The Guns of October have gone quiet in Rome after two rancorous weeks of debate at the recent Synod for the Family.
Putting aside the happy-talk of some credulous commentators (a vigorous airing of differences…a good start for next fall’s wrap-up session), the Synod’s deliberations revealed the depth of divisions at the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy.
The Pope Francis 18-month honeymoon is over and a new chapter begins.
Curiously, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s luna di miele lasted just about this long, from the Conclave of April, 2005 till his disastrous Regensburg Islam speech of September, 2006.
In time-honored Curia Romana fashion, when things become this acrimonious they are usually followed by apparently unrelated stories that are spun to the advantage of one of the contending parties. Not so long ago, the Vatileaks saga came on the heels of almost open rebellion against the regime of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s de facto prime minister, and was the catalyst for Pope Benedict’s resignation and Cardinal Bertone’s eventual firing.
Hard to predict what will happen next, but there are two quiescent stories worth noting that might get a new lease on life:
The unfinished travails of Monsignore Nunzio Scarano and Signor Jozef Wesolowski. These worthies, former senior officials of the Holy See, are currently under detention or house arrest, and are probably of great concern to the Vatican:
“Mr.” Jozef Wesolowski, the defrocked archbishop and former apostolic nuncio (aka the Holy See’s ambassador) to the Dominican Republic; and
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, formerly the chief accountant of the Apostolic Administration for the Patrimony of the Holy See, i.e. the holding company for most of the Holy See’s assets.
Mr. Wesolowski, no longer canonically entitled to the honorific of Most Reverend or Your Excellency, is either a guest of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary (i.e. the Pope’s prison), or perhaps detained by the same…depending upon whom you ask.
Mons. Scarano is under house arrest in Salerno, with pending charges of money laundering by the Italian government, having been arrested at Rome’s Ciampino airport in June, 2013, with €20 million in his briefcase, about $25 million. Mamma mia!
The Monsignore (Scarano)
In some ways, Scarano is more of a threat to the Holy See because he is not under its control. As a high-ranking official in the financial holding company APSA, he is alleged to have been at the heart of illicit funds transfers involving some very prominent names.
Don’t let your brother-in-law write any insurance policies on him:
The head of the long-gone Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi known as God’s Banker, was very connected to the Vatican, and was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
Initially ruled a suicide, 25 years later his death was found by an inquest to have been a murder. Call it an assisted suicide, if you wish.
Michele Sindona, also very plugged in to Vatican financial circles, ended up in prison and, while at a maximum security facility in northern Italy in 1986, sipped his morning espresso, screamed “mi hanno avvelenato [they have poisoned me]” and then left these earthly shores.
Monsignor Scarano’s machinations could put a face on the Vatican’s decades of financial imbrogli, if he chooses to talk (as he has publicly threatened, I vas jast followink ordahs), and if he lives long enough.
The Scarano story has gone quiet, but it has not gone away.
The Signore (Mr. Wesolowski)
I would not count on many of the Stateside Vatican ‘specialists’ to provide sharp investigative focus here.
Yes, on the national level there are enterprising reporters who in the midst of the downward spiral of print media provide enterprising coverage.
But at the metropolitan level, many reporters are essentially cheerleaders, principally concerned to maintain their access to the local hierarchy, touting their East Coast hometown cardinals as papabili (pope-worthy).
However, the Italian press is on the beat and continues to raise vexing questions.
Without recounting what is already out there about Wesolowski, a few things suggest that this situation continues to be explosive...it has legs.
Here is what remains under-reported:
The indecent haste with which the Vatican got Mr. W out of the Dominican Republic was remarkable. And later he was practically shanghaied off the streets of Rome (a few months ago) to get him into the 110 acres of the Santa Città del Vaticano, where the Vatican’s gendarmi (the police, not the Swiss Guards) promptly arrested him, thus keeping him out of the hands of the authorities of Italy, the DR, and his home country Poland.
Another aspect not widely reported was the peculiar canonical way in which special judicial procedures were cobbled together by the Vatican to make him extradition-proof. Message, he’s ours, don’t even think of getting him into your jurisdiction.
The greatest risk to the Vatican here is NOT yet another case of clergy sex abuse, although this is no ordinary tale about an errant priest. The allegations involve a senior diplomat of the Holy See, who perhaps was a member of a highly organized international pedophile ring. However, the real problem for the Vatican is that W was a ranking employee of the Holy See as one of its’ ambassadors, and as such the failure of his superiors in the Secretariat of State to supervise him MIGHT open up the Holy See itself to the child endangerment charges that have put several American dioceses into bankruptcy.
Legal sidebar. Yes, there is a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that shields foreign governments from American lawsuits. Yet this legislation does provide some cracks in the wall of protection around sovereign states with full diplomatic relations with the U.S. Ironically the purpose of FSIA, as enacted in 1976, was to make major oil-producing governments fair game for American anti-trust lawsuits, and damages.
Disclosure. Yours truly served on a task force that recommended this legislation. Yes, it seemed like a good idea at the time. In any event, FSIA remains on the books. Beware of the law of unintended consequences.
Hard-core pedophiles don’t just suddenly turn into monsters well past the age of 60; W was 66 when arrested. Someone may be looking carefully at his behavior in past diplomatic assignments, notably:
His diplomatic posting in some of the “Stans,” the heavily Muslim former Soviet Socialist Republics in Asia; and
In parallel with his “service” in the DR, his travels to other island nations in the Caribbean, as well as trips to Puerto Rico as the Apostolic Delegate (but not ‘nuncio’), where any serious allegations could bring him into the orbit of the U.S. legal system.
Two U.N. panels are putting the Holy See in the spotlight by holding hearings on the Convention on torture (where sex abuse is considered one form of torture), and the Convention on the rights of the child (to which the Holy See is a signatory).
The Holy See has shown a special sensitivity to these U.N. proceedings.
Last December, with suitable fanfare the Holy See announced the formation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley. The National Catholic Reporter elaborated,
“…tasked with advising the pontiff on safeguarding children from sex abuse…”
“Announcement of the new commission comes amid news earlier this week that the Vatican had refused to provide information requested by a United Nations committee about how the church handles investigations into sex abuse by priests.”
The commission’s secretary (essentially the chief operating officer) is the Rev. Robert Oliver, formerly Cardinal O’Malley’s canonical adviser on Boston.
But after almost one year, not much has happened:
“Offices are still being remodeled…adding new members [board directors, sort of] to its original line-up of eight” (www.cruxnow.com posted on November 19, 2014).
Curious that Cardinal O’Malley made himself available for a 60 Minutes segment a few days ago, after one year of effort by CBS to get him on the show. The question no one seems to be asking is:
Perche’ adesso? Why now?
Is it damage control after the fiasco of the Synod?
Is it an official admonition from the Pope’s closest North American councilor on the Gang of Eight or Nine, to dissident American cardinals (Burke, Malta), archbishops (Chaput, Philly) and bishops (Tobin, Providence)?
Is there an expectation of another round of clergy sex abuse allegations, perhaps in the U.S.?
In this brave new era of Pope Francis, it is worth repeating (ancora ona volta) the comment of Alexis de Toqueville:
The most dangerous moment for a bad government is usually when it begins to reform itself.