Developing News: Pope to visit U.S.

Developing News

Pope Francis:  Coming to America ‘Soon’

[March 24, 2014]

Later this week on Thursday March 27, the President meets the Pope at the Vatican. This is part of packed day in the Eternal City for the President, and includes meetings with Italy’s President, 88-year old Giorgio Napolitano, formerly a leading member of the defunct (Deo gratias) Italian communist party, the oldest-ever incumbent in Italy’s presidency; and with Italy’s newly installed premier, Matteo Renzi, the 39-year old mayor of Florence, the youngest-ever in that office.

 It is widely anticipated that the Pope will be invited by the President to pay a visit to the U.S. in his capacity of head of state, in the fall of 2015.

This would dovetail with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, set for September 22 through 27 of next year.  And if the diplomats have done their work, the invitation will be accepted on this, the 30th anniversary of the year when full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States were established, in 1984 during the Reagan Presidency.

As an educated guess, besides a day or so in Philly the papal trip in the fall of 2015 will also involve:

Francis’ reciprocal visit to the Oval; and

A papal address to the U.N. General Assembly when it convenes in late September of 2015.

The Pope’s sojourn in Philly involves some challenges, given the disarray within that archdiocese:

  • The continuing series of front-page trials involving allegations of clergy sex abuse in the diocese;
  • Acute financial distress within the diocese, including the closing of some 50 Catholics schools in recent years. the dismantling of chancery functions; and
  • An ongoing round of ‘pastoral planning’ which is scaling back drastically the Catholic presence throughout Greater Philadelphia, including some severely distressed parts of the city such as the Lower Northeast area.

Moreover, the Families event is likely to raise vexing doctrinal issues such as Communion for divorced Catholics, gay marriage, in vitro fertilization and contraception; to mention just a few.  This would take the focus off the broader papal message of inclusiveness, and outreach to society’s marginalized.  Perhaps the Pope will find it opportune to visit parishes or churches nelle periferie, if there will be any left in 18 months.

The Washington leg of the papal trip raises some interesting possibilities:

The other branches of government (if that is the correct way of referring to our betters in the District of Columbia) include:

The Supreme Court, with six Catholics on the bench, out of nine justices; the other three justices are of the Old Testament persuasion, no Protestants need apply at the moment; and

The Congress, with a Catholic Speaker and a Catholic Minority Leader in the House of Reps, at present.

Perhaps a papal address to Congress would be in order, something unprecedented in U.S.-Vatican relations.  The format might even be a ‘Joint Meeting’, an honor limited to a few of the highest.  Among the foreign leaders to receive this privilege:

Winston Churchill, Corazon Aquino, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa, among others

Also to be kept in mind:

By September, 2015, the 2016 presidential hats will be in the ring.  No shortage of Catholic wannabes, on both sides of the political aisle…Dems:  Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo; GOP: Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich…to name a few.

Finally, just yesterday Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, reiterated his invitation for a papal visit to Boston, commenting in The Boston Herald, “We’ll see what happens.”

Sidebar alert to Major League Baseball:

In late September of 2015 there might be a scheduling dilemma involving the availability of Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium for large gatherings.

Well, maybe a problem for only one of these two venues, the northerly one, Deo volente.

Pope Francis: One Year and Counting; Wassup?

Pope Francis

One Year and Counting; Wassup?

[March 18, 2014]

Overview

With the recent one-year anniversary of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election to the papacy on the fifth ballot of the conclave on March 13 of last year, there has been a flood of commentary.

Predictably, most of it has fallen along the conservative/liberal divide. Another fault line in evidence, a subtler version of this divide, is style v. substance.  Boston’s cardinal archbishop has weighed into this debate, stating in an interview with the Boston Globe:

I don’t see the pope as changing doctrine.”

Rather than rehashing the reporting on the Pope’s important stylistic innovations, lets stipulate that these are indeed significant.  However, lets also keep in mind a few howevers:

After the stylistic excesses of his predecessor (€3,000 Prada slippers and all that), radical change was overdue;

With the continuing economic malaise in Europe and across its Catholic South, conspicuous consumption such as the 10-meter silk Cappa Magna flaunted by some cardinals is not good for the evangelization business;

Style gets you only so far; as time passes, ultimately a faith-based enterprise has to deliver on substance…most importantly, on doctrine.

Yet the expanding debate on directions this subtle Jesuit pope will take has tended to lump together as substance a number of issues that really involve three distinct Catholic domains:

Peace and social justice,

Church governance, and

Doctrine.

As more initiatives come out of the Casa Santa Marta (Francis’ austere two-room suite in the Cardinals Hotel), these distinct domains should be kept clearly in mind because there is a helluva difference in – say – substantive change within the Curia (governance), on the one hand; versus substantive change in hot-button issues such as abortion, contraception and the role of women (doctrine), on the other hand.

1.  Peace and Social Justice

There are the overarching issues which, while not primarily religious, pack a strong moral punch and cannot be ignored.  They are frequently addressed through Papal Encyclicals, i.e. authoritative papal statements for Catholics – and frequently for the world at large:

Think of Pope Leo XIII’s De Rerum Novarum of 1891 on the excesses of Darwinian capitalism;

Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris of 1963 on the specter of nuclear warfare;

Pope Pius XII’s fulminations on communism, including excommunication en masse; and

Pope John Paul the Great’s speeches on the Soviet bloc, and his trips to Poland.

Francis has weighed in with his recent Evangelii Gaudium, an exhortation but not an encyclical.  A recent article in The Economist quotes a diplomat accredited to the Holy See as saying,

“[Francis] only knows one style of politics.  And that is Peronism.”

By which, of course, the diplomat is referring to the disastrous political economy doctrine of former dictator Juan Peron (plus Evita), and 100 years of economic solitude and decline in one of the world’s most potentially prosperous nations – which never got its act together.

Given that Francis’ entire life has been spent in Argentina until 2013, where there is so much to cry for, it is fair to suppose that his economic views come through the distorted lens of that sad experience.

So, Rush Limbaugh’s heavy breathing notwithstanding (“just pure Marxism”), it is probably best to skip over some parts of the pope’s views on political economy…which are not delivered ex cathedra, in any event.

On the great issues of war and peace, Francis has weighed in forcefully on the Syrian tragedy, and will probably have something to say about the plight of Ukrainian Catholics as the retired KGB colonel, Vladimir Putin, tightens his grip on what he calls the ‘near abroad’ which includes many nations beyond Ukraine.  His Crimean Anschluss is not his last territorial demand, nor the last we will hear from Vlad the Explainer.

A sidebar:  Some papal pronouncements on war and weaponry have not aged well.  From a papal edict on Weapons of Mass Destruction:

We prohibit under anathema that murderous art…which is hated by God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics…”

This was decided at the Lateran Council of 1139, where Canon 29 banned the use of the crossbow, but only against ‘folks like us’; Mohammedans remained fair game.

Btw, the Council’s Canon 7 reaffirmed priestly celibacy, another gem.

2.  Church Governance

My last blogpost (March 6, Render Unto God) covered – or perhaps smothered – the most important steps taken by Francis in this domain.

Rather than inflicting more pain on readers, just a few points should be noted:

From the perspective of long-term impact, the creation of super-economic Vatican organizations (the Council and the Secretariat) are the most important actions to date by the pope in any domain, but they have no direct bearing on doctrine, and they are very remote from the daily lives of 1.2 billion faithful in the pews.

The same goes for the high-level personnel moves, i.e. the replacement of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as secretary of state; and the ousting of Cardinal Raymond Burke from the Congregation for the Bishops; to mention a couple.

The creation of the Council of Eight Cardinals is indeed significant with its focus on regional representation, but it remains a consultative body and thus does not bear directly upon the doctrinal primacy of the Bishop of Rome; not a trivial issue as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses approaches.

Finally, there is a strong tide flowing among out-of-town cardinals against the Curia Romana. One of the best Vaticanisti, Andrea Tornielli in La Stampa, recently reported on the pre-Conclave maneuvering in March of last year during the meetings open to all cardinals, regardless of age (translated from the Italian original):

“…on the morning of Thursday, March 7 [2013] the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio…speaks for only three minutes (he had five minutes available, like everyone) and concentrates upon the mission, on a Church that should cease to be folded in upon itself, self-referential, but should go out to bring to those who suffer in body and spirit the message of mercy from a God who is near…”

In context, this was yet another shot taken at the machinations within the Curia Romana and had the effect of bringing forward the candidacy of the Argentine cardinal as the new broom that would sweep out the stuff piling up in the Vatican’s corridors of power.  Again from Tornielli:

That is the moment when his candidacy crystallizes and many [cardinal electors] start to look at him.

And yet, this anti-Rome sentiment, which is also anti-Italian since the Curia is predominantly Italian from top to bottom, poses real governance problems for Francis:

Several American presidents have been elected on anti-Washington platforms, only to find that they need functioning levers of executive power to govern effectively.

And more to the point, Francis’ recent creation of new economic bureaucracies is much more than a re-shuffle of organizational boxes:

It centralizes power within and beyond the Vatican, putting yet another super-cabinet agency, the secretariat for the economy, alongside the much-maligned secretariat of state.

As Marxist doctrinaires would say, an inherent contraction.

But none of this touches directly on Catholic doctrine, it is merely a re-arrangement of organization charts and reporting lines.

Finally, under the heading of governance, the damned Vatican bank is baaaack.  As reported on March 11 in Il Fatto Quotidiano, the process for reforming the bank (“IOR”) has stalled.  The Vatican’s official spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, stated, after the roll-out of the economic entities, that the IOR (translated)

“…is not touched by this measure…”

A recently published book, Le Mani della Mafia [The Hands of the Mafia] by respected journalist Maria Antonietta Calabrò, reports that a special category of IOR accounts has become problematical and to date has not been resolved.

These so-called conti misti have been held in the bank by depositors whose identities remain undisclosed to date, and go back a few decades to the near-collapse of the IOR during the Banco Ambrosiano scandal; the low-lights:

$1.3 billion in missing assets;

The ‘assisted suicide’ of Banco Ambrosiano President Roberto Calvi;

$250 million paid by the Vatican as a settlement in 1986;

IOR bank president Archbishop Paul Marcinkus with diplomatic immunity beyond the reach of the polizia; etc.

So what?  Well, the Vatican is trying to restore the reputation of the IOR, to be in compliance with European Union standards of transparency and anti-laundering regulations.

But the apparent sticking point is whether IOR transactions prior to 2009 have to be disclosed to the Brussels regulators.

Stay tuned.

3.  Doctrine

A lot of the media commentary praises the pope for opening up for discussion some sensitive doctrinal issues, but avoids reaching conclusions about his future doctrinal direction.

This is not by happenstance:  it is very much in the Jesuit tradition to present issues for discussion through consultation, but to reserve eventual decisions for the ‘Provincial Superior’ or the order’s ‘Superior General’ (aka the Black Pope; nothing racial here, just a reference to the color of the prelate’s cassock).  Francis has criticized his own tenure as the Jesuits’ provincial superior for Argentina, citing his ‘authoritarianism’ and his failure to consult, in the face of difficult decisions during the terrible years of the military junta.

This is where the media should be focused, instead of engaging in the blatant cheerleading in evidence among a few American reporters.

Case in point:  the Rome-based reporter for a Boston daily headlined a recent article,

Pope Francis’s lay finance expert vows ‘no more scandals’”…

There is no mention of the very current mess involving the IOR, widely reported by Italian reporters in Il Fatto and Corriere della Sera, who are  actually working the story.

Yes, it is not easy to read the cards on the table, especially when they are dealt by someone as ‘scaltro’ (clever) as Papa Bergoglio.

But the lost art of reporting involves analysis that goes beyond fawning interviews and adulatory re-writes of press releases.         

So, what lessons should be remembered from Journalism 101, post Watergate?

a) Look for what may be hiding in plain sight, and keep an ear tuned for what is not being said; and

b) Do the hard work of ferreting out what is said by ‘sources close to X’, instead of reporting verbatim the self-serving blather of media-hungry cardinals.

What is hiding in plain sight is Francis’ manifest effort to avoid or postpone tough doctrinal issues.

As the second-oldest cardinal to come out of a conclave in the last 100 years, surely someone as shrewd as this pope must remember that tempus fugit.

He also knows that another elderly cardinal elected pope at age 77, Angelo Roncalli, announced in January, 1959 as Pope John XXIII, the convening of Vatican II less than three months after his election in October, 1958.  And there were no doubts beforehand about the enormous doctrinal content of this council, the first to be convened since the Italian army had conquered Rome in 1870, dispossessing Pope Pius IX of his temporal State.

To date, the pope’s major initiative on the doctrinal front is the Synod on the Family, to be convened in October of this year to address “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”

At present the front-burner issue for the Synod seems to be Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics: with all due respect, not something that has primacy over many other pelvic issues.

Among these peskier issues, contraception would certainly rank high, but Francis has made a point of praising Pope Paul VI’s disastrous encyclical pronouncement on contraception in 1968, Humanae Vitae, mentioning (as reported in his interview with Il Corriere della Sera) that in this area his predecessor’s “genius was prophetic.”

Pope Paul’s genius consisted in shelving the careful work of a commission of experts, including theologians, doctors and scientists, appointed by him to come up with a recommendation, endorsed – reportedly – by an overwhelming vote, and reporting that contraception was “not intrinsically evil.

But this recommendation was blocked by members of the Curia Romana, led by a cardinal from the hard right of the Vatican bureaucracy, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, acting head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time.

One of the best pieces of reporting on this turning point in Church history was a book by Robert Blair Kaiser, The Politics of Sex and ReligionKaiser was TIME’s bureau chief in Rome during the 60s, and the principal author of TIME’s 1962 Man of the Year story on Pope John.

Btw, After Humanae Vitae no other encyclical was issued by Pope Paul for the remaining ten years of his reign

Under the heading of what is not being said, or is merely uttered sotto voce, consider the front-burner issues of clergy sex abuse and the role of women.

With a major American diocese, Philadelphia, beset by clamorous trials involving allegations of clergy sex abuse in the 1990s, not ancient history, this matter is still topical.

Last December the pope named yet another commission “to study the sexual abuse crisis and to come up with a list of best practices” (Fr. Thomas Reese, National Catholic Reporter, February 7, 2014).  Now that the Vatican cannot duck the issue by claiming that it is an invention of the ‘secular media in the U.S.’ (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), why not save some effort and go to the real experts in the Church:

The American bishops who to date have paid out in settlements something in the order of $4 billion, according to press reports.

And on the role of women, the pope’s comments during his March 5 interview in the Corriere della Sera were decidedly abstract:

“…[The Church] is feminine is her origin…The Virgin Mary is more important than any bishop or any apostle…The theological deepening is in process.

But earlier, as reported by The Guardian, he was much more specific, stating that “the door is closed” on the ordination of women.

And what about signals from “sources close to His Holiness,” the time-honored way of floating trial balloons in Washington.

There is at least one possibility, which seems to have sailed over many journalistic heads:

Hints that the canon on clerical celibacy might be lifted, or softened.

Consider a few easily located sources on the Catholic beat:

In September of last year shortly after his nomination to be secretary of state, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin mentioned oh-so-casually that since priestly celibacy was an issue of ‘tradition’ and not of doctrine, it was something that might be re-visited.

And not to be forgotten, there is the episode in 2007, involving Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes who opined something along these lines, only to be silenced by then-Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone.

The full story is in an insightful book by John Thavis, The Vatican Diaries.

But, ancient history you say?  Not really.

Cardinals Hummes and Bergoglio sat next to one another in the 2013 conclave, and are considered to be the closest of friends.

And it is widely known in Rome that the Latin American episcopate is pressing hard for changes in the priestly celibacy rule.

As a Jesuit, Francis is probably familiar with the parting shot of a senior Jesuit who left the order some years ago with a resonant sound bite.

Fr. Jose Maria Diez-Alegria, prominent Jesuit and long-time professor of sociology at the Gregorian University in Rome was quoted as follows

“Celibacy for priests is a factory for madmen”

 

End Comment:  The Media; Mea Culpa

Having gone over the media coverage of Francis’ first year, two British publications have distinguished themselves from the general chorus of hosannahs, done some actual reporting, and voiced a few legitimate concerns:

Symmetrically, one on the left, The Guardian; and one on the right, The Economist.  Both quoted supra; kudos.

The Mea Culpa involves a phrase in my last blogpost, an oblique reference to the unlamented Joseph Goebbels; it should have read, “a former student at a Christian gymnasium.”  My bad.

A close quote, perhaps on point, by Prince Clemens Metternich, chancellor of the (very Catholic) Empire of Austria, and favorite of Henry Kissinger:

to misunderstand popular opinion is as dangerous as to misunderstand moral principles…

 

 

Render unto God the Things that are Caesar’s

Render unto God the Things that are Caesar’s

[March 6, 2014]

Overview

Last week Pope Francis released a motu proprio restructuring the economic and financial organizations within the Holy See, and creating:

A Council for the Economy; a consultative body headed by a Cardinal coordinator reporting to the Pope;

A Secretariat for the Economy; a supervisory body with jurisdiction over the administrative and financial institutions throughout the Holy See, headed by a Cardinal Prefect reporting to the Pope; and

An Auditor General; appointed by the Pope.

A motu proprio, ‘his own word’, is something like an administrative statement from the top; not quite an encyclical, a papal bull, or an exhortation; but very authoritative – think of it as a presidential Executive Order.

The media pick-up was extensive but shallow – mostly accolades rather than analysis very much needed when dealing with the Vatican’s financial and administrative power centers being reorganized by a subtle decider-in-chief who is unconstrained by parliamentary procedures.

There are at least five principal entities involved:

APSA, set up in 1967 as the holding entity for the Vatican’s financial portfolio;

AIF, the (would-be) regulator of financial activities within the Vatican, set up in 2010 in response to a history of money-laundering;

IOR, the Vatican Bank of song and legend, set up in 1942, and the catalyst for creating the AIF;

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs, set up in 1967 with oversight for the budgets of the Curia (congregations, i.e. departments); and

The Governorship of the State of the Vatican City, set up through the Lateran Pacts of 1929 with Fascist Italy to normalize the governance of sovereign Vatican territory within Italy.

The discussion below is focused on two key aspects of Francis’ historic management move, the Council for the Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy; followed by some end-comments.

The Motu Proprio

 

Foreword

Before you wander off to more important pursuits, probably thinking that this is inside-the-Vatican baseball with limited impact beyond the Leonine Walls which gird the Vatican, please keep in mind the following:

  • The Holy See is an absolute monarchy: no separation of powers, no troublesome checks and balances; its global reach includes 5,000 dioceses and 220,000 parishes over which Rome exercises authority, direct or de facto ownership, and tight management control;
  • The patrimonial value of the Holy See’s holdings is literally incalculable…what would the Pietà go for on eBay?  But the market value of its world-wide real estate is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe half a trillion (!); or euros, or Bitcoins; and
  • Its liquid portfolio is in the dozens of billions, probably comparable to the cash stash of Apple or Google (two secular empires also with global reach).

 

  One.  The Council for the Economy

 

This body

“…has the task of offering guidance on economic management and supervising the administrative and financial activities of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, of the Institutions connected to the Holy See, and of the Vatican City State.”

Coordinated by a cardinal, the Council will have 15 members consisting of eight collars and seven civilians.  It is worth parsing some of the words in its charter.  The scope of the Council’s domain is vast; it includes:

Twenty-one ‘dicasteries’, i.e. congregations, or departments of the Vatican government; and papal councils.

There is also mention of the ‘institutions connected’, a delightfully vague phrase which puts a semantic fig leaf over that well-connected institution whose name must not be mentioned, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione; yes, sigh, the Vatican Bank.

Sidebar on the bank:

Its history goes back to its establishment in 1942, as Mussolini’s fascist regime was beginning to disintegrate and smart local money was looking for an exit to Switzerland; throughout, the bank has had a direct-report relationship with the Pope, and has never been part of the Vatican Curia.  With such direct access, behind the scenes it has always been very influential, and without meaningful accountability within the Vatican government [not unlike Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency].

Lastly, there is mention of the “Vatican City State,” namely the Governorship of the Vatican City State.

The governorship is headed by a cardinal with oversight of property and activity within 105 acres of sovereign territory, as well as a few extra-territorial enclaves elsewhere in Italy.

It is worth recalling that the deputy governor’s memorandum of a few years ago to Pope Benedict, denouncing corruption, was one of the smoking guns during the Vatileaks scandal, and probably the catalyst for Benedict’s sudden resignation in February of last year.

The deputy governor, who imprudently put in writing what many made-members of the Curia knew, was rewarded for his efforts by being exiled to Washington D.C. where he now serves as the Papal Nuncio.

Guidance’ and ‘supervision’ are the operative words for the Council’s functions in the motu proprio.  Cynics might dismiss the importance of these functions, noting that ‘guidance’ issued from the Throne of St. Peter has been ignored for centuries, by clergy and laity alike; and super-vision could mean looking in from above, without the ability to grasp the inner workings.  Ah, those crafty Curiales.

But one must look at the charter of the next entity to realize that a radically new and powerful mechanism for what the organizational wizards call ‘deep-reach management’ has been created, the Secretariat for the Economy.

 

  Two.  The Secretariat for the Economy

 

The Secretariat is headed by a Cardinal Prefect already named, Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney.  The Secretariat is directed by the Pope to

“…undertake the economic audit and supervision of the Bodies [named above], along with the policies and procedures regarding procurement and the allocation of human resources.”

With a finely tuned ear one may pick up the sound of the OMGs ringing throughout the Curia, the connected institutions, and the Governatorato.

What commentators have grasped, correctly, is that this creates a super-department, a secretariat, where to date there has been only one such coordinating entity within the Vatican, the Secretariat of State.

And by media reports, it may be concluded that the secretariat’s capo, 6’3” Cardinal Pell, has the nuanced management style of his (Christian) namesake, George S. Patton, Jr.  Let’s hope that Pell will go through the frescoed Vatican corridors in the manner of General Patton’s Third Army knifing across France in the summer of 1944; as the general put it, like bleep through a goose.

The combination of budgetary, personnel and procurement control gives the secretariat the combined firepower of the U.S. executive branch’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB, [not OMG]); the Office of Personnel Management (OPM); and the General Services Administration (GSA).

However, the media have generally missed some vital aspects of this new order of things, through their failure to get beyond their cheer-leading, and do some actual analysis of the radical changes in the Vatican’s power flows.  Drilling down, here are some likely first-order consequences.

a)  The secretariat has the mandate to break up a little-known real estate empire nested within the Curia, the vast holdings of the legendary Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples commonly known as Propaganda Fide.

This ‘dicastery’ is nested quietly in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, conveniently offsite, with its own real estate portfolio probably worth over €50 billion (almost $70 billion at current exchange rates).

There have been recurring reports in the Italian press about sweetheart real estate deals between Propaganda Fide and favored friends and politicos.  But to date Propaganda Fide has been immune from outside interference or adult supervision.

Historical footnote about Propaganda Fide…About 80 years ago a former Jesuit seminarian from Germany’s Rhineland adopted some of the congregation’s evangelizing techniques for his home country, borrowing the word propaganda as the chosen name for his own government department created in Berlin circa 1933, the Ministry of Public Enlightment and Propaganda.

b)  In this new order of things, where is the center of gravity and control, Clergy or Laity?

Some media commentators have seized on this as the key issue, with one Rome-based American esperto reporting that to date money management has been in the hands of clergy lacking ‘formation’ in business management.

This is unhelpful, for two reasons:

It misses what is in plain site, the deliberate misdeeds of high-ranking Vatican prelates in recent history, as detailed below; and

It whitewashes these prelates, absolving them of responsibility for financial scandals that stretch from the recent past to the mid-1970s, at least.

Probably the worst money manager in the Curia was the late Archbishop Paul Marcinkus in the 1970s and 1980s; what he lacked in business ‘formation’ he made up for in sheer chutzpah, “you can’t run the Church on Hail Marys; and he ended up (a) costing the Vatican about $250 million in a settlement with aggrieved creditor/depositors (with pinky rings and large neck-sizes); and (b) living as a virtual prisoner in the Vatican until a deal was made to allow him safe passage through Italy to the U.S. and his last post as a parochial vicar in Scottsdale, AZ.

More recently, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, formerly a high-ranking official in APSA (the Vatican’s holding company), and since June of last year a guest of the Republic of Italy in a prison in Rome, after being nabbed with a suitcase containing €20 million at Rome’s Ciampino airport; handling financial matters for some of Italy’s richest families, the clever monsignore was not definitely not lacking in business ‘formation’.

Finally, say what you will about former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, through his iron control over the Vatican Bank he showed no lack of business ‘formation’,

Whether through his chosen staffer to follow the bank’s day-to-day operations, under secretary of state Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, who days after Pope Benedict’s announced resignation was promoted to archbishop, and sent quickly away from Rome to Bogotà as papal nuncio with diplomatic immunity; or

Cardinal Bertone’s hands-on supervisory role in the hiring and then ousting of the bank’s chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi (a lifer and senior executive of Spain’s Banco Santander, always close to Opus Dei).

Giving a pass to the Vatican’s clergy at the leadership level because of its lack of business ‘formation’ is to miss entirely the main point, or perhaps choose to overlook it.

c)  The secretariat also has effective control over the Congregation for the Clergy, and through this ‘dicastery’ may choose to have final say in the fate of some 220,000 parishes world-wide, including 17,000 in the U.S.

This new scope of authority vested in the secretariat may have enormous considerable significance.

Over the past decade the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has been mostly a rubberstamp for American diocesan bishops hell-bent (in the literal sense) on closing parishes and selling off churches, especially in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West where over 60% of U.S. faithful reside.  Essentially, the bishops in these areas are in full retreat, writing off what they view as the Catholic rustbelt, and downsizing to a comfortable life in upscale suburbs.  Catholic Boston’s pastoral planning trajectory since the quick exit of Bernard Law in 2002 has been from almost 400 parishes to a current level of about 288; and the current round of pastoral planning will reduce this further to 125 ‘collaboratives’ in a few years.

Clergy’ has been abetted in this by the Congregation for the Bishops, which is fiercely protective of the worthy prelates installed in the dioceses, after vetting and short-listing by ‘Bishops’ itself.

There are indeed a few cases where ‘Clergy’ has granted parishioners some relief by reversing the local bishop’s parish suppression decrees, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule, not new jurisprudence.

The eleven parish suppression decrees of Cleveland’s bishop reversed by ‘Clergy’ a few years ago, were a function of local circumstances – and I state this with direct knowledge.

But there is growing displeasure in Rome over the American ordinaries’ continuing destruction of the Catholic grass-roots presence through ‘pastoral planning’, the sham process for selecting parishes for suppression and churches for sell-offs (cfr. dozens of dioceses; notably Boston (supra), Philadelphia, Springfield MA, Allentown, Metuchen NJ, Saginaw MI, Greensburg PA, Youngstown, etc. etc.).

With its mandate to supervise…financial activities of the Dicasteries, and powered by vigorous leadership, the Secretariat for the Economy has clout to override the spreading systematic destruction of the Church’s spiritual infrastructure – parishes and churches – by American diocesan bishops.  This requires breaking the protective grip of the two congregations that have been enablers of parish destruction in the U.S. –  Clergy and Bishops.

Why would the secretariat engage in this?

What is the answer to the actor’s perennial question to the director, ‘what’s my motivation?”

The secretariat’s reason for asserting its authority over parish and church closings would be to resolve a fundamental contradiction in the governance of the Church:

The profound inconsistency between the objective of evangelizing, on the one hand; versus the American bishops’ ongoing campaign of destroying parishes and churches – the essential means for attaining the objective;

cfr. Vietnam during the Tet offensive of 1968, ‘we had to destroy the village to save it’.

End-Comments

It is naïve in the extreme to attribute the economic and financial dysfunction within the Vatican to innocent clerics manipulated by evil (lay) functionaries.  That is a trope used by apologists and media ‘experts’ in residence in Rome ought to know better.

In a recent Special Report on Tech Startups, The Economist gave a shout-out to “Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, [who] wrote down the principles of double-entry book-keeping as used by merchants in Venice in the late 15th century.”

Of course, double-entry book-keeping should not be confused with double book-keeping, something else that may probably originated in the Boot.

There is a deep tradition of financial savvy under the cassocks, going back for centuries.

It is not a matter of putting some cardinals and bishops through a quickie Finance 101 online tutorial; it is a matter of cleaning out what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger referred to as ‘filth in the Church’ shortly before the 2005 Conclave and his elevation to the Papacy.

The Vatican’s Money Game continues.

Just a couple of recent items, fresh from the 21st century:

Item #1

Italy’s respected daily, Corriere della Sera, reported a few weeks ago that the Vatican Bank has been linked by investigating prosecutors to the spectacular collapse of Monte dei Paschi (MdP), a Siena bank now in de facto receivership.  The facts, as always, are murky, but here are the essentials:

A few years ago Monte dei Paschi paid Banco Santander €9 billion to purchase Antonveneta bank, this just a few weeks after Santander had acquired Antonveneta for €6.6 billion.

So Santander cleared €2.4 billion (about $3.3 billion) in a few weeks.

According to Reuters  the Corriere article reported,

“…several sets of numbers it said identified IOR bank [Vatican bank] accounts used to transmit funds to Monte Paschi for the acquisition.  Prosecutors are looking into allegations that bribes were paid to secure the deal.”

Item #2

Just last week, according to a respected Vaticanista in Rome, there was a curious two-step involving the naming of the #2 official in the Secretariat for the Economy.

While Cardinal Pell was quickly named the prefect (CEO) of the secretariat, the key position of “prelate secretary general” i.e. the COO [Chief Operating Officer] had not yet been filled.

Days ago a prominent monsignore closely associated with Opus Dei let it be known – unofficially, but widely – that he was to be named as prelate secretary general.

So it must have come as a surprise to this worthy cleric that at the beginning of this week it was announced officially that the Pope’s personal secretary, Mons. Alfred Xuareb, would fill the post of COO.  The monsignore is from Malta.   Let’s hope he will be as sharp-eyed as local Maltese Falcons are reputed to be.

From a distance, all of this may strike some as office politics among celibate males.  Not so, this is deadly serious business involving an unrelenting fight over money, power and accountability.

There is an old joke that ran on Italian TV a few years ago after one of the bank’s scandale du jour and prompted a blast from the Vatican; abbreviated:

The Holy Trinity wins a quiz show, the prize – free trip anywhere.

God the Father opts for East Africa, “ancestral home of humankind.”

The Son picks Palestine, “grew up there, lived at home in Nazareth until I was 30.”

The Holy Spirit, “I’d like to go to the Vatican.”

The Emcee, “What, isn’t that a busman’s holiday for you?”

The Holy Spirit, “Haven’t been there in decades.”

Time for a visit.