Saturday, February 18, 2012
Vatican’s Celebratory Mood Is Dampened by Leaks
VATICAN CITY — As the world’s Roman Catholics prepare for the addition of 22 members to the College of Cardinals, the Vatican has become embroiled in an embarrassing scandal in which a number of leaked documents have drawn back the curtains on the church’s inner workings.
The internal church squabbling, predictably dubbed “VatiLeaks” by the Italian news media, became public about three weeks ago with the disclosure on television and in newspapers of confidential letters written by a top Vatican official who had denounced alleged corruption and financial mismanagement in Vatican City.
The widespread feeling among experts who follow the Vatican is that the letters were a volley in a battle among officials jousting for power in a papal court whose anointed leader, they say, is more concerned with theological questions than with the day-to-day affairs of state.
Every journalist who follows the church has described the current controversy as part of “a clash between cardinals in the Curia,” even though the Vatican is denying it, said Paolo Rodari, who writes about the Vatican for two newspapers. The e-mails and letters and documents that have made their way into print “could not get out unless they came from someone inside,” he added.
The Vatican has not denied the letters’ authenticity, but it has issued numerous statements saying the news media have blown the matter far out of proportion.
The first missives to be published date from last spring. In them, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, at the time the deputy governor of Vatican City, fretted that he would be ousted after making enemies in his effort to combat overspending and cronyism in the awarding of contracts. He pleaded with his boss, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the pope to let him stay on. Instead, Archbishop Viganò was named the papal nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States.
Letters and documents by other Vatican officials followed, including some that suggested that the Vatican was not adequately complying with international legislation to prevent money laundering.
One anonymous document published in a national newspaper last week cited reports that a Sicilian cardinal had spoken vaguely about a plot to kill Pope Benedict XVI before the end of 2012.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the reports “delirious and incomprehensible.”
The public airing of the church’s problems comes at an awkward time for the Vatican as it prepares to expand the College of Cardinals, which will take place at a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.
It is usually a festive moment, and indeed hundreds of pilgrims have come from New York to be present when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan becomes a prince of the church. This time, however, some columnists who write about the Vatican have made much of the fact that a higher-than-average number of new cardinals are Italian or have links with the Curia, stacking the deck, they implied, in the election of the next pope.
Full disclosure has never been the Vatican’s choice of public relations strategy (even today, its archives release only long-ago pronouncements in carefully measured doses). But to judge by the numerous statements they have issued, the disclosure of the letters has uncharacteristically placed the Holy See’s house organs in crisis mode.
In a front-page editorial this week about Benedict in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the editor in chief, Giovanni Maria Vian, described the pope as standing fast “before the wolves” amid “irresponsible and unworthy behavior” encouraged by the “clamor of the media.”
Father Lombardi, the spokesman, also took stabs at the news media and called on church officials to “have strong nerves, because no one can be surprised at anything,” comparing the embarrassment caused by the letters to the mortification that engulfed the United States administration in the WikiLeaks scandal.
The church must stand firm, and not allow itself “to be swallowed up by the vortex of confusion, which is what ill-intentioned people want,” he said in a statement this week. We must “make use of reason, something which not all media outlets tend to do.”
While there is broad consensus among Vatican experts that the Vatican and its churchmen are not immune to the failings of human nature, the storied intricacies of Vatican politics make the final objective of the leaked letters less clear.
Some believe the letters are meant to cast murky light on Cardinal Bertone, accused by critics of being a bad manager even as he tries to expand his influence at the papal court.
Others say the objective is simply to disclose corruption within the Vatican’s financial institutions, though in recent years the Holy See has ostensibly made efforts to be more transparent in its economic dealings (mere smoke screens, skeptics say).
“The lid came off this pot because it was masking a can of worms and it was time that they came out in the light of the day,” said Marco Lillo, an investigative journalist at the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has published several of the documents. The letters emerged, he explained, after alleged wrongdoings within the Curia went unpunished. “In a closed world, the only way to make wrongs public is to bring them to light in the public opinion.”
And in a church that has already been shaken by the acknowledgment of widespread sexual abuse of minors on the part of the clergy, the notion that what happens within Vatican walls stays within the Vatican walls “no longer applies,” he said. But there are also those who believe that the attacks are aimed at the pope himself, that he is being blamed for disregarding the management (and machinations) of the church as he instead tries to cement its theological and doctrinal foundations.
The pope, who turns 85 in April, has obliquely referred to the contentious climate in the Curia on several occasions, calling on officials to pay greater attention to spiritual rather than temporal matters.
Speaking to seminarians in Rome on Wednesday, the pope said that in recent days there had been “much talk about the Church of Rome, many things being said,” the Vatican Information Service reported. “Let us hope that people also talk about our faith.”
Source: NYTimes - Vatican’s Celebratory Mood Is Dampened by Leaks