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The Church is the loser in this ugly war between Vatican officials

A fierce internal battle in the Roman Curia has spilled into the public square

By on Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Pope addresses Curial officials in the Clementine Hall (AP)

The Pope addresses Curial officials in the Clementine Hall (AP)

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Borgias have returned to the Vatican. Consider what has happened in the past few weeks: a fierce internal battle in the Roman Curia has spilled into the public square.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, is desperately trying to defend his position while being besieged by many who want him to resign. His enemies appear to be led by the “old guard” who were ousted after the departure of Cardinal Bertone’s predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The “Viganò affair” – in which letters alleging internal corruption written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then a Vatican official, were leaked – is just the tip of the iceberg. But the affair shows the preferred weapons in this fight: smear campaigns in the Italian media, confidential letters sent to anti-clerical journalists and damaging behind-the-scenes gossip. Those who were hindered by Archbishop Viganò’s tight financial controls and by his campaign against corruption used the media to seek his removal. When Archbishop Viganò was removed his confidential letters were leaked, creating an international scandal.

The position of the Holy See on the matter is still, unfortunately, unclear. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi tried to defend Cardinal Bertone, describing the the Italian television news programme that revealed Archbishop Viganò’s letters as “partisan” and “partial and banal”. Fr Lombardi suggested that Archibishop Viganò’s appointment as apostolic nuncio to the United States was “proof of [the Pope's] indubitable esteem and confidence”. A statement from the Governatorate of the State of Vatican City, where the archbishop had served, described suggestions of financial corruption as “erroneous evaluations” and “fears unsupported by proof”.

But how can Archbishop Viganò enjoy the Pope’s “indubitable esteem and confidence” if he had made such a major error, as is claimed? Has he been sent to America as a reward, as Fr Lombardi seemed to say, or to remove him from the Vatican’s inner circle of power holders?

Nobody in the Curia seems to have heeded the Holy Father when, some years ago, he addressed the world’s bishops with these words from St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “If you go snapping at one another and tearing one another to pieces, take care: you will be eaten up by one another.”

So the war has begun. But regardless of who wins, the Church loses.

  • Jameswoods499

    TThe faithful try to maintain the church while privileged hierarchy continue to rip it apart with their petty jealousies and hunger for power, influence and riches. How can we depend upon such as these to lead the CHURCH’S revival?

  • Anna

    I agree…this whole affair is depressing. You ask: “Has he been sent to America as a reward, as Fr Lombardi seemed to say, or to remove him from the Vatican’s inner circle of power holders?”
    It is probably both. I suspect that his diligence as a reformer is appreciated, but perhaps his ability to balance the personal/political aspect of the position were not optimal, based on the tone of his letters. I imagine that despite the difficulty of starting over, a fresh new start will be good for him, and hopefully for the US too!
    I think it would be healthy to see a few more “relocations” of some others in the curia.

  • theroadmaster

    The opaqueness of the Vatican bureaucratic structure is ready made for intrigue and backbiting that we associate with powerful clerics who have their own partisan supporters and power bases.  The outside world can only get glimpses of this reality through leaked information to the press, revelations in published books and on the Internet  It all makes a disconcerting spectacle but this has been part of courtly life in the Vatican for centuries.  This shows the human face of the institution with contains some shadows as well as a prevailing spiritual light.  Pope Benedict during his pastoral visit to his homeland, Germany, last year, spoke of the critical need for reform to begin within the hearts of people as opposed to simply revamping institutional structures.  I hope that this very wise piece of advice takes root in the hearts of those who lead and staff the Vatican discastries and departments.

  • WSquared

    Jameswoods499, while this is a tragedy and very serious, it is presumptuous of you to solely portray the hierarchy as privileged, power-hungry, and corrupt, whereby only the laity is faithful or innocent. 

    The current problems shaping up in the U.S. over the HHS mandate, to say nothing of dissenting individuals or groups who whined in public to the secular media because they didn’t like the new translation of the Roman Missal (a careful reading of their comments, as you will find in the likes of NPR, the Huffington Post, and the National Catholic Reporter, will show you that a good many of them barely understand the theological import of the changes, and saying that they were badly catechized would be putting it kindly… ) strongly suggests otherwise.  And what about what some liturgists have done to the liturgy?  Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, no?

    And let’s add to this the fact that enough Catholics don’t go to Mass regularly, freely ignore Catholic doctrine and dogma such that they think they can separate “social justice” from issues such as abortion and contraception to the point of either slyly or ignorantly conceiving of social justice mostly as “helping the poor” (do babies in the womb in danger of abortion, who literally cannot stand up and speak in defense themselves, not count as poor and “the least of these”?).

    Does this sound “faithful” to you?  While some bishops have their share of the responsibility and are in some part to blame, don’t we layfolk have some responsibility also to be curious about the faith?  So many of us may not have heard any sermon on Humanae Vitae from the pulpit, but some of us cared enough to read HV for ourselves nonetheless.

    The fact of the matter is that we have good, faithful Catholics at every level of the Church as well as unfaithful ones.  And just as every level of the Church is capable of pulling her down, every level is capable of helping renew her.  The Communion of Saints that we profess to believe in should tell us that much.  But we’re all going to have to pitch in and do our bit together.

    Furthermore, we have Christ’s promise– that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.  We may be in a rough spot, but crises are opportunities for renewal.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, “Don’t do as we do, but do as we say!”

  • Anonymous

    In defence of the OP’s point, almost all evil in the Church is traceable to the clergy. Almost every heresy & schism has been the work of a cleric. Who have then infected the laity instead of leading them aright. Clerics who corrupt the laity cannot expect the laity to behave like Saints. The poor health of the Church at present owes a lot to the bishops.

    As for the article:

    1. Ecclesiastical Rome has always been a malarial swamp. We just have evils different from some that have been in the past.  

    2. The Church survived not having a Papacy. It can survive if the Papacy is swept away. The Church can’t survive without Christ – it needs no-one else. No Christ = no Church.

    “We may be in a rough spot, but crises are opportunities for renewal. ”

    ## Absolutely.

  • theroadmaster

    The reality of human sin and human pride has been with us since the foundation of  the Church and earlier.  We cannot legislate for that, but strive to overcome it through basing our lives firmly on gospel values.  The Church, both lay and religious, is not immune from  sinful tendencies.  As I have indicated earlier, Pope Benedict wisely advised the Faithful to concentrate on reforming their inner lives, rather than simply tinker around with structures.

  • WSquared

     Parasum, you forget that the reason why the Church cannot survive without Christ and why it is true that no Christ = no Church is because of the Sacraments, of which Holy Orders (the priesthood) and the Eucharist are two of them.  Without our priests, we have no valid Eucharist and no Confessions to strengthen us and help us to receive the Eucharist worthily.  Without the Eucharist– Christ Truly Present– we have no Church.  And let’s not forget either that where Peter is, so is the Church.  If the Church cannot survive without Christ, oughtn’t we to take seriously what he says about how he will build his Church?

  • WSquared

     Parasum, you forget that the reason why the Church cannot survive without Christ and why it is true that no Christ = no Church is because of the Sacraments, of which Holy Orders (the priesthood) and the Eucharist are two of them.  Without our priests, we have no valid Eucharist and no Confessions to strengthen us and help us to receive the Eucharist worthily.  Without the Eucharist– Christ Truly Present– we have no Church.  And let’s not forget either that where Peter is, so is the Church.  If the Church cannot survive without Christ, oughtn’t we to take seriously what he says about how he will build his Church?

  • theroadmaster

    There is good and bad in every organization and institution which reflects the realities of the motivations and feelings which drive human behavior  We cannot legislate it way or deny the existence of these things.  The human frailties of the Church have been too evident of late and even among the first generation of Christ’s apostles, weaknesses and flaws surfaced, which only Divine Grace would help overcome, as on the first Pentecost. 
    You single out those in the clerical state for particular criticism and  one can point to  the obvious scandals which have broken out during different epochs in history.  But one can balance this by pointing to the literally thousands of Saints and Blesseds, recognized by the Church, who were exemplars of Christian lives well lived.  Presently thousands of religious and priests dedicate their lives to the care of the impoverished, sick and lonely around the world without any fanfare or publicity.
    I agree that the Church is pointless without Christ but He left behind the keys of authority, which He granted to Peter(formerly Simeon).  Throughout history, there have been successors to St Peter who were certainly less than exemplary in their behavior but the Church has survived as long as She has with the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The papacy is an unique office in the history of Religion, which has been around for nearly 2000 years.  It is part of God’s Providence to unite the disparate factions of Christianity.

  • Jameshughes1947

    This is part of life in all earthly political institutions but I hope that the holy father will either crack down on this internal bickering or dispatch some of the troublemakers to the missions or some isolated monastery where they can contemplate their future. Mao tse tung used to call it ‘being sent to the country for re-education with manual labour. I am angry that my church is being brought into disrepute by these malcontents and the time has surely come to excise them. Benedict is pope and they should back him or be sacked! AMDG

  • theroadmaster

    I agree with you James.  Again we face the prospect of the press revealing damaging information that curial officials would like to suppress as happened in the case of the sex abuse scandals.  We need a Church which aspires to teach the truth in the name of the One who founded Her, to be truthful with respect to wrongs committed within her ranks.  The truth ultimately sets one free.