e Roman Curia at its worst
Cardinal George Pell wants to make the Vatican’s financial agencies so “boringly successful” that the media barely notice them. He hasn’t quite achieved that yet. Last week there was a flurry of news stories about his Secretariat for the Economy, after the Vatican department’s expenses were leaked to an Italian magazine. Two headlines give you a flavour of l’Espresso’s coverage: “Peccati cardinali” (Cardinal sins) and the “I lussi del moralizzatore” (The luxuries of a moraliser).
The magazine reported that the secretariat had claimed expenses of £360,000 in its first six months, including a £2,000 purchase at the ecclesiastical outfitters Gammarelli’s. As l’Espresso hit newsstands, a rumour swept Rome that Pope Francis had confronted Cardinal Pell over a £3,300 kitchen unit at the secretariat, saying: “What, is i t made of gold?”
The reality is, of course, quite different. The secretariat is running well within the budget set when the office was created in March 2014. There were originally no vestments at the secretariat’s chapel, so that explains the Gammarelli’s bill. And the notion that Pope Francis and Cardinal Pell discussed kitchens is “complete fiction”, according to the secretariat.
The first serious leak of Vatican documents since the so-called VatiLeaks scandal of 2012 comes at a delicate time for Francis. When l’Espresso appeared last Friday the Pope was about to rule on how much authority the
Those responsible for this leak should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves
Secretariat for the Economy should have. On Tuesday he issued a new legal framework governing the secretariat and the Council for the Economy (which oversees the secretariat), and creating the new office of auditor general (an independent body with the power to investigate Vatican departments). Some curial veterans had objected loudly to the framework, saying it would give the secretariat too much power and introduce an alien, bean-counting culture into the Vatican. One Italian cardinal even proposed creating another council of cardinals just to supervise the secretariat’s prefect, Cardinal Pell.
The l’Espresso leak – and attendant rumours – look like a crude attempt to influence the Pope as he prepared to make some of the most critical decisions of his pontificate. Francis is unlikely to be impressed. After all, he loathes gossip so much that he has compared it to terrorism. He will surely direct his anger not at the secretariat’s entirely reasonable expenses, but at the Curial gossips who seem intent on dragging the Church back to the dark days of VatiLeaks.
Those responsible for the leaks and rumours should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Reform of this magnitude will always provoke fierce debate. That’s fine. But character assassination isn’t. Catholics around the world rightly expect better from the Roman Curia. The past week’s events only confirm the urgent need for drastic reform.
e best of the West
Mohamed Emwazi – the man revealed last week to be “Jihadi John” – continues to be an object of fascination to the Western mind. How is it that a youngster from Maida Vale, brought up in Britain from the age of six, could so turn his back on Western culture as to become a poster boy for ISIS? How too, for that matter, could three girls from Bethnal Green run off to Syria to become “jihadi brides”? These are questions that should have been at the top of every agenda ever since 9/11, when rejection of Western values first became apparent as the motor of terrorism. What we need is a powerful restatement of the values that have made the West great; indeed, more than that, a renewal of these values. The first necessary step must involve a renunciation of the “We are all guilty” narrative which has become almost second nature to many. We must refuse to apologise for that for which we are not to blame, and that of which we should not be ashamed. The misery of much of the Arab and Muslim world is not primarily our fault, but the responsibility of those who live there. Moreover, our history is something of which we can, by and large, be proud. That we live in the world’s most developed and prosperous countries is no accident, and is certainly not the result of institutionalised injustice. Rather, it springs from free enterprise and the rule of law – two values from which all can learn.
Western values are not religious values per se and non-religious people can – and should – subscribe to them. In their universal nature lies much of their appeal. And yet these secular values have religious roots. That so many of our leaders seem to want to deny this (witness the discussion some years ago over the preamble to the EU constitution) is lamentable. It reveals a lack not just of honesty but of leadership as well.
If our leaders fail to stand up for European and Western culture, this offers an opportunity for the Church to step into the breach. The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, the city threatened by ISIS, is supremely well placed to assert the values that made Rome, and so many other cities, great.
CATHOLIC HERALD, MARCH 6 2015 3