After Pope Francis was elected, there were high hopes that he’d be just the man to bring civility and order to the sordid side of the Vatican. Two years on, however, it appears that “the nasty is back” in Rome, according to John Allen, Jr. Two factions (at least) within the Curia are at daggers drawn over Cardinal George Pell, the man Pope Francis chose to lead reform of the Vatican’s finances. Leaks and rumors in recent press reports describe Pell as corrupt, dictatorial, and profligate. More:
On Friday, the Vatican released its own statement denouncing such leaks as “illegal,” calling the criticism of Pell “undignified and petty,” and backing his performance by saying it’s proceeding with “continuity and efficacy.”The spectacle is eerily reminiscent of the “Vatileaks” scandal of 2012, when a tidal wave of supposedly confidential Vatican documents appeared in the Italian press. Many believe the chaos revealed by those disclosures influenced Pope Benedict’s decision to resign.
As usual when it comes to the Vatican, it’s difficult to discern exactly what is happening here or why, but it looks bad. Meanwhile, the Church continues to attract unflattering coverage about infighting among leaders at last year’s Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family.On the “conservative” side of the Church, some now believe that a high-ranking Vatican official intervened during the Synod to prevent Bishops from receiving books arguing against allowing remarried Catholics to receive communion. On the “liberal” side, a German cardinal in favor of that change has said in a recent interview that the Church in Germany “can’t wait” for the 2015 Synod on the subject to decide how it may treat pastoral issues in its own dioceses. Some are reading his words as a threat that the German leadership might push forward with the communion change in Germany even if the Synod votes against it.Observers of Francis’s papacy have tended to evaluate his progress in two main areas. His mandate at his election was to clean up areas of the Vatican that are widely seen as corrupt and inefficient. Second, many hoped he could appeal to a kind of “religious middle” and quiet the war between “conservative” and “liberal” factions without compromising doctrine. But if these recent headaches are any indication, he still has a lot of work ahead of him on the first mission. As for the second, the continuing controversies around the Synods have intensified anxiety on all sides over issues of marriage and family life; the world will watch the next Synod closely. The internal war over whether remarried Catholics should be admitted to communion could fracture the church even further and shatter Francis’s “peace-making” agenda.There’s still hope that Francis can satisfy both liberals and conservatives, at least in part. Allen also reports, for example, that the Pope has just made one of the Church’s most aggressive leaders on combatting sexual abuse an archbishop. That’s a move likely to appeal to Catholics of all stripes. But for now, his most enthusiastic backers would do well to remember that the Vatican motto is “make haste slowly.”