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The management of the Vatican needs to catch up with the world

Never mind Vatileaks, the management of the Vatican museum needs to change

By on Monday, 1 October 2012

Compared to other tourist attractions, the Vatican is badly-run Photo:  Pier Paolo Cito/AP/Press Association Images

Compared to other tourist attractions, the Vatican is badly-run Photo: Pier Paolo Cito/AP/Press Association Images

Sunday’s Observer carried no less than two articles about the Vatican in its foreign news section. The first deals with the much heralded trial of the Pope’s butler, which is no more interesting than any other trial to do with domestic pilfering. Among the things that the accused has confessed to taking, though, is a sixteenth century copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, which he lifted from the Pope’s desk. One would like to know what it was doing on the Pope’s desk in the first place. Was it a present? After all, what do you give the Pontiff for his birthday? Is the Pope a bibliophile? Did Paolo Gabriele think that it was valuable, or that no one would notice its absence?

But more to the point was the following article, culled from the Italian press, about overcrowding in the Sistine Chapel.  You can read the original complaint, in Italian, here.  This is a matter that deserves comment.

The Sistine Chapel has long been one of the main tourist attractions of Rome. It is the one thing that everyone wants to see. When I lived in Rome, I frequently showed visitors around, and despite all I told them about the terrible queues and the long walk, few were to be put off. The Vatican Museums (please note the plural) represent a very fine collection of antiquities, but most of these are ignored by the tourists, who enter the Museums at the entrance near the Ottaviano tube station, and then charge down long corridors to get to the Chapel – and then make the very congested way back through the long galleries of the Papal library. In their hurry to get to the Chapel they usually ignore the Egyptian Museum, the Etruscan Museum, the Bracchio Nuovo (which contains some marvellous sculpture) the Borgia Apartment (with its ceiling decorations by Pinturicchio) and the undercroft of the Chapel itself, which contains the modern art collection brought together by Paul VI (which includes at least one Francis Bacon), as well as the picture gallery, which contains three Raphaels.

So not only do those wanting to see the Chapel have to make this long walk, they also get in the way of the people wanting to see the other things the Museums have to offer. Would it not be better to separate the Chapel from the rest of the Museums? After all, one suspects that most of the people visiting the Museums are there only for the Chapel.

If that cannot be done (and one fails to see why it can’t) why can’t the Vatican Museums open for a little longer, which might well reduce overcrowding? Have a look at the opening hours, from the Museums’ own website.  It shuts at 6pm, but “exit from the rooms half an hour before closing time”. (It does not say when the last tickets go on sale.) The Museums open on the last Sunday of the month, only; on other Sundays they are shut, as well as on feast days – and the Vatican has a lot of feast days. There is no late evening opening.

For purposes of comparison , look at the opening hours of the Louvre in Paris.  It is shut one day a week, on Tuesdays, but it does have late night openings on two evenings a week. And it shuts for far fewer public holidays. The British Museum does without a weekly day off, and has one late opening a week. It is closed four days a year.  Incidentally, the Vatican Museums close for twelve days a year apart from Sundays.

Nor is this not an Italian thing, because the Capitoline Museums, which are of tremendous interest incidentally, close for only three days a year, and have longer opening hours than the Vatican Museums. 

Never mind the butler, and talk of the Vatican not being fir for purpose; the sad truth of the matter is that the management of the Vatican Museums needs to pull its socks up, and catch up with the rest of the world. Fast.

  • teigitur

    That is revealing Father, though anyone who has ever written to Rome about anything can testify that the administration is a disaster. Our group wrote over two yeras ago now about the EF  of Mass( or lack of it) in our Diocese. We still await reply. It really would test your faith.

  • Jeannine

    The Vatican has the most wonderful museums to visit. It also has, I forget which museum in the Vatican, maybe the Library, an excellent collection of maps.

  • Nat_ons

    Agreed; this engaging with modern challenges and opportunities was, after all, what Vatican II was meant to be about (not monkeying around with an ageless liturgy).

    It didn’t happen that way, of course; one must doubt it ever will – bureaucratic inertia is not a practice accepted at the Vatican .. it is a philosophical way of life (much as the British Civil Service was once fondly, and amusingly, portrayed).

    A healthy dose of such circumspection at times preserves a lumbering institution from precipitive calamity, often the calamity has simply been forgotten by the time it is dealt with; however, this Wilfred Hyde-White and Richard Murdoch – Men from the Ministry – type of bumbling through hopefulness has long since been lacquered over with the media-driven, spin-doctor-machinery, finger-on-the-pulse ideology .. it is this hype that the Vatican has yet to master (in dealing with the expectations of ‘the modern world’).

  • Hermit

    The long queues waiting to enter the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) are conspicuous and something that recurs daily. Whenever I drive from Via Aurelia, passing through Viale Vaticano, I never miss a glance at the queue. Sometimes it is so long that it goes along the Vatican walls up to Via Leone IV.

    It’s a pity that tourists miss some important sections of these Museums. To be frank, I say that to visit every single room, corridor and corner, one needs to spend more that five hours and end up dead tired.

    The comment of the writer on’ Vatican Museums’ and not ‘Museum’ reminds me of the Courts. People in general say they are going to court, while in point of fact they go the the Law Courts because in that building a number of Courts are housed together: Civil Court, Criminal Court, Family Court, Constitutional Court, etc.

  • theroadmaster

    Bureaucracy and ill-organization seems to be the bane of the Vatican’s prosperity in a number of departments and accordingly the governmental structures and procedures pertaining to them should be streamlined or overhauled completely.  This was seen for example in the publicity debacles that have surrounded the leaks concerning accusations of internecine in-fighting and plotting within the Vatican itself.   The Holy See has experienced and withstood nearly 2000 years of history and inept administration should be updated but the message that is preached never changes in it’s perpetual relevance to our world.

  • Yankee

    As an Italian American I can say much of the Church’s problems is that they have too many Italians in the management and curia; nothing in Italy is efficient and no amount of political correctness can change the fact that Italy is a disorganized, corrupt, and bureaucratic country. It is no coincidence that the church began improving when a Polish and then a German became Pope. Let the Italians make beautiful art and wonderful food like no one else can but let the Germans manage the church.

  • Michael

    Wasn’t it ‘Never mind the butler’ that Nero so movingly fiddled while Rome burned?

  • Cafeteria R.C.

    Will day come when the Vatican Museum will not only have new hours and cover more area but under new management when it’s nationhood is no longer?

  • JonathanBurdon

    Good few stereotypes trotted out there. In the real world Italy is a member of the G8, the second biggest exporter in Europe and one of the world’s leading economies. How well do you actually know Italy?

  • JonathanBurdon

    Why? Do you know something we don’t?

  • JabbaPapa

    What an absolutely revolting and faithless comment !!!

  • Marco

     Brazil is the world’s 6th largest economy, now larger than the UK which is 7th or Italy which is 8th. That has no bearing on the fact that Brazil is extremely corrupt, bureaucratic, and disorganized. Get over your PC and look at the facts independently; only then can solutions be found.

  • paulpriest

    All the evils in the world..the pain, loneliness, hate, despair, desolation…

    How many hundreds of millions of Catholics pray for the Holy Father dawn and dusk across the world, they may never see any city let alone the Eternal City; or see the sea let alone the Great Fisher of Souls…or dream of once seeing beyond their slum to a field of sheep let alone the Shepherd of shepherds?

    Fr Z once recalled a discussion he had with the then Cardinal Ratzinger on Italian mismanagement and the national exertion/haste-aversion…

    “Ah! If only the Vatican had been in Germany – then we could have made all the same mistakes so much more quickly and efficiently”

    Father – most of the time the middle of next week WILL do..

    It’s not the mediterranean diet that extends life – it’s the mediterranean outlook on life..

    ..and I’m sorry but you simply don’t understand the Vatican Gambit…

    Certainly you must be aware of the cut-throat politicking and machiavellian machinations in diplomacy around the Vatican..so time is always to be used when it is available..and procrastination is living life while one can…and if you can have a break? make it a long one..ditto a drink..ditto a meal…ditto a conversation…ditto a song…ditto a story/joke…

    De-du-ey , Department Two [imagine Mossad with a conscience and Markus Wolf with a rosary] has a saying…
    When one must: Always make the first move: Otherwise: Wait!

    a] gives us more chance of discovering what our enemy is up to.
    b] it gives the enemy more chance of making a mistake
    c] it confuses the enemy – they know we know what they’re up to – but are perplexed at our inaction and lack of response – or they become paranoid and anxious thinking maybe we have already done something?
    d] it gives us more time to reflect, discern, discover flaws, scry information or simply have a brainwave/moment of clarity regarding a problem/how to win a fight etc…
    e] waiting means we are doing absolutely nothing when a window of opportunity arises for rapid response – meaning we can act immediately…
    f] It lulls them into a false security – giving us the element of surprise when we do act .
    g] It habituates the enemy – making what we do so much easier and more chance of being successful when we finally act..
    h] it gives Our Blessed Mother more time to pester her Son to answer our prayers…

     Wojtyla’s “My czekamy”

    How does the Vatican work so wonderfully?
    Yes its administration is appalling, its internecine struggles are legendary, three can only keep a secret in Rome if two of them are dead, it’s public communications /media office is notoriously inept and its procedurality and time-keeping are second to anyone….

    but it works because it becomes the weakest link in the chain
    there is no reliance on trust or mutual compacts or reliability…
    everyone – saint or sinner, scholar or scoundrel, reflects an equal share of their fallen nature in that single regard…

    The message is “Never trust me. Trust God, love your family, do what’s right”

    And with this mutual distrust and utter unreliability…
    We stay safe!

  • lokionline

    It won’t be long now before the Vatican becomes like the Hagia Sophia. A full time museum and nothing else.

  • Patrickhowes

    Bitter and vitriolic!Go and and see the work that Catholic sisters do in Calcutta and the Congo and then press the magic button!

  • Guest686

    Reply to Yankee. Agreed but in the management books the Vatican is touted as one of the world’s most efficient organisations because it has only 5 levels from laity to the Pope. But it is more like General Motors or General Electric promoting the good insiders with seniority. Remember the Santander banker who was brought in to improve the Vatican finances. Well didn’t he resign after a few years?He was probably worn out… A few years in the Vatican was worse than a lifetime in the Santander bank. Just imagine that.

    Not many foreign clerics like going to the Vatican for visits or secondments or attachments or for sabbaticals at the Universities there. Its all such a stuffy place we are told. No wonder when the Vatican 2 Council was started, Pope John XXIII was remarked to have said that he was opening the windows of the Vatican to let THE FRESH AIR IN! Even then that comment suggested that it was such a stale place.

  • Simon Davies

    I’ve only been to the Vatican Museums once – to see the Sistine Chapel – and it must have been a miracle, because there was no queue at all. The chapel was full to the brim with tourists, and stuffy, dark and humid, and I just wanted to get out. I resolved never to attempt a second visit.

  • Parasum

     “The management of the Vatican needs to catch up with the world” is something the evul librulz in the CC have been saying for a long time. But only the Pope can make it happen. And he has to want it to happen – otherwise, more of the same will happen.

    “…which contains the modern art collection brought together by Paul VI (which includes at least one Francis Bacon)…”

    ## The mission of the CC includes buying grotty modern art, does it ? With whose spondulicks ?  What next – a plug-ugly nude by Lucien Freud ? Modern art (including the opera house-meets-public convenience that masquerades as a church in Torre Tre Teste, and the Resurrection-from-an-atom-blast in the Aula Paolo VI, and the metal one-armed bandit without feet that imagines it is a statue of JP2) is worthless trash devoid of any merit whatsoever. The Vatican is a leading player in the uglification of modern life,with its Brutalist art. Very revealing. Not quite the art of Mordor, but too close.

    1. Opera house-meets-public convenience AKA Church as *pissoir*:


    2. Resurrection-from-an-atom-blast:


    3. One-armed Dalek without feet that imagines it is a statue of JP2: 



    The Vatican is OK for the “Osservatore Romano” – but ordering a whole book is a nightmare: it confirms all the stereotypes about lazy, bone-idle, feckless Italians.

  • Parasum

     Wilfred Hyde-White went on to become one of the councillors on the board that had to find a new course for Battlestar Galactica so it could escape the Cylons. He didn’t say much – which is probably why he is memorable (see the film “Battlestar Galactica” for details – not the silly modern PC mess-up).

    If the Cylons wanted to track down the Church, the pursuit would be over very soon: Cylons 1 – Church 0 (And it would be “nil”.)

    Vatican II can be interpreted as a bureaucratic exercise in justifying one’s tenure. The sheer amount of arboricide/tree-killing/ Sarumanisation of the CC undertaken to provide paper for the endless stream of rules, constitutions, *motus proprio*, declarations, bulls, encyclicals, position papers, allocutions, *lineamenta*, guidelines, addresses, statements, agreed statements, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all that have poured in a never-ending stream from the dicasteries, conferences, quangos, etc. etc. etc. etc. in Rome since 1962 must be a bureaucrat’s delight – or torment. So much for Catholicism not being a “religion of the word” – not of God’s word, obviously; but of man’s word ? Just a bit. 

  • Diffal

    “It shuts at 6pm, but “exit from the rooms half an hour before closing time”. (It does not say when the last tickets go on sale.)”
    Considering that the website states that the ticket office closes at 4pm I think it is a safe bet that they don’t sell tickets after that.

    It is also nice to see that the vatican holds Sundays(free entry not being a nice gesture) as Sacred and indeed that its employees are afforded holidays on holy-days

    Incidentally the museums open late until 11pm on fridays at the moment. Im not sure if this is a new high season thing but it does happen.

    I find one tends to get sensory shock and overload if one spends more than 4-5 hours in the place at a time, so in the times I’ve been to the museums recently(esp. worth it to see Raphael’s school of Athens) i’ve not noticed corruption or inefficiency but yes there are large amounts of people wanting to see the Sistine Chapel. Could crowd control be better probably, but please don’t tar the whole place with the same brush.

  • Diffal

    Oh dear, best to point out to you now that the Vatican Museums(there are several of them) are not a nation or a state in any sense of those words. They form part of the Vatican city state whose status as an internationally recognised country is in no danger of being threatened.