Leaks, tweaks and vested interests
In his Angelus address on Sunday Pope Francis addressed head-on the scandal that had been whirling around Rome all week. He knew that the pilgrims in the square below would have read about two new books claiming to expose financial misdeeds in the Vatican with the help of leaked documents. So he chose, characteristically, to discuss the situation bluntly. He described the leak as “a crime” and “a deplorable act that does not help”. He then reassured listeners that he remained fully committed to “the reform project”. He concluded by asking pilgrims “to continue to pray for the Pope and the Church, without getting upset or troubled but proceeding with faith and hope”.
Addressing the scandal directly, rather than through the Vatican rumour mill, was a deft move. He publicly rejected the authors’ line that their tell-all books were intended to aid the Pope. He signalled to opponents that he will overhaul the Roman Curia despite their objections. Finally, he offered reassurance to Catholics disturbed that the malfeasance that contributed to Benedict XVI’s resignation apparently still thrives within Vatican walls.
Most observers agree that the primary reason Francis was elected was to reform the Roman Curia. Despite a divisive family synod, his curial reform project still enjoys widespread support. Francis has acted swiftly and decisively since his election in March 2013. One of the first laws he passed defined leaks of confidential documents as a serious crime. The Vatican arrested a priest and a lay woman last week on suspicion of breaching this law.
But root-and-branch reform of the Curia is, unsurprisingly, taking longer. At first there were rumours that Pope Francis intended to replace Pastor
We hope that reforms will eventually include a time limit on Vatican posts
Bonus, St John Paul II’s apostolic constitution regulating curial departments, with a completely new constitution–a nightmarishly complicated task. Now it seems that the Pope and his closest advisers are considering a more modest overhaul.
Late last month the Vatican released a letter from Pope Francis to his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
that puzzled even the most obsessive Rome-watcher. The letter said that, until a new constitution is promulgated, Pastor Bonus remains in force. The Pope said he made this seemingly redundant point because of “certain problems [which] have emerged in the meantime, in relation to which I intend to take prompt action”. The most plausible interpretation is that Francis was telling curial officials that, while they live amid uncertainty, he is watching them and will act if he suspects them of adopting an anything-goes approach.
One of the hardest parts of shaking up the Curia is surely that, in order fully to understand the problems, the Pope must seek advice from old Vatican hands. But these same veterans may themselves have vested interests. Critics doubt that true reform is possible while some have occupied the same Vatican posts for more than a decade and other linger in the corridors of power long after retirement. When the Holy Father finally unveils his sweeping reforms we hope that he will include a time limit on Vatican posts. While this would be a radical and possibly disruptive step, it would ensure that a curial position is seen, in future, not as a sinecure but as a service.
Good news from Syria
It is rare that anyone gets to report good news from Syria, so we should thank God for the release of more than 30 Christians by ISIS last weekend. They were among a group of almost 300 Assyrians kidnapped by the terror group, at least three of whom have been murdered. Although the number killed in this horrific conflict now defies understanding, the saving of just one innocent life, let alone 30, is something to be grateful for.
Yet this good news came during a week of otherwise relentless misery in Syria. Russian missiles launched on behalf of the government side reportedly killed at least half a dozen children, while ISIS made further gains in Christian areas in the centre of the country. Thousands have fled in their wake, aware of what sort of life they face living under the Islamic supremacist group. While all this happens Western powers remain paralysed by inaction. Committed to removing the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, they have no idea about what might replace or how to prevent the likely scenario of an Islamist victory. To cap it all, American and British asylum policy has discriminated against Christians, with a group of Iraqi Chaldeans denied asylum in the US this
September. Britain, meanwhile, is taking 20,000 Syrians from the one place they know there will be no Christians – the often-dangerous refugees camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The behaviour of every current major world leader towards Syria has been incompetent bordering on disgraceful – with the exception of Pope Francis. Now, as Christmas approaches, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere must do everything they can to help the suffering Syrian people, by giving to charities such as Aid to the Church in Need. We should also pray that politicians find in themselves the courage to help end this conflict.
CATHOLIC HERALD, NOVEMBER 13 2015 3