Yesterday, Sunday November 23, the Boston Globe ran a six-column banner headline on its front page,
…”Top Vatican prosecutor failed to report defrocking of Chicago’s Rev. McGuire”
“A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years…”
(Here we go again, sigh.)
The prelate in question is the Rev. Robert Geisinger, a Jesuit, now the Vatican’s chief prosecutor handling clergy sex abuse cases that reach the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, lineal descendant of the Inquisition Office. Link to the Globe article infra.
There are some curious angles to the Globe story
1. The Globe’s parent company, Boston Globe Media, recently launched a website on all things Catholic with great fanfare: Crux Now.
From the website, About Crux:
“Crux strives to cover the worldwide institution of the Roman Catholic Church, from the papacy to the hierarchy to local dioceses…”
Which raises an obvious question, how will Crux affect the Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Boston.
Well, now we know…
Crux has been mostly a cheer-leader for the hierarchy, with soft-focus coverage of Boston’s Cardinal Seàn O’Malley, including his participation at the Crux launch event.
Meanwhile, the Globe resumes its’ honorable tradition of hard-nosed reporting, without fear or favor.
And with yesterday’s front-page article, the Globe scoops other media (including its affiliate Crux) with a real Catholic news story which has had extensive attributed pick-up nationally.
Was this story too rough for the Globe’ s cousins at Crux?
2. In the Globe story on Geisinger, an attempt was made to contact the cardinal, but,
“…O’Malley declined to answer questions about Geisingers’s future…”
And yet Boston’s cardinal is the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide czar for clergy sex abuse as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, with a vested interest in the prompt, vigorous and transparent handling of alleged clerical malefactors.
And only one week ago, O’Malley made headlines on CBS by throwing under the bus one of his fellow bishops, Kansas City – St, Joseph’s Robert Finn.
When the reporter asked the cardinal about Bishop Finn’s fitness to serve in KC, O’Malley agreed that Finn would not qualify as a teacher in the Archdiocese of Boston under child protection guidelines! And he added, re Finn’s fate,
“It’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently…we’re looking at how the church could have protocols on how to respond when a bishop has not been responsible for the protection of children in his diocese.” Quoth the raven, nevermore.
Well then, on 60 Minutes His Eminence did not hesitate to wade into a matter that is still sub judice in Rome – essentially a grand jury probe of Finn through a formal canonical Apostolic Visitation.
But in the matter of the Globe’s story about Geisinger’s fitness as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clergy child abuse cases, O’Malley goes MIA, and his spokesman ducks by “…referr[ing] questions to the Holy See.”
Another deer.in.the.headlight moment for Boston’s cardinal.
3. Geisinger’s title at the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith is Promoter of Justice (P/J).
From my own more-than-casual experience with appeals to Rome, the P/J is all-important:
He (always a “he”) functions as coordinator of the Roman Curia’s review of the appeal, conferring with advocates for the contending parties, framing the issues to be briefed, ruling on what is (and is NOT) relevant, setting deadlines and eventually (perhaps after a few years) issuing a “voto” (opinion) on how the appeal should be decided.
Given that each case generates several hundred pages of acta (documentation), the P/J’s 4-5 page voto for the busy cardinals and bishops who decide the appeal carries a lot of weight.
4. Finally, the consequences of clergy sex abuse across Catholic America are still with us, almost 13 years after the Globe (yes!) broke the story in Boston on January 6, 2002, with another banner headline, actually eight columns wide rather than six in those more expansive days. Some straws blowin’ in the wind:
There are hundreds of abuse claims that may push into bankruptcy the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (‘SPAM’). Having posted for FY-2014 an operating loss of $9 million against revenues of $25.5 million , SPAM is considering a bankruptcy filing. Per the diocesan CFO, bankruptcy,
“…may be an option…it’s being considered with fairness to the victims [of clergy sex abuse] in mind…” Associated Press, November 20,2014.
Also, as reported a few weeks ago on November 5 by a very enterprising international Catholic blog, Global Pulse Magazine [not to be confused with Global Post], Rockville Centre’s Bishop William Murphy is urging NY Catholics to
“…oppose a bill designed to protect sexually abused children, saying the [NY State bill] unfairly penalizes the Catholic Church.”
As a high-ranking alumnus of the regime of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, when it comes to clergy sex abuse Long Island’s Murphy certainly knows his stuff.
According to a report prepared by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly after Law’s sudden and stealthy flight from Boston, between 1993 and 2001 the Most Rev. William Murphy was the Boston Archdiocese’s Vicar for Administration, functionally its prime minister – with all cabinet officials reporting to Murphy, and Murphy reporting directly to Law.
Bernie Law’s 18 years in Boston culminated in the detonation of the scandal, and have made the Archdiocese the poster child for clergy sex abuse in the U.S. (a malignancy that has now gone global; no longer a Made in the USA phenomenon as Euro cardinals opined at the time).
Back to Bishop Murphy: it doesn’t seem smart PR to put him out there as the face of resistance to child protection legislation in New York State someone who was Boston’s de facto Executive VP for half of those terrible Law years.
It appears that the issue of clergy sex abuse in the U.S. has not – by any means – run its course.
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Top Vatican prosecutor failed to report abuser
By Michael Rezendes GLOBE STAFF
The Boston Globe
Nov 23 2014
A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years… read more…
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.
Media Reports about Pope’s Health:
Diligent Reporting or Duping of the Press?
(June 24, 2014)
During the past week there have been sporadic reports about health issues besetting the Pope.
One of the most prominent reports was a posting in The Daily Beast which is owned by media giant InterActiveCorp, and is a widely followed new-media electronic publication with expert reporters.
On June 17 its Rome-based contributor, Barbie Latza Nadeau, posted an article titled,
Why is Pope Francis Canceling Events?
Rumors are swirling that Pope Francis is ill after the Vatican canceled all of his July audiences and daily Mass.
But over the following week it was hard to find much pick-up of this story from other media.
Predictably, The Drudge Report ran the item, but not very prominently.
However, frequent scanning of several Italian newspapers with well-informed Vaticanisti reporters has not yielded corroboration of the Daily Beast item:
Not from La Stampa, known for its close focus coverage of the Vatican;
Not from Corriere della Sera, Italy’s highly respected newspaper of record;
Not even from La Repubblica on the center-left, whose founder/publisher Eugenio Scalfari (an avowed atheist) had a remarkable exchange of correspondence with the Pope last summer.
And on June 21, the Pope made headlines during his trip to Calabria. La Repubblica reported that during that trip he excommunicated anyone belonging to the infamous regional version of the Mafia, the ‘ndrangheta:
“[translated] they [the’ndrangheta members] are not in communion with God, they are excommunicated.”
OMG, and no irony intended. This form of excommunication is by latae sententiae, i.e. through a publicly promulgated sentence that comes into force automatically if it fits the transgressor, meaning that decrees do not have to be served – if you qualify, you are out. This is how Pope Pius XII excommunicated any and all members of the Italian communist party in the late 40s; it would have been too unwieldy (and expensive) to send out individual letters to each of the two million plus card-carrying members.
Meanwhile the Pope’s trips continue: preparations are underway for his viaggio to Campobasso (Campania) and to Isernia (Molise) in early July.
So WTF gives?
Is the Pope’s busy summer schedule consistent with the ominous overtones of the Daily Beast report, rumors of the Pope being ill…cancellation of all July audiences?
Admittedly he is 77 years old, seems to tire easily, and has bulked up over the past year by as much as 20 lbs – according to some reports.
But his pace of activity has not slowed down by much:
The local trips in Italy in June and in July, mentioned above.
And international travel to hot spots over the summer:
South Korea in mid August and Albania in September.
Neither trip will be a walk in the park
Travel to South Korea qualifies as long-range, with the stresses of the local summer heat as well as the risks of coming uncomfortably close to the most lunatic regime on the face of the earth just north of Seoul – in easy artillery range of Kim Jong-un’s military machine.
Albania might qualify as domestic travel since it is in fact closer to Rome than Sicily is, but Albania is a turbulent country with a restive Moslem population, and serves as one of the springboards for illegal immigration from the Middle East and South Asia, transiting through the Balkans and Albania into Italy and thus landing inside the European Union.
Not an easy schedule of events for the visiting Pope who will have to address the vexing issue of immigration during this trip, something which our elected officials in D.C. cannot get around to, these days.
Given the soaring popularity of Pope Francis, what is one to make of a potentially serious papal Health Warning that is met with the most lethal media treatment of all – indifference?
As discussed below, we may be going back to maneuvers by disgruntled factions within the Roman Curia, who are launching a subtle and orchestrated campaign of ‘concern’ about the Pope’s well-being.
Hence it might be useful to give The Daily Beast item a closer look, zeroing in on the reporter’s sources and the news hook derived from these sources.
There are three on-the-record individuals quoted, and the news hook is the curtailing of the Pope’s summer schedule
Edward Pentin is the first named source,identified as a “longtime Vatican correspondent.” He is quoted as saying,
“Some in the Vatican are beginning to openly discuss concerns about Francis’ conditions.”
Mr. Pentin is currently the Rome correspondent of the National Catholic Register, which is NOT to be confused with the National Catholic Reporter. The slant of the Register is clearly on the right wing, indeed the hard-right edge when it comes to doctrinal and social issues within the Church.
Dr. Peter Hibbert (not further identified) is the second named source, and is quoted as telling Newsmax:
“His [the Pope’s] repeated fatigue reports and weight gain suggest that he may be slipping into a form of chronic heart failure common among victims of significant lung disorders.”
It is entirely safe to assume that Dr. Hibberd is not one of the Pope’s attending physicians, otherwise the quote would be way out of bounds…even by World Cup refereeing standards.
While it may legit for the doctor to speculate on what could afflict a 77-year old who had a cyst removed from a lung almost six decades ago (more below), it is dubious for Ms. Nadeau to throw onto the web the doctor’s very speculative suggestion about chronic heart failure.
This is compounded by the reporter’s own comment, just after she quotes the doctor:
“There are no reports whether the pope has been forced to use an inhaler.”
Yep, and there are no reports of quadruple or quintuple coronary bypasses, either.
Perhaps she means, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in another context,
“absence of evidence [of inhalers] is not evidence of absence.”
Two additional circumstances might give pause to the reader:
The comments by Dr. Hibberd had already been reported on May 24, posted on a website bearing the curious handle ‘propheciesoftheendoftimes.com’, (which has nothing to do with the Red Sox performance this year).
Also, Dr. Hibberd’s surname is just one consonant away from the surname of a recurring character on The Simpsons, Dr. Hibbert.
As Marge Simpson might say, hmmm.
Finally, Cardinal Telesphonre (sic, should be Telesphore) Placidus Toppo is quoted in the Daily Beast posting as saying, after spending time with the Pope,
“I honestly do not know how long he might be able to sustain this pace.”
As cardinal-archbishop of Ranchi, India, it may be assumed that this prelate’s day job keeps him busy and away from frequent contact with the Pope.
So one may wonder how often and how recently il cardinale has had the opportunity to observe il Papa.
The reporter picked up the cardinal’s comment about the Pope’s fatigue from an Italian newspaper, Il Libero. So far so good.
However, Il Libero’s reporting and the quote attributed to the Indian cardinal referred to a Mass concelebrated by the Pope and the cardinal “last summer,” i.e. in 2013, just a few months after the initial euphoria of the March, 2013 conclave, perhaps followed by a let-down.
More to the point, Il Libero is on the ridiculous right of the Italian political spectrum, with a tinge of nostalgia for the Italian monarchy which was voted out in the 1946 referendum.
So much for sourcing.
The News Hook: the Pope’s Summer Schedule
According to Ms. Nadeau, the announced curtailment of the Pope’s summer schedule involves suspending his Wednesday audiences and “skipping his daily Mass at Casa Santa Marta.”
If read too rapidly, this might seem to suggest that the Pope is skipping daily Mass altogether, but this is not the case.
What the Vatican Information Service posted on June 16 reads,
“The morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae will be suspended during the summer.”
Which simply means that the Pope will be celebrating his daily Masses elsewhere.
Furthermore, it is widely known in Rome that the Santa Marta Masses have become burdensome, with prelates in residence jockeying to bring in family and friends to attend a private Papal Mass.
Less widely known, the Pope’s curial staff has a real fear of his a braccio (off-the-cuff) comments, some of which have come from the Santa Marta Masses.
A very recent example of the staff’s well-founded fear happened during his Calabria trip on June 21, with La Repubblica’s Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli reporting that the Pope’s phrase excommunicating the ‘ndrangheta members was not in the Pope’s prepared remarks distributed a short time before he began to speak
And finally, the Sunday noon Angelus in Piazza San Pietro is still on the Pope’s summer schedule.
More generally, a summer slowdown is not unusual for Rome, or indeed for the entire Mediterranean Basin.
Which is why the eruption of Vesuvius, in August towards the beginning of a by-gone millennium, caught so many vacationing Romans at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
In fact it is traditional for the Roman Curia to downshift, starting on June 29, the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, and then idling through the summer until il grande rientro in early September.
Some Vatican dicasteries go through the motions of being in business during July, but come August 1, in the words on Noel Coward,
“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”
No one else ventures outside.
Speculation aside, there are two papal trips scheduled within Italy, one recently completed and the other one imminent:
To Cassano all’Jonio (Calabria) on June 21; and
To Campobasso (Campania) and Isernia (Molise) in early July.
Having spoken very recently to someone involved in the preparations for the upcoming Isernia trip, it is business-as-usual with the advance work.
Deo volente, we will soon have an opportunity to see whether the Pope is on the road again.
So what have we here? A few distinct possibilities:
Reporting by the new-media, which stretches their coverage beyond the limits of legitimate inference, and doesn’t hold up enough for the mainstream media outlets to pick up; or,
The other side of this coin, namely an enterprising new-media reporter working hard with disjointed sources on a big story, which is then ignored by the legacy media fuddy-duddies; or,
Maybe something else: naïve reporters being played by Vatican bureaucrats through intermediaries on the far edges of the media, all part of a subtle campaign of dezinformatsia (disinformation, one of the favorite media weapons of the KGB during the Cold War).
Consider this: in his indispensable book published recently, Inside the Jesuits (available now on Amazon) veteran Rome watcher Robert Blair Kaiser writes:
“Just before the conclave of 2013 [which elected Cardinal Bergoglio], Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez heard the story during dinner one night – that Bergoglio only had one lung. Suspecting this was a little pre-conclave propaganda…he…told Bergoglio. Bergoglio laughed. “Forget it” he said. “I once had a cyst on my lung [when he was in his late teens]. They removed it and that was that.”
And that is how the game is played in the Curia Romana.
Before dismissing the dezinformatsia hypothesis, keep in mind that the proximate cause of Pope Benedict’s sudden resignation was a superbly orchestrated campaign implemented through the Italian media – Vatileaks.
That episode involved much more than the butler and an IT technician, who took the fall for what happened.
Hundreds of classified documents flew off Benedict’s desk and ended up in the Italian press, moving through a metaphorical conveyor belt of leaks.
The ‘butler’ had a copying machine installed in his small apartment, located inside the 108-acre Vatican City State.
In retrospect, the Vatileaks episode was the public tip of the iceberg, a fierce under-the-surface power struggle within the Vatican that has not ended with Benedict’s resignation of 2013.
One of the recent gems from Pope Francis Unplugged, i.e. his candid comments to the media on return flights to Rome, came as he chatted for 40 minutes while headed back from the Holy Lands almost a month ago.
He covered a wide variety of topics, and gave his reaction to a pointed question about the ongoing financial scandal involving the Vatican Bank (sigh, here we go again), and accusations against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone regarding a €15 million loss by the Vatican Bank’s.
As reported in La Repubblica on May 27, the Pope said [translated from the Italian],
“The question of these 15 million [euros, about $20 million] is still under study, it is not yet clear what happened.”
This was not a ringing vote of confidence in the former prime minister of the Vatican who held office for seven turbulent years, 2006 through 2013, and was effectively without adult supervision, given the detached management style of Pope Benedict.
During the summer of 1978 three-and-a half decades ago, we had a newly elected pope who put forward a reform agenda that did not sit well with many Curia Romana bureaucrats. And, surprise, there were credible background statements about an imminent shake-up of the Vatican Bank.
The successor to the Throne of St. Peter at the time, Albino Luciani, was 67 years old when he began his papacy, but his reign lasted all of 33 days. Perhaps his most memorable statement during his time in office:
“I have noticed two things that appear to be in short supply in the Vatican;
honesty and a good cup of coffee.”
There are striking similarities between the Vatican today and the Soviet Politburo of the early 1980s, so it is worth considering the dezinformatsia alternative.
After all, we are dealing with:
Faith-based systems of global reach, each with a doctrinal enforcer at the top:
Politburo Voting Member Mikhail Suslov and prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Gerhard Mueller;
Gerontocracies with no room for women at the higher levels of governance;
Monolithic unanimity on doctrine when facing the outside world, but under the surface fierce tensions;
Tight control over the public message (Pravda and L’Osservatore Romano), but with a hidden war of leaks and innuendoes – Samizdat and Vatileaks;
And would-be reformers ‘of-a-certain age’ in marginal health, trying to restructure the system; remember Yuri Andropov of the KGB, plugged into his dialysis machine for most of his 15-month tenure as secretary general of the central committee of the party, i.e. El Supremo of the Soviet Union?
Anyway…putting aside facile comparisons, the media ecosystem enveloping the Vatican is somewhat unique; it ranges from the mainstream, to the specialized Vaticanisti reporters, to talented stringers, to the blogosphere, and finally to a peculiar species: the small “news services”
I don’t mean the well-known news services you might imagine, AP, Reuters, ANSA, Agence France Press, and the like, who provide excellent coverage. I mean ‘news services’ that are not much more than one guy or one gal with a laptop.
And they sustain themselves either with the not-very transparent support of stake-holders (i.e. the Legion of Christ and that ilk), or by feeding off the swarms of journalists that descend on Rome when there is a sudden surge of interest in the Vatican:
A papal illness, a conclave, a consistory, a scandal a la Vatileaks, or even a papal flub (no shortage of those under the reign of the Pope Emeritus).
When the Vatican is suddenly newsworthy for assignment editors, dozens if not hundreds of generalist media types from print and electronic outlets land in Rome, all of them under acute pressure to file something new against tight deadlines.
For the Americans, this means being six to nine hours away from the home office time-zones, so the editing back-and-forth goes on until 3:00 am or 4:00 am Rome time. Strenuous.
And the competition can be fierce: there were thousands of media men and women accredited by the Vatican’s Ufficio Stampa, all after the same story (who will win?) during the March, 2013 conclave.
That is when some of the jet-lagged media visitors discover the local boutique news services. And that is how stories move from a solitary laptop in Rome to the front pages of an East Coast daily.
‘Cognitive dissonance’ is a familiar buzz phrase from Psychology 101, the discomfort that comes from harboring contradictory thoughts.
But this is probably the price of admission for following the drama of the Bergoglio papacy as it unfolds, and as information flows through a strange network of sources and intermediaries before it comes into the public view through clueless media.
The only safe conclusion is that the power struggles inside the Vatican continue.
As concerned American Catholics watch events unfold in Rome, it is important to have one’s BS detector carefully calibrated, because even an apparently straightforward piece of information may be the result of manipulators lurking off-stage, even when the information might in fact be accurate.
Elvis sang memorably about Suspicious Minds, and perhaps this mind-set is appropriate as the Pope takes on the Vatican’s special interests.
However, there is a gray zone between healthy suspicion and raging paranoia.
One of the textbook illustrations of this came during the Congress of Vienna, convened to reorganize Europe after the Napoleonic era.
During the proceedings, the Russian ambassador keeled over – dead.
The cynical mastermind of the post-Napoleon age was Austria’s Prince Metternich, Europe’s leading diplomat and the acknowledged role model for Henry Kissinger. When Metternich was informed of the Russian ambassador’s death he muttered:
“I wonder why he did that.”
Clergy sex abuse costs in America, 2004 through 2013: $3 billion and counting
The 2013 Annual Report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Implementation of the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People, was released in mid-March. It includes an appendix by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research for the Apostolate (CARA) – a Survey of Allegations and Costs related to clergy sex abuse for the period 2004 through 2013.
The Georgetown CARA data are the most comprehensive presentation of clergy sex abuse costs incurred throughout Catholic America by dioceses, by Eastern Rite eparchies, and by major religious orders (‘Conference of Major Superiors of Men’).
Responses in the most recent survey were received from 194 out of 195 dioceses and eparchies (the Diocese of Lincoln NE did not respond); and from 155 out of 215 ‘clerical and mixed religious institutes’.
Yet to my knowledge this has had very little pick up in the mainstream media; strange because it is certainly not ancient history, as discussed below.
Makes one wonder what dozens of religion correspondents on the Catholic beat are up to these days, besides cheer-leading.
From CARA’s detailed tabulations covering the past ten years, some fascinating data come into focus. Major findings are presented and discussed below.
Aggregate costs relating to clergy sex abuse for the period 2004 through 2013, incurred by dioceses, eparchies and major religious orders for men, totaled more than $3 billion.
If there is any bias in this reported total, it would be to understate the amounts because the methodology was self-reporting by the dioceses (etc.: i.e. the eparchies and the religious orders)
Also, the exclusion of costs incurred prior to 2004 leaves out of the total of $3 billion the significant outlays made by dioceses (etc.) during the 1980s, the 1990s and the early years of the new millennium. For almost twenty years, beginning with reports of clergy sex abuse in Louisiana in 1984, the issue remained mostly under the media radar.
In 1992 Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law blasted The Boston Globe for reporting on allegations involving the notorious Fr. James Porter, serving at the time in the Diocese of Fall River:
“By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.”
God’s intervention turned out to be complex: in mid-1992 a new bishop was installed in Fall River, Sean Patrick O’Malley, who in due course has become the Church’s go-to prelate on the issue, world-wide.
The turning point for the mainstream media occurred on January 6, 2002, the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Globe’s Spotlight Team began its series on clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese, and the issue went national.
It took the Globe about a decade to respond, bringing to mind Tony Soprano’s mangled version of an old Sicilian proverb,
Revenge is like servin’ a dish of cold cuts.
(cfr. with the original: Revenge is a dish best served cold.)
Incidentally, the weight of the $3 billion fell entirely upon the Americans dioceses (etc.), and through them upon the faithful. When a ranking prelate went to Rome in 2003 to seek financial support, he was practically laughed out of the Eternal City. A friend of mine in the Curia told me that Catholic money flows are like the transatlantic jet stream, moving from North America to Europe, not the other way around.
Most of the $3 billion in costs consisted of settlements with (alleged) victims; these settlements amounted to slightly more than $2 billion.
Settlements are just that, payments made to the plaintiffs without any court findings or admissions of guilt.
So it would be technically inaccurate to describe the plaintiffs as victims without the mealy-mouthed qualifier, ‘alleged’.
Which leaves one with the baffling notion that – to mention a couple of prominent cases – settlements of $660 million by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007, or $85 million by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, were not admissions of fault by the hierarchy, but simply efforts to spare all concerned the heartbreak of prolonged litigation (or psoriasis).
There is a common misperception that when settlements are announced, these account for all diocesan (etc.) costs related to clergy sex abuse. Not so, continue reading.
Almost $1 billion of payments related to clergy sex abuse in the period 2004-2013 ($960 million) were NOT settlements with alleged victims; instead, think of this one billion dollars as ‘software costs’; the major categories within this total included:
$433 million:Attorney fees, i.e. outside counsel for the hierarchy;
$259 million:Child protection programs;
$141 million:“Support for Offenders” (sic).
The $433 million for attorneys representing the dioceses, etc:
a) Do NOT involve attorneys for the alleged victims;
b) Do NOT include provision for inside chancery lawyers much of whose time was taken up with clergy abuse litigation; and
c) Do NOT include the sizable legal expenses related to the nine Catholic dioceses who have filed for bankruptcy since 2002, including Cardinal Tim Dolan’s former See of Milwaukee.
Child protection programs
The cumulative total over ten years has been more than a quarter of a billion dollars, $259 million; but over the past three years this category has soared from $22.5 million in 2010 to almost twice that amount in 2013, $41.7 million. And now this is probably an embedded cost, averaging out to $200 thousand per year per diocese and eparchy.
Support for Offenders
This $141 million category is something of an eye-catcher; the words are drawn verbatim from the CARA report where the category is defined as “including therapy, living expenses, legal expenses, etc.” for offenders, i.e. those against whom allegations have been presented.
To put in perspective this total of $141 million, a separate CARA category of Payments for Victims of $78 million was slightly more than half of the $141 million shelled out for Offenders.
The number of victims coming forward each year has decreased from the peak of 1,083 in 2004 to a level of 457 in 2013.
The national media clamor began in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002-2003, with the flight of Cardinal Law to Rome a brief exile in Maryland, and then a prestigious Vatican post; the installation of then-Archbishop O’Malley in July, 2003; and Boston’s settlement of $85 million with 552 alleged victims announced in the fall of 2003.
Going beyond 2003 it might have been reasonable to expect that in subsequent years new claims would come forward quickly, peak, and then – in a few years – drop, or deteriorate into more dubious allegations.
However, two factors have worked against the notion that after a ‘decent interval’, say by 2010, the worst of the storm would have passed for the dioceses, eparchies and religious orders:
a) By CARA’s tabulations, the credibility of the allegations brought forward in the past five years (2009 to 2013) has remained high, at or above 83% for dioceses and eparchies; at or above 89% and above for religious orders; and
b) For dioceses and eparchies, the percentage of alleged perpetrators with ‘prior allegations’ has held steady over the ten-year period 2004-2013, at or above 55% (at 56% in 2013), while for religious orders the percentage of those with ‘priors’ has surged over the past five years, from 35% in 2009 to 63% in 2013.
For the most recent five-year period reported by CARA, 2009 through 2013, the yearly average number of allegations has been slightly over 500:
Thus by the metrics of credibility (as judged by CARA) and the incidence of prior abusers, these 2,500+ allegations brought forward (as reported by CARA during the period 2009-2013) represent an active inventory of ‘credible’ claims hanging over dozens of dioceses, etc.
Moreover, the cost of clergy sex abuse has gone up.
Boston’s $85 million settlement in 2003 was greeted with gasps of disbelief at the amount of money involved; by simple arithmetic this settlement averaged out to $154 thousand per alleged victim.
Yet LA trumped this by more than a factor of eight less than four years later, with the announcement of a $660 million settlement by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles covering 508 alleged victims, averaging about $1.3 million each.
Who says that Franciscans are not good with money?
The chanceries of the dioceses (etc.) juggling these 2,500+ active claims now pending must be doing their own arithmetic of the future liability, the probable costs of settling to keep things out of the limelight, and how to raise the many millions needed to settle.
As a baseline, assuming that these 2,500+ claims break evenly among large, medium and small dioceses; and assuming that settlement costs range from $1 million per victim for large dioceses, to $500 thousand for mid-sized ones, and $300 thousand for small ones,
the resultant total is $1.5 billion for future settlements covering 2009-2013 claims.
Add to that settlement total another $750 million in ‘software costs’, i.e. diocesan attorneys, child protection programs and offender payments, and there is a future aggregate liability well in excess of $2 billion in the years ahead.
Moreover, this total makes no allowance for claims coming forward in 2014 and beyond.
From my own peculiar vantage point, assisting parishioners who are ready to challenge the bishops’ decisions to merge (extinguish canonically) parishes, deconsecrate (lock up and eventually sell) churches, what is puzzling is the fact that in many dioceses throughout Legacy Catholic America (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West where about 63% of U.S. Catholics live), the pace of parish and church closings is actually increasing:
Boston, Camden, Chicago, Fall River, Greensburg, Indianapolis,Metuchen, New York, Norwich, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Saginaw, Scranton, Youngstown.
And the recurring question I hear is:
Why? Why us? Our parish is vibrant, what’s the point? It makes no sense…
Well, frequently when something makes no sense it means that you are missing a vital piece of the puzzle. Here’s a view:
In Legacy Catholic America, the bishops are in full retreat, under the cover of evangelization. But how do you evangelize when you destroy the infrastructure needed for grassroots outreach, and – in the process – alienate your base?
And why are parishes and schools going into the dustbin of history, closed and for-sale?
There is no one-size-fits-all explanation, given the multitude of complex factors at work. However, one of the major causes of the ongoing Catholic implosion is the acute financial pressure in several dioceses (etc.) from the $3 billion already paid out, and the current inventory of 2,500+ clergy sex abuse claims.
Circling back to the Archdiocese of Boston, to date the poster child for dysfunction in Catholic America, but soon to be overtaken by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:
At the expiration of the last Millennium, Boston’s archdiocese had a network of 400 parishes;
When Archbishop O’Malley was installed in 2003, this was down to 360;
Today there are about 290 parishes; and
And in two years at the conclusion of the current round of pastoral planning, the Catholic presence in this historic diocese will shrink to 125 ‘collaboratives’.
And remember this:
In Catholic America what happens in Boston does not stay in Boston.
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.
One Year and Counting; Wassup?
[March 18, 2014]
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
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  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.
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 Religion. Kaiser 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…”