The Vatican Scandals: a Never-Ending Story

By Carlo Ungaro
Oped News
June 12, 2012

International events move fast, and it is difficult for public attention to remain fixed on a particular event, no matter how grave or dramatic. And yet the recent Vatican Saga, a not unfamiliar story of corruption, scandal, potential violence and political infighting does deserve a closer look, if nothing else for its possible developments.

Thanks to centuries of experience, the people of Rome have developed tremendous insight -- a veritable sixth sense -- in guessing, ahead of time, when there is trouble brewing on the right bank of the Tiber, under the massive dome of St. Peter's Basilica. The Holy See is usually able to control its image with the Italian public, thanks mainly to an extremely respectful and obsequious .media and press, as witnessed, for example by the limited publicity the paedophilia scandal had in Italy even when it was front-page news elsewhere.

Events of the past few weeks, however, have shocked even the jaded and usually lethargic Roman public, and could indicate the existence of a crisis situation in the Vatican with many possible future scenarios , which risks tarnishing the Vatican's image, even in Italy.

The arrest of the Pope's closest lay collaborator (the Pope's "Butler", part of the official "family"), barely twenty-four hours after the abrupt dismissal of a respected Italian banker, who had been personally called upon by the Pope to lend transparency and respectability to the "I.O.R." (Istituto per le Opere Religiose -- Institute for Religious Operations), in a certain sense the Vatican's Central Bank, were, in themselves, episodes dramatic enough to cause comment and unease. These events appeared even more remarkable because they occurred in the wake of the exhumation of the remains of a well known outlaw, who, some three decades ago, had terrorised Rome as leader of the "Banda della Magliana" and who for unexplained reasons was buried in a crypt in one of the holiest of the many Roman churches, and, therefore, in Vatican territory. It was rumoured that the exhumation could also shed light on another of the Vatican's grim mysteries: the unsolved disappearance, in 1983, of e teen age girl, Emanuela Orlandi, daughter of a high Vatican official. To top all this off, a book has been published -- becoming an instant bestseller in Italy -- which contains the certified text of correspondence -- often rancorous -- among the Cardinals, and even some letters from the Pope himself. The arrest of the "Pope's Butler" is connected to this event, even though doubts are being expressed as to whether he is actually being used as a scapegoat or whether others, including high ranking Church figures, have also been involved in the leaks.

In discussing Vatican affairs it is always difficult to resist the temptation of delving deep into the past. The roots of these recent troublesome happenings, however, have to be traced back over three decades, to the unexpected death of Pope John Paul I, in the winter of 1978, after one of the briefest pontificates in history (33 days).

This event, which in the public imagination is strongly connected to the violent, and as yet mysterious deaths, in the ensuing years, of two Italian bankers (Roberto Calvi in 1982 and Michele Sindona in 1986) who were very close to Vatican finances has left its mark, to the point that, in the public media, even some eminent "Vaticanists" have gone as far as expressing concern about the very survival and physical well-being of the two figures concerned, as well as of the Pope himself, who could be the target rather than the mover of this latest unrest in that most secretive and reclusive State.

This last in a series of scandals involving the Vatican and its financial institution, not rarely accused of hiding money-laundering operations, raises some legitimate questions on the possible resignation of Benedict XVI (the last Pope to resign was Celestine V, in 1294) or other likely upheavals in a stagnant regime which has been distancing itself from the Roman Catholic faithful, especially outside of Italy.

In reality the Pope's advanced age and failing health would probably make his resignation unnecessary, and all these recent events within the Vatican are actually tied in with a forthcoming Conclave, from which the next Pope will emerge. A fierce "electoral" battle is going on, which will become more and more vicious as the time approaches. The choice is severe: the Cardinals may bow to the weight of authority carried by the present, mainly Italian, curia and choose to prolong the highly conservative conduct of Vatican Affairs, or they could take as brave a step as their predecessors did in 1978 and opt for a more modern Church, for the implementation of basic decisions taken in the Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, and, above all, for the choice of transparency (a Vatican version of "glasnost") not only in financial matters, but also in an attempt to dispel doubts and rumours about the closely interconnected "mysterious" happenings mentioned above (to which more can be added).

To all Vatican observers, it is evident that a battle has been engaged between the ageing, weakened Pope (who, unlike his predecessor, does not arouse much affection or loyalty), and his long time Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, who, in the eyes of the "progressives" embodies all the potentially sinister and certainly negative traits of the more traditionalist, and mainly Italian, sector of the Curia.

The Holy See, by concentrating its attentions either on internal problems, such as the current power-struggle, or on increasingly abstruse and old-fashioned theological issues, as witnessed by the recent condemnation of American nuns, accused of being "modern" and "feminist" is rapidly widening the gap between the Vatican and the active Roman Catholic Church. This problem is visible even in Italy, where, for example, the numerous Catholic run Hospitals, Clinics and Sanatoriums are unable to find a sufficient number of nuns for their nursing staff, and are therefore obliged to turn to professional paramedic personnel. It has also been pointed out that the waning number of young men who apply for the priesthood seem to be animated more by a sense of entering upon a "career" than by true vocation to serve. In Spain the vocational crisis has induced the Bishops Conference to emit publicity spots on radio and television in the hope of attracting some of the very numerous unemployed young men, by offering jobs which, though poorly paid, offer a guarantee of stability.

The Roman Catholic Church, as a confessional institution, is in no immediate danger, but the Vatican power-structure seems at the risk of crumbling and becoming more and more fatuous as the years go by.

In this sense, therefore, the current spate of Vatican scandals deserves careful analysis, if any sense has to be made out of a jumble of seemingly unrelated events.

According to the much quoted -- and not rarely accurate -- prophecies of the twelfth century Archbishop Malachi of Armagh (Ireland), the next Pope should be the last one, but this is an extreme consequence which seems most unlikely ""


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