of ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’.

The traditional alliance in the College of Cardinals between North American and Western European prelates has wielded influence way out of proportion to the numbers of practicing Catholics in their territories. And at the core of this alliance one finds the comfortable condominium of Italian and American Princes of the Church. But this arrangement is now being overtaken by events.

The Electoral College condominium between the Italiani and the Americani has been the bedrock of Vatican governance since the end of World War II. But the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in March, 2013, broke this arrangement.


In a peculiar way the duopoly of Italian and American cardinals mirrors the duopoly of Germany and France as the senior partners running the 28-member European Union (with 24 official languages!).

In the case of the Vatican and the EU, recent events indicate that the dominant entities are losing their grip, as reality intrudes; read on.

The European refugee crisis which spiked over the summer is a game changer, not only for the EU but also for the Church. The EU is on the front-lines, literally, and it is not covering itself in glory. It almost makes one nostalgic for the good old days of periodic Euro currency crises, all resolved within the time limits of the lavish Brussels dinners scheduled for visiting heads of government.

But how does the Church Universal get pulled into this mess, which is beyond the platitudes of declarations and pious platitudes?

The gateway into the EU from the Middle East runs through a belt of EU countries with majority Catholic populations: Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia.

And the most sought-after destination for refugees is Germany which has a sizable Catholic population (24 million) concentrated in its prosperous southern Länder.

From an observer’s perspective, the Synod’s energies were mostly consumed in Communion for the divorced and attitudes towards gays. But this focus is very hard to reconcile with the spiraling humanitarian crisis across Europe brought on by millions of displaced people, and – not to forget – the spreading wars (plural) in areas with 20 million Eastern Rite Catholics in communion with Rome.

As a few have reported (cfr. Global Pulse), the voices of the national bishops conferences have been strangely muted, notably in Hungary.

Finally, a discomfiting comment about the Pope’s global rock-star popularity.

In the not-very-distant past there were three charismatic political leaders who captured the attention of the world media, but did not fare very well within their home fields:

Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.

They came to power in the1970s to mid-80s period, and were faced with gridlock at home. And they had sharply defined reform agendas that in retrospect proved to be unacceptable in their respective constituencies.

Sadat paid for his trip to Jerusalem with his life. And the Muslim Brotherhood continues to be a menacing presence.

Thatcher had a damn close call with the Brighton bombing of October, 1984, which resulted in five deaths.

And although Thatcher bragged that she never lost an election, she was ousted by a coup organized within her own party.

Gorbachev was neutralized by drunken comic-opera plotters; in the hands of more determined (and sober) conspirators, the putsch might have succeeded. Now after the intermittently sober Yeltsin interlude, we are back to the USSR.

When the crunch came, the world-wide popularity of these reform leaders didn’t do much for their political (or biological) survival. Which brings us to Pope Francis.

Francis’ predecessor was driven to resignation by the Vatileaks scandal with an Agatha Christie twist, the butler as the culprit. How the butler operated an industrial-sized theft of 200+ sensitive documents from the Pope’s private study, and managed the copying and distribution, seems to be beyond the abilities of one guy. Who knows.

However, with the butler caught, sentenced and paroled, what do we have today? Son of Vatileaks.  Consider the strange stuff, overlapping the story line of the Synod:

Monsignor Krzystof Charasma who outs himself before the Synod opening, complete with press conference and a book-signing coming soon to a Barnes & Noble in your neighborhood;

A ‘private’ letter from 13 prominent cardinals complaining about a rigged Synod and now acknowledged; with one American signer, NY’s Timothy Dolan;

The very recent benign brain tumor story about the Pope, attributed to a Japanese doctor, and officially denied by the Vatican three times in one news cycle. Given the limited attention-span of many media outlets, it has escaped notice in the U.S. – mostly – that the Japanese doctor who allegedly made the diagnosis has some peculiarities:

He is under investigation by prosecutors in Salerno for alleged kickbacks; and it took him three days to issue a denial.

The internal resistance to Francis is out in the open. It comes from many sources and special interests, but it is there. Beyond the usual Roman maneuvers, which are a centuries-old tradition, it is clear that this is a serious turn of events.

Two end comments:

The Church’s hierarchy is dominated by cardinals and bishops installed over 35 years by Francis’ two predecessors. That is the theater of operations where this process is unfolding; and,

The multiple crises now besetting Europe – economic stagnation, tidal waves of refugees, a menacing neighbor to the East, and multiple wars – are as serious as anything that has confronted the Old Continent since the 1930s.

In many European countries on the front lines, the Church has deep roots. Yet the Church by-and-large is consumed by internal issues.

Legend has it that as the Ottomans were at the gates of Constantinople in 1453, the city’s assembled best and brightest were debating the sex of angels. Probably false. But at its core there lurks an inconvenient lesson:

There is a leadership vacuum across Europe, and the Church’s voice should be louder and clearer…