Does + Sodano Dominate Pope Francis? Or Does It Just Seem So?

By Jerry Slevin
Christian Catholicism
March 29, 2015

Martin Luther, five hundred years ago, quietly began at a German cathedral his revolt over Vatican scandals. Now outraged parents have reignited his revolt at a Chilean cathedral amid chaotic scenes of thousands of protesters. Many shoved their way into the cathedral, as Juan Barros, personally known to and appointed by Pope Francis, was installed as Bishop of Osorno, not far from Francis’ Argentina.

Fr. Alex Vigueras, Chilean provincial of a major religious order, reportedly warned that a “small fire” like this appointment could become “a catastrophe with irreparable losses.” Almost half of Chile’s parliament and an ex-president reportedly even tried to get Francis to reverse his decision on Barros.

Will this be a precedent for US protests of the pope or pleas on behalf of defenseless children from President Obama or political leaders like John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Jeb Bush, when Francis visits the USA in a few months?

It seems that the Vatican papal monarchy has learned little since Luther’s time. Barros is accused by a top US communications executive, Juan Carlos Cruz, and several other credible victims, of having been present during their abuse by,  and of shielding, Fr. Fernando Karadima, a charismatic, high-profile Santiago priest — and serial abuser of youths— from investigation.

Five years ago, Angelo Sodano, likely the most influential cardinal since popes became “infallible” in 1870, arrogantly dismissed at a televised Easter Mass, in front of approving ex-pope Benedict, the priest abuse scandal as so much “petty gossip”. Please see Sodano’s infamous “petty gossip” NBC video here, Today.

Sodano at times was “de facto” pope during John Paul II’s incapacity. He is still Dean of Cardinals and oversaw the election of Pope Francis. His longtime protégée,  Pietro Parolin, is now No. 2 as Secretary of State, and will likely be the next pope. Sodano’s former secretary now heads up Francis’ aimless and futile Family Synods, that are a poor substitute for the general ecumenical council that Francis should convene if he were serious about permanent reforms.

After over 1,500 years of rule by general councils, in 1870 popes succumbed to the “infallible pope curse”. One pope rules and makes decisions often out of fear — of sex, women, secularism or just plain accountability. The next pope then fears to change his predecessors’ mistaken policies, while he “infallibly” makes more mistakes. And many brainwashed Catholics still buy this “papal bull”!

Just before Francis’ election, Jason Berry, a “non-brainwashed” Jesuit educated award winning investigative reporter, in the NY Times urged Pope Benedict XVI to right some of the wrongs of the recent past by forcing out Cardinal Sodano, in Berry’s words, as “… the man who, more than any other, embodies the misuse of power that has corrupted the church hierarchy. …”. Please see, here, New York Times .

Barros had as a seminarian been secretary to the late Chilean Cardinal Fresno, a position in which, says Cruz reportedly, “he knew everything going on in Chilean church. The triumvirate of power in the 1980s was Karadima, Cardinal Fresno and Archbishop Angelo Sodano” — the Italian papal ambassador, who was openly supportive of the military dictator Pinochet’s regime.

Sodano’s Chilean service overlapped in part with Pope Francis’ Jesuit leadership during the nearby Argentinian military dictatorship.

Sodano left Chile in 1989 to become John Paul’s Secretary of State, and in that position was responsible for the appointment of many nuncios, or ambassadors, until 2006. Sodano wielded immense power over appointments of bishops in Latin America and was likely influential in Pope Francis’ earlier promotions by John Paul II as bishop and cardinal.

Another Sodano protégée, Archbishop Ivo Scapola, is the papal envoy to Chile today. According to news accounts, he reportedly influenced Francis to appoint Barros as bishop of Osorno. At Cardinal Sodano’s direction ???

Why then did Francis appoint Barros? Objectively, Francis’ decision to install Barros in Osorno was a preventable disaster. It appears that a key force behind this monumental mistake by the media star Francis was the increasingly evident and dominant influence of Cardinal Sodano and his protégées, as suggested also by recent remarks discussed below from two of the top investigative reporters of Vatican scandals, Gerald Posner and Jason Berry.

“We are used to getting slapped in the face by the Chilean hierarchy, but we didn’t expect this from Francis,” Cruz, one of Karadima’s victims, reportedly and pointedly said of Barros’ appointment. “We had such high hopes of him as pope. … Francis knew about Barros. He knew about my case. If he was from Japan or Serbia, maybe. But he is from next door {Argentina} and he knew all about Karadima. How could he still make Barros a bishop?” .

Please see Cruz in his own very memorable words at the end of this brief video clip herRTE News .

“Pope Francis’ reform broom has not swept up Cardinal Sodano, who at 87 relishes the Vatican power game,” Berry reported as having been said by also Jesuit educated former Wall Street lawyer, Gerald Posner, author of the explosive and comprehensive new book, “God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican , see here,  Amazon.

Berry continued and added: “Despite his age and outsider’s stance when it comes to Francis’ inner circle, Sodano still wields influence with his acolytes, some of whom still have prominent Vatican positions. During Sodano’s tenure as nuncio to Chile, he not only was close to the pedophile priest whose abuse Barros is charged with covering up, but he also influenced Ivo Scapolo, the nuncio who reputedly led the effort to get Barros elevated to bishop. When all the dust settles in the Chilean fiasco, Sodano’s fingerprints will probably be found somewhere central in the Juan Barros appointment.”

Please see the Global Post’s  “Church wavers on child sex scandals in pope’s homeland ” and both Jason Berry’sBacklash against Chilean bishop threatens Francis’ reform agenda” and “Chilean cardinals close to pope stained by abuse cover-ups“, here, National Catholic Reporter .

The pope, however, does have some predictable defenders, including an editor of the Mexican edition of the Catholic magazine Buena Vida. Given the Fr. Maciel precedent in Mexico and the continuing plutocratic billionaire papal influence in Mexico, is it any surprise?

Indeed the prolific and perceptive blogger, Colkoch, recently and pertinently noted, “The Karadima story has too many parallels with the Maciel story to be coincidence. This is especially true in how Karadima and Maciel were handled by the Vatican…’sentenced’ to a life of prayer and penance. Both of the characters and their supporters preyed on wealthy Latin American Catholics, both were allowed to go on doing so in spite of very credible evidence [against] them, both were involved with Sodano and protected by him. and none of their main clerical supporters and abettors have been disciplined or had their careers derailed. This has now gone on through three papacies. What is up with this? ” Yes, Colleen, what is up?

The continuing clerical sex abuse scandals have already helped lead to one pope’s failure and ultimate resignation. Alarmed cardinals then elected an interim pope/media star, Francis, to try to limit potential harm to bishops from the scandals’ continuing and massive waves.

Francis has apparently followed for two years a dual strategy of (a) trying to underplay and string out the scandal with a near farcical abuse commission under disgraced Cardinal Law’s former canon lawyer, and (b) changing the subject with media distractions, like needless foreign trips and endless photo ops, contrived canonizations and aimless synods, papal “double speak” and mixed messaging, pontifications on stopping global warming and militarily opposing ISIS threats and other public relations gimmicks, like pizza deliveries in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis’ cynical strategy has failed. Children’s safety is too important to Catholic parents to be buried for long in distractions.

The pope now faces escalating risks from governmental pressure and/or investigations and even prosecutions in the UK, Australia, Chile, the USA, Germany and many other countries. The pope also faces a serious revolt among at least several non-clerical members of his papal advisory abuse commission, as well as among everyday Catholics, as the unprecedented protests in Chile just showed.

John Allen, the Vatican friendly journalist who seems close to Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the pope’s abuse commission and member of his elite cardinals’ group, in an untypically critical column (3/27/15)  noted: “It’s not clear if Francis fully grasped this at the time, but when he named survivors to that group {the abuse commission}, he was handing them significant control over his reputation. If {Marie} Collins and {Peter} Saunders were ever to walk out, saying they’d lost confidence or feeling that they’d been exploited for a PR exercise, it would have a vast media echo. (emphasis mine)

Allen may be understating the impact of potential commission resignations (potentially by more than just the survivor members, it appears). It also appears that he may have been unaware of investigative reporter, Jason Berry’s important column, earlier in the day, that reported that Peter Saunders, a UK priest abuse survivor and member since last month of the pope’s abuse commission, had already indicated in an e-mail interview that: “Pope Francis has to withdraw this appointment {of Chilean Bishop Juan Barros} or I and others may find it impossible to stay on the commission, …”. Saunders, after less than two months on the commission, reportedly added to this implied threat of resignation: “I am beginning to get a sense of the misguided way in which many church officials operate, … {and} I also sense that they {many church officials} feel extremely uncomfortable, probably threatened by the real prospect that their power — the ‘church’s’ power — will diminish” through the oversight of bishops. (emphasis mine} .

Please see Jason Berry’s “Backlash against Chilean bishop threatens Francis’ reform agenda” and John Allen’s  “Pope Francis may be nearing a tipping point on sexual abuse . Both of their reports followed Josh McElwee’s day earlier and extensive “scoop”, here, “Members of Vatican abuse commission question Francis .. “. McElwee’s report is followed by over 200 interesting comments to it so far, many from Catholics increasingly skeptical about the pope’s commitment to holding bishops’ accountable for failing to prevent the sex abuse of youths.

The pope’s conduct so far seems to require the necessary inference that Pope Francis’ top priority in his first two years has been to protect bishops above all else, including above making innocent children safe.

Well informed and balanced Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported on Thursday, 3/26/15, that five members of the pope’s own abuse commission have expressed “concern and incredulity” that Bishop Juan Barros has been given command of the Diocese of Osorno in Chile, despite his documented public record of defending the country’s most notorious sex abuser priest.


Apparently, the abuse commission members were not consulted by Vatican officials about the Barros matter, which makes one wonder what purpose the commission serves. In their comments to the AP, Marie Collins, a prophetic Irish abuse survivor and commission member, was sharply and clearly critical: “The voice of the survivors is being ignored,” she reportedly said, “the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored and the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection.”

“I am very worried,” said commission member, Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and authority on child sex abuse. “Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to meet with Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the commission to discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Francis.”

UK Commission member, Baroness Sheila Hollins, a psychiatrist and life peer in the House of Lords, said accountability must be enforced when it comes to protecting children. “The hierarchical rank of the perpetrator must be of no consequence in evaluating the facts,” she reportedly told the AP.

Commission member,  Dr. Krysten Winter-Green of New Zealand, an expert in social work and pastoral psychology, reportedly with long standing US ties to Cardinal O’Malley, echoed that view and said she understood that Francis’ “zero tolerance” pledge meant he too, must believe the same. “It is my presumption therefore that in the ultimate analysis justice will prevail and that Bishop Barros and all hierarchy will be held to account as the Holy Father sees fit,” she reportedly said in an email to AP.

As a lawyer, I wish Dr. Winter-Green did not “presume” these important matters that she is supposed to be transparently investigating. I also wish that she said justice will prevail “objectively” and transparently”, not only as “the Holy Father sees fit”. The Catholic Church has this growing cancer of priest child abuse and related bishop cover-ups mainly because popes have too often not seen “fit” to protect children fully from clerical predators. So far, Pope Francis seems to be mainly more of the same.

The governmental pressures are continuing. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel recently spent considerable time at the Vatican with 15 of her top aides. Why? About what?

The pope will be meeting  at the White House in a few months. Why? About what? President Obama’s Chief of Staff’s brother, the former Minneapolis Archdiocesan Vicar General, is frequently in the headlines with respect to ongoing investigations of alleged priest child abuse cover-ups. Will the pope and president discuss that matter or any other child abuse subject? President Obama, as national and Federal protector of USA children, should surely raise this important subject with the pope, for God’s sake!

In Australia, a top Archbishop has recently been indicted over allegations of covering up for a priest ultimately convicted of child rape. The sole Australian cardinal, Pell, had earlier exited the country, after giving devastating testimony before the ongoing Australian Royal Commission investigation about his mishandling of a priest abuse victim’s claims. Recently, allegations have even surfaced of sex abuse of students at the Jesuit school attended by Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, around the time he was a student there.

In the UK, a major investigation has just commenced that will investigate church institutions, among others. As UK Home Secretary and top law enforcement official, Teresa May, said earlier this month, the abuse is “woven, covertly, into the fabric of British society”. She warned that “what the country doesn’t yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse”, but might have added “or the scale of the cover-up.”

The almost daily UK revelations suggest collusion between the various arms of the “Establishment” to protect the great and the good from investigation, either for abuse or for covering it up – police, priests, politicians and performers are all implicated one way or another, it appears. Beyond the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is another arm of law enforcement that has some questions to answer. Some have indicated that among the top questions , in the light of all that has been revealed in the intervening 12 years, is why did it instruct Sussex police to drop a 2003 investigation into the then head of the Catholic Church in the UK, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor? And further, why did the CPS decide that its reasons remain confidential?

And now the stories keep coming about disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, which may end up before the UK investigation panel. In an recent interview with UK Catholic newspaper, the Tablet, an unnamed priest alleges there were multiple incidents of sexual misconduct by O’Brien against seminarians and young clergy dating back to 1985, the year the cardinal became archbishop. While not involving very young children, some of the seminarians were likely younger and entrusted to O’Brien as their confessor, mentor and superior, which raise issues of sexual harassment as well as abuse. The unnamed person, one of five to have previously made allegations against the O’Brien, said reportedly that he believed at least 40 cases took place involving O’Brien between 1985 and 2010.

The Murphy-O’Connor matter reportedly related to decisions made by the cardinal when he was a  bishop in Sussex between 1977 and 2000, and centered on how he handled allegations of child rape by priests and a notorious Father Michael Hill in particular. At the time, the chairman of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, which was dealing with a number of claims against various orders of the Catholic Church, reportedly called Murphy-O’Connor’s role in the case “indefensible” and called for his resignation.  A key question is why did the CPS abandon investigation into Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor?. See, here,

Last weekend, supporters of Pope Francis’ Chilean appointment, Bishop Juan Barros, incredibly tried to drown out the chants of protest against his ordination in Osorno Cathedral. This unprecedented revolt occurred despite Osorno’s close proximity to Argentina and Francis’ longstanding close ties to Chile. In Italy, Pope Francis and his media machine have since focused instead on pizza, relics, gossip, gender theory, etc. — anything but Chile, it seems.

Not so elsewhere. In Ireland, the prophetic abuse survivor, Marie Collins, who now with UK abuse survivor, Peter Saunders, advise Pope Francis on priest child abuse matters, has called on the pope to remove the recently-appointed Chilean bishop. The bishop is alleged by several credible abuse survivors to have covered up for Chile’s most notorious clerical abuser.

Collins says she accepts as truthful the testimony of a male survivor that Barros watched him being abused, yet did nothing about it. See “Irish abuse survivor calls for removal of bishop accused of abuse cover-up”, with a brief but pointed video of Collins’ giving her no-nonsense statement, as well as of the unforgettable statement of the male survivor, here, RTE News .

In the USA, a perceptive and careful Catholic has carefully dissected the captive Catholic media’s shameful and inept attempt to spin the reports (confirmed by vivid videos) of the unprecedented revolt of thousands at the bishop’s chaotic installation. This suggests that Pope Francis may face considerable similar protests from outraged parents and grandparents when he visits Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC in several months. See “Catholics: Don’t Believe CNA’s Spin on Bishop Barros and the Situation in Chile“, hereWaiting for Godot to Leave .

Moreover, in the UK, where a major national investigation of church and other institutional child sexual abuse is just beginning, Peter Saunders, the pope’s other featured abuse survivor who now sits on the pope’s belated “go slow” abuse commission, is also, as indicated above, bravely speaking out — evidently after now having seen over two months up close what the abuse commission’s flawed approach to date has been.  Saunders has reportedly said that proof of the Church’s seriousness in tackling the problem will be revealed by its action – or inaction – in cases like the one involving Barros  in Chile.

If Francis fails to remove Barros promptly, will either Marie Collins or Peter Saunders or both of them, and/or other commission members resign from the seemingly ineffective abuse commission? As a Catholic grandparent, I hope they both do. As an international lawyer, I think they should. If Barros stays, they are all then just being used, it appears.

Saunders has reportedly also been critical of the Vatican’s handling of another case where Bishop Robert Finn (USA) has remained in power even after he was convicted of failing to report clerical child sex abuse. Finally, Saunders recently volunteered to take over managing the Vatican’s child protection efforts. presumably indicating his dissatisfaction with the currently slow “pro forma” approach.

In his new “Francis the Miracle” book, Vatican journalist, John Allen, describes in detail, presumably based on his conversations with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the considerable efforts that O’Malley had to make recently to get Pope Francis to act even weakly on seriously curtailing priest child sexual abuse and on holding bishops accountable for protecting predatory priests. At this point, it appears that O’Malley may have gotten much more than he bargained for when he decided to give Collins and Saunders a Vatican platform on the abuse commission to criticize the Vatican’s continuing cover-up. It is hard to believe this is what Pope Francis expected from his evidently “go slow” advisory abuse commission members, even if they purport to speak only as individuals.

Significantly, Pope Francis already had a reported weak record on curtailing priest child abusers in Argentina; see  “Pope Francis and Clergy Sexual Abuse in Argentina” here,  Please see also the reported weak record as well of O’Malley, the head of the pope’s new “go slow” advisory abuse commission ,  “Six Ways Cardinal Sean O’Malley Has Mishandled the Abuse Crisis” here,  O’Malley is assisted by his commission “chief of staff”, Fr, Robert Oliver, who earlier served as infamous Cardinal Law’s canon lawyer.

Pope Francis’ and his discredited ex-pope predecessor have permanently failed with their over hyped and false slogan of “zero tolerance on sexual abuse”. Increasingly, outraged Catholic parents and grandparents are not buying the “papal bull” anymore. They are instead closely watching Francis’ hypocritical actions now, not his empty promises. As just happened in Chile, Catholics are even shouting down their bishops in church, with some violence and even arrests, as early Christians also sometimes did to bad bishops. Political leaders are also watching this closely, as the  “Hollywood like Francis facade” fades fast.

Click here to see a BBC video of what is fairly described as a “near riot” — the unprecedented Chileans’ angry protest recently against Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Barros, alleged to have silently witnessed sexual abuse of young men by his mentor, famous Chilean priest, Fernando Karadima. Francis named Barros to head a small diocese that is close to Argentina and to an active volcano. Francis misjudged. The sex abuse volcano has erupted. See the extraordinary pictures here, Pubimetro , and also the shocking second video of everyday Catholics protesting here,  YouTube .

I hold the Pope responsible,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a 51-year-old credible journalist who is allegedly a Karadima  abuse survivor and also one of the accusers of Bishop Barros.

This contradicts everything the Pope has said. He was aware of the situation but named [Barros as bishop] anyway,” Cruz told reporters. “We were accustomed to getting slapped in the face by the Catholic Church [in Chile], but getting slapped by the Pope himself is the saddest part. …”, Cruz reportedly added. (my emphasis)

Please see Cruz in his own words in this brief video clip herRTE News .

Bishop Barros is apparently part of a broader Chilean priest sexual abuse culture, that may have even included, according to reported allegations, a former  Jesuit superior in Chile. Francis reportedly spent his Jesuit novitiate years studying in Santiago, Chile. Francis likely knew, and knows, some of the key culprits, since Argentina’s and Chile’s Catholic and Jesuit organizations are tied closely.  For the broader Chilean abuse situation and Francis’ Chilean connections, please see Jason Berry’s comprehensive description, “Chilean cardinals close to pope stained by abuse cover-ups“, here, National Catholic Reporter .

As the Chilean abuse volcano was blowing the top off the abuse cover up, top researcher, Betty Clermont, was releasing her extraordinarily thorough and revealing new analysis, Pope Francis and the Dirty War: Keeping the Record Straight – Part I and Pope Francis and the Dirty War: Keeping the Record Straight – Part II . Her well documented essays, in my view, blow the top off some key episodes in Francis’ calculated and uninspiring (at best) relations with the murderous Argentine military earlier.

It is not a pretty picture of the pope, but one that must be told, even by a courageous and relentless grandmother if scholars fear to tread. Much of what has been written to date by opportunistic papal cheerleaders appears to have either material omissions or “cherry picked data” or both. Francis’ methods appear to have more in common with Machiavelli’s Florence than with St. Francis’ Assisi. Many Chileans seem to see that by now.

Yes, the sex abuse volcano has erupted in Chile. Francis can only contain its aftershocks now by convening a worldwide ecumenical counsel. The Vatican, even under Francis, has no credibility any longer. The days of {Holy} “Father Knows Best” are over, even in Francis’ own Latino backyard!

Pope Francis, who already faced significant Catholic demonstrations recently in Manila, can expect major demonstrations this summer in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington DC. Catholic parents have reached their limits. The priest child abuse cover-up with respect to US bishops appears to far exceed the Chilean situation that lead to the recent eruption. SNAP and other Catholic groups, if they are smart, can be expected to organize Catholic protest groups as the Francis’ facade fades further. Perhaps they should seek to enlist some Chilean volunteers, since US Catholics seem at times incapable of even standing up to protect their own children from clerical criminals.

In Philly, Francis will be visiting the USA’s Pedophile Priest Paradise recently overseen by Cardinal Justin Rigali, whom Francis still honors. In the criminal trial testimony and documents of Rigali’s former priest personnel official, Monsignor Lynn,  a couple of years ago, it appeared that Lynn had determined at one point that almost a quarter of Philly priests had instances of reported sex abuse related claims in their secret files.

In NYC, Francis will get to visit Cardinal Dolan’s cathedral and mansion that are being restored for almost $200 million. Meanwhile, Dolan tries to duck lawyers seeking some access to the $50+ million he apparently had “buried” in a cemetery trust to keep it from helping, among others, some of the 200 deaf children sex abuse victims of a Milwaukee priest pervert whom Cardinals Ratzinger and Bertone reportedly gave a free pass. Of course, Dolan’s predecessor, Cardinal Egan, admitted, in effect, to priest sex abuse cover-ups, then retracted with impunity his admission. Cardinals and bishops are mainly unaccountable, even to the pope, it appears.

Pope Francis may even address the UN in NYC. Hopefully, he will explain why his subordinates are stonewalling two Geneva UN committees (on torture and children) over the Vatican’s child abuse cover-ups.

In Washington DC, Francis will get to rub elbows with the Jeb Bush crowd, as the Vatican gears up again, it appears, to help elect next year a third Bush US President via anti-gay marriage and anti-contraception/abortion crusades. The election push will likely get help from Cardinal Raymond Burke and his Knights of Malta and Carl Anderson and his Knights of Columbus, as they apparently helped elect the last Bush in 2004.

Per top Bush political adviser, Karl Rove, essential help in 2004 from Catholic voters, who were apparently influenced by Burke, Anderson, et al., helped re-elect George W. Bush,  the man most responsible for needlessly starting the Iraq War, sending him back to the White House. Bush then proceeded to help Wall Street almost bring down the world’s economy in 2008. So much for Pope John Paul II’s and the ex-pope’s purported opposition to the Iraq War and concern for the poor.

Jeb Bush was recently pictured in a NY Times article with the ex-pope, Ratzinger, and Cardinal Sodano in early 2005. Sure they were all smiling. They in 2005 had just helped get Jeb’s “lied us into the Iraq War” brother re-elected, as Betty Clermont’s excellent “Neo-Catholics” book documents amply.

Now the Vatican under Pope Francis can help Jeb Bush push a war against ISIS that would seem more to advance, it appears, the interests of the Vatican’s Big Oil backers and their present and/or former associates, e.g. Peter Sutherland, former BP Chairman, and James Mulva, former ConocoPhillips CEO, than to advance the USA’s national interest. Haven’t two unnecessary Middle East Bush wars, apparently to protect Big Oil’s interests mainly, been enough for the USA for a lifetime?

Of course, if Jeb Bush were elected, Pope Francis and Cardinal Sodano can expect Jeb to appoint “bishop friendly” US Supreme Court and Federal judges. This is important to the Vatican, as bishops will almost inevitably be frequenting more US Federal criminal and bankruptcy courts in coming years.

And Pope Francis’ likely successor and Sodano’s protege, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, now the Number 2 man at the Vatican, could then ask the US Secretary of State for legal protection whenever needed, as Sodano reportedly did in 2005 did with George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Condeleeza Rice, when US civil lawyers were trying to get US judicial jurisdiction over the Vatican. Somehow, I am unable to imagine Parolin calling USA President Hillary Clinton. Can you?

Will Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming be vetted by Big Oil interests? Has it already been? Will Pope Francis blame the devil for using Hell to increase global warming? Please read the encyclical closely and remember the Roman adage — “Cui Bono?” — who benefits?

The Catholic Church is steadily collapsing under the weight of multiple “out of control” sexual scandals, yet Pope Francis spends considerable time on environmental physics,  non-essential foreign trips, gender theory, the Mafia, kissing babies, etc. Is someone trying to change the subject from the clerical sexual scandals, the contraception ban, women’s clerical subordination, etc.,  or what? Hello??  Please see here,

The Chilean revolt has a further likely negative consequence for Pope Francis. Many of his US bishops and their right wing, low tax/less regulation billionaire US Republican backers appear to have assumed that a Latino pope like Francis would be a real plus in steering US Latino voters in next year’s US presidential election away from the Democratic candidate, likely Hillary Clinton.

Even with Francis’ conveniently scheduled  election campaign canonizations of Archbishop Romero and Franciscan Junipero Serra , Francis has now shown clearly he has serious problems with Latinos like those in Chile. In Argentina, which he puzzlingly has avoided visiting even to see his lone surviving sibling, a sister still living there, barely 10 % of Catholics reportedly regularly attend weekly Mass. And Francis has recently created a mess among Mexicans by his derogatory use of the term “Mexicanization”, see here, A Mess: Mexico & Electing Bishops & Jeb Bush Too.  Mexican American voters are a significant US voting bloc.

Pope Francis can also expect a backlash among women voters, especially if as expected, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, see, Hillary Clinton vs. Pope Francis in 2015 ?

Predictably, Chilean Bishop Barros has denied any wrongdoing. “I never had knowledge or imagined the SERIOUS abuses that this priest [Fernando Karadima] committed with his victims,” he reportedly said in a recent statement. (my emphasis). Why this carefully crafted and belated denial by Barros? Did Barros know of “non-serious” abuses? Can any sexual abuse of young persons by a charismatic adult priest (or powerful Scottish cardinal for that matter) with considerable influence over them ever be considered “non-serious“? Why is the pope honoring this tainted cleric, Barros?

Pope Francis is publicly and disappointingly increasing the gap between his noble words and his less noble deeds. Francis’ opportunistic “media groupies” may love him, but Latino parents seem to have reached their limit. Chilean parents understand, better apparently than the celibate Vatican and some of the seemingly clueless childless among the media, Nelson Mandela’s reported wise words, There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

As the scandal cover-up revelations evidently contributed to the ex-Pope’s hasty exit, Pope Francis is facing, badly, his own out of control abuse scandal crisis recently. It is becoming increasingly clear that neither any pope nor any limited group of bishops can cure a Catholic Church suffering seriously from pervasive sexual abuse scandals.

The pope should follow Good Pope John’s experienced and wise lead and convene a general ecumenical council as promptly as practicable. No pope alone, even an infallible one, can repair the continuing damage, especially a pope whose record as cardinal and pope on holding priests and bishops accountable on credible claims of sex abuse and related cover-ups is as questionable as Pope Francis’ record appears to be.

Francis by now should see the pressing need for a full worldwide Church council. The examples just keep growing,  in Chile with the significant “revolt” over Francis’ inexplicable and unnecessary appointment of Bishop Barros, as well as the increasing fallout in the UK from his “wrist slapping” of disgraced Cardinal O’Brien over O’Brien’s reported abuse of young gay subordinates, and in Australia with the criminal indictment of top Archbishop Wilson for an alleged cover-up or a serial priest child predator. All these otherwise unaccountable Catholic Church leaders were allegedly enmeshed in scandals related to the sexual abuse of young and vulnerable victims by adult priests.

The long simmering Chilean revolt by disgusted Catholic parents against the absolute and celibate papal monarchy may finally have now begun, triggered by a quite misguided bishop appointment by a seemingly tone deaf Pope Francis. The revolt began not at Paris’s Bastille, but in a modest cathedral in a small Chilean city near the main pass to Argentina. Barely, a third of Chile’s bishops and half the diocese’s priests attended the new bishop’s installation. The Chilean bishops’ conference sheepishly “rubber stamped” Barros appointment recently, apparently mainly out of “obedience” to Pope Francis. Hardly actions befitting purported “successors to the Apostles”, who too often behave like papal puppets!

As the linked video above indicates clearly, from now on Catholic bishops may need to fear, more, mobs of outraged Catholic parents than abuse survivors’ advocates or lawyers or even government prosecutors. An estimated 4,000 people, dressed in black as a sign of mourning, gathered in front of the Osorno, Chile cathedral, to demand that Bishop Juan Barros Madrid,  not be installed, because of alleged connections to notorious priest sex abuse cases.

Outside, several thousand protesters, including local politicians and members of Chile’s Congress held signs and chanted demands that Barros resign. Many of the protesters even made their way inside, despite police efforts to keep them out. Inside the cathedral, supporters of Barros even scuffled with opponents who shouted denunciations. As the video shows, it seemed more like an Argentina vs. Chile football match than a bishop’s installation.

AP reported recently: “While Barros himself is not accused of molestation, at least three victims of sex abuse say he was present when they were molested by the Rev. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 90s. …”.  Many Chilean Catholics have repudiated Barros’ appointment. For example, Father Alex Vigueras, a provincial superior of a religious order in Chile, reportedly indicated earlier this week that the appointment has “left us perplexed.” “His [Pope Francis’] naming [of Barros] is not in accordance with the zero tolerance that the Church wants … ,” he reportedly added. (my emphasis)

Some 30 priests and deacons from the Osorno area reportedly also had futilely sent a letter to the Chilean papal nuncio last month asking that Barros resign, and some politicians have also opposed the appointment. What is really up with Pope Francis on the critical abuse scandal?

The UK and Australia fallout is also especially ominous as a major investigation of institutional sexual abuse, including in Church settings, is just beginning in the UK ,while the Australian Royal Commission is gathering steam, with hundreds criminal referrals reportedly so far from the different religious groups being investigated there.

Pope John XXIII, with his experience of over a half century as an Italian church official and a quarter century as a Vatican bureaucrat, knew deeply that a pope alone cannot reform the Catholic Church. Pope Francis seems to be slowly learning this lesson. So within a few months of his becoming pope, Good Pope John called for the Second Vatican Council. He died early in the Council process.

John’s successor popes, mainly elected with critical votes of Vatican bureaucrats opposed to John’s unexpected reform process that could undercut their power, negated or reversed some key reform initiatives, especially structural reforms that would curtail the absolute power of the pope and his papal court, the Curia.

Before 1870, ultimate Catholic Church power had resided mainly in periodic worldwide general councils of bishops for most of Church history. In a desperate move to salvage power as Pope Pius IX was about to lose his Papal States’ kingdom in 1870, he pressed bishops to  declare popes personally “infallible”. This move, coupled with both the decline of outside European monarchical powers’ direct influence over the Vatican, and the Vatican’s access to modern media outlets enabling it to wield increasing worldwide influence over diverse Catholic populations via “semi-infallible” encyclicals, episcopal appointments and papal diplomats, increased the personal power of popes considerably. John XXIII who served directly under papal autocrats, Pius XI and XII, and saw up close their misguided alliances with Mussolini and Hitler, knew that all powerful popes “were history” by the end of the Second World War.

Pope John seemingly knew when elected in 1958, and Pope Francis evidently has learned by now, that this modern and secretive  “papal power surge” was a very mixed blessing, as well as unsustainable in an increasingly democratic and open world.

The Chilean controversy has been closely watched by victims, advocacy groups and lawmakers as a test of Pope Francis’ promises to crack down on clerical sex abuse. Pope Francis has failed that test badly. More than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with some 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile’s 120 congress members had sent letters to Francis last month urging him to rescind the appointment. But the Pope confirmed his decision to appoint Barros after he recently met with him. “The die is cast”, as an earlier absolute Roman “pontiff maximus”, Julius Caesar, reportedly said..

Cardinals under unprecedented stress two years ago elected Pope Francis as an interim pope to stabilize a Vatican nearly collapsing in sexual and financial scandals. The scandals involved unaccountable cardinals and bishops under the out of touch ex-pope who, in effect, was forced to resign. The cardinals evidently wanted Francis to concentrate on preserving the Vatican’s assets, while protecting cardinals and bishops from prosecutors, thereby maintaining cardinals’ unaccountable power. Francis has done some asset preservation, but is failing in both in protecting bishops and in holding them accountable. Paradoxically, the only way to protect them is to make them accountable.

Pope John XXIII wisely and courageously called, within barely two months of becoming pope, for an ecumenical council that effected some permanent reforms. He quietly backed squarely, without much spin, the large majority of bishops who wanted consequential reforms that only an ecumenical council could (and still can) permanently adopt. He did this until 81 years old as he battled both cancer and entrenched Vatican bureaucrats.

The new pope prioritized by addressing the financial scandals primarily, while seemingly hoping he could defer almost indefinitely curtailing the abuse scandal, He changed the subject with a massive public relations strategy of well publicized papal trips, ambiguous interviews, inconsequential synods and platitudes about helping the poor, condemning Islamic terrorists, growing larger families, subordinating women and even curbing global warming. He took a year to meet with abuse survivors and two years to name a full “go slow” abuse commission under the operational control of  disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law’s  former Boston canon lawyer. This strategy has failed.

The incomplete financial restructuring has left the monarchical pope solely in charge of the financial committees that are still run by clerics mostly, all answerable ultimately only to the pope and replaceable at any time only by him. Pope Francis has yet to select an independent outside auditing firm for the Vatican’s assets and operations or to commit to making the Vatican’s own audited reports public fully and promptly.

Pope Francis for two years has mainly continued the quarter century old priest child abuse cover-up policy of his two predecessors, it appears. The policy includes keeping secret Vatican records relating to the cover-up, including some records most recently requested futilely by Australia’s Royal Commission. The papal cover-up policy has completely failed.

Now an Australian Archbishop has become the world’s most senior Catholic leader criminally charged with concealing child abuse.The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, has been charged with concealing child sexual abuse by Fr, James Fletcher, who died in prison while serving time for raping an altar boy. If found guilty, the archbishop could serve up to two years in jail. It is uncertain at present whether Wilson’s criminal proceedings will involve any secret Vatican records.

Pope Francis needs to ask whether more criminal charges against bishops, and even cardinals, will soon follow. He needs to revisit his “go slow” approach to curtailing priest child abusers and to holding complicit bishops accountable only to secretive Vatican proceedings. Even one of the pope’s two showpiece abuse survivor commission members, the UK’s Peter Saunders, has now even bravely and boldly offered to take over personally the Vatican child protection efforts, presumably after Saunders has gotten to see up close the “go slow” commission’s selective and inadequate efforts.

Francis needs a real “gamechanger”. He needs to call for an ecumenical council, as Pope John XXIII did over a half century ago. and make the subject of bishop accountability a top priority item for the new council.

Given the escalating governmental investigations, in Australia (including of Archbishop Wilson and Cardinal Pell),  in the UK ( including of Cardinal O’Brien), in Minneapolis (including of Archbishop Niensted and his former vicar, the brother of President Obama’s Chief of Staff), in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (USA) (including of Archbishop Wesolowski), and in many other countries, Pope Francis, in his self declared short remaining papacy,  will need all the trust he can generate now by giving the full truth, without spin, to Catholics. A full airing at a council can help build that trust.

Pope Francis seems to think he can do the main investigations “in house” at the Vatican. He needs to “get real” and talk to Anglican Bishop Paul Butler who reportedly said recently: “A full public {governmental} inquiry is required because under those terms people have to take oaths and therefore swear to tell the truth. My fear is the whole story won’t come out without that,” reportedly said Bishop Paul Butler of the Church of England, which has uncovered evidence of sexual abuse by clergy. “We have to be investigated just like anybody else.”,

Archbishop Wilson’s criminal trial will further harm the diminishing credibility of Pope Francis.  The Archbishop is vice-president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, a body he previously led as president for six years.

An abuse victim of Fr. Fletcher, Peter Gogarty, reacted to the criminal charges against Wilson with significant insight. He reportedly stated:

“This is an important step in the process of identifying who did know what was going on with these priests, and it’s significant for anyone who has ever been sexually abused as a child, whether in the Catholic Church or other institution, or for that matter in their own home by a family member. What this says is that no-one’s above the law.” (emphasis mine)

Gogarty indicated he had believed that no senior Catholic bishop would ever be charged with concealing a child sex allegation because “it was like a hill too high”. A significant factor is changing prosecutors’ perceptions has been the dramatic impact of a major national commission like the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse called a brave former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. A similar commission is beginning in the UK called by UK Home Secretary, Teresa May. Similar ones seem inevitable in due course in other nations, including the USA and Germany.

In a related matter, the Australian Royal Commission had found last month that Cardinal George Pell and the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese repeatedly failed in their dealings with Sydney priest sex abuse victim John Ellis.

After Pell testified before the Royal Commission, Pell exited quickly to Rome to become the top money man in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis had rewarded Pell’s mixed (at best) Australian service by making him the powerful head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy. He lives in luxury in his palatial Roman “guest house”, Domus Australia, renovated reportedly with $30 million of Australian donations.

If Pope Francis is serious about holding cardinals and bishops to account, he must not only call for an ecumenical council to address the issues, he must do more promptly. Pell must be fired pronto, not promoted and honored. Otherwise, the pope is making a mockery of Jesus’ mandates about protecting children and serving, not dominating, the People of God. Please see “Pope Francis Must Fire Cardinal Pell Now‏” here, Christian Catholicism.

With two years as pope under his belt, Pope Francis should also be in a position now to answer, as a self proclaimed servant of the People of God, some key questions on the minds of some Catholics in the 99%. “Friendly” and “opportunistic” journalists, some apparently seeking to preserve their special access to Vatican sources, have failed predictably to pose many of these questions directly.

So here goes. Hopefully, Pope Francis will respond to some or all of them openly and fully. If he chooses not to answer them, the questions will linger to undermine trust in the pope and his otherwise promising message.

So Pope Francis:

  1. Why did you, Pope Francis, call for a two step, carefully staged and secretive Synod, instead of an open and more promising ecumenical council, like Good Pope John did within two months of his papal election? As you know, only a full council after a thorough deliberation can infallibly adopt much needed and permanent structural reforms and overdue and updated definitive teachings on sexual morality that cannot then be changed readily by future popes.
  2. Why and how did you select the Synods’ limited agenda that omits pressing issues like (a) holding bishops accountable to the Catholic 99 % for protecting predatory child abusing priests, and (b) adding urgently needed married and women priests?
  3. Why are women and married couples excluded as full participants at Synods on family matters? Pope John’s birth control commission, for example, as a half century old precedent, had them as full participants on similar issues.
  4. Why (a) have you stacked your new financial commissions with clerical majorities and wealthy male lay members that all serve at the pope’s pleasure, and (b) why have you failed so far to select, to review the Vatican’s assets and operations, an outside independent audit firm whose audit report you would now commit to make public fully and promptly?
  5. Why have you appointed a cardinal, George Pell, to oversee Vatican financial administration, given that he left his country, Australia, seemingly in disgrace after spending a fortune to defeat an abuse survivor’s valid and much smaller claim? Good financial administration requires both experience and integrity. Staffing for finance differs from fielding a rugby or football team.
  6. Why have you failed to rebuke publicly by name so many clerical subordinates for child abuse cover-up missteps, like Cardinals Law, Mahony, O’Brien, Rigali, Egan, George, Danneels, Brady, et al. and Bishops and other clerics,  like Vangelhuwe, Mueller (Norway), Finn, Nienstedt, George Ratzinger ( Regensburg choirmaster), et al. ?
  7. Why have you failed to rebuke so many bishops for excessive expenditures on cathedrals and/or lavish residences like Dolan, Mahony, Bertone, Joseph Ratzinger (retirement convent), et al.? And now you even promote the Bling Bishop (with his reported two moving vans of “bling”, etc.) to a Vatican position? Why?
  8. Why in connection with their canonization proceedings, did you keep relevant  files on John Paul II and Paul VI secret, as you also did with respect to Holocaust financial related files reasonably requested by Jesuit educated author, Gerald Posner, and with respect to priest child abuse records reasonably requested by the Australian Royal Commission? Are you hiding something?
  9. Is the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics (a) being mostly pushed by German bishops to save the related tax subsidies, and (b) being mostly resisted by USA bishops worried about undercutting their anti-gay marriage crusade aimed seemingly at electing next year a bishop friendly, “low tax/light regulation” US President like Republican Jeb Bush?
  10. Why do you pump Catholic population growth, in speeches and by banning the birth control pill, when your saw up close in Latin and South America and in the Philippines, the horrible plight of desperate couples and their innocent children? These couples already have more children than they can afford to raise properly, no?


  1. In light of the realities underlying the above questions, it seems clear that Pope Francis, sadly for Catholics, has failed so far to match up to the important example of “Good Pope John”. Francis practices “clever clericalism” that, under cover of platitudes about caring for the “poor sheep”, seems almost always to put protecting cardinals and clerics (and their plutocratic donors) ahead of the Gospel message and the poor and defenseless. At the same time, the pope “jesuitically” feeds, to a gullible and opportunistic media, popular “pious platitudes” to write about, without much original thought or effort being required on their part.
  2. In contrast, Pope John XXIII wisely and courageously called, within barely two months of becoming pope, for an ecumenical council that effected some permanent reforms. He quietly backed squarely, without much spin, the large majority of bishops who wanted consequential reforms that only an ecumenical council could (and still can) permanently adopt. He did this until 81 years old as he battled both cancer and entrenched Vatican bureaucrats.
  3. Pope John also had the wisdom and courage to investigate thoroughly the moral implications of the birth control pill with a commission that included married couples as full participants. Francis has gone backwards with his Family Synods with all celibate male participants, and some token “natural family planning” couples to sell that limited approach. Cardinal Walter Kasper, Francis’ preferred theologian, referred to Francis’ approach here as “absurd”, while former Irish President, Mary McAleese, a mother and civil and canon lawyer, referred to it as “bonkers”.
  4. Francis could have followed, and could still follow, Good Pope John’s wise and courageous example. Francis could and should convene a worldwide ecumenical counsel now, with a broad representation and fully open meetings. Instead, Francis has so far mostly and secretively protected the hierarchy, no matter what they did and do. His Family Synods are no “profiles in courage”.
  5. Of course, so far Francis has also salvaged the Vatican Bank’s profitable operations, as he protected Vatican cardinals from prosecutors investigating financial crimes. And he has also tightened his and future popes’ absolute control over Vatican finances — that seems mostly to be about it in terms of significant actual results after two years under Pope Francis.
  6. Predictably, Francis has now, it appears, made a firm decision to stand behind his indefensible decision to assign a bishop in Chile, linked to one of the country’s most notorious clerical sex abusers, as the new leader of a local diocese.
  7. Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid was previously Chile’s military chaplain, and likely in that position well known to Francis’ evidently strong ally and former Chilean Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, seemingly a long time supporter of Chilean military dictator Pinochet. Barros had been appointed in mid-January as the new bishop of the small Osorno diocese.
  8. Barros is one of at least four bishops mentored by the Father Fernando Karadima , a longtime prominent Chilean cleric. In 2011, the Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of “penitence and prayer” after finding him guilty of pedophilia and abuse of his ecclesiastical position.
  9. The victims of Karadima have accused Barros  of covering up for Karadima, while he sexually abused devoted followers during the 1980s and 1990s. Barros, and three other bishops associated with Karadima, defended their mentor and tried to discredit the victims, even after the Vatican ruled against him. The Chilean Bishops Conference nevertheless forced the four to publicly apologize for supporting Karadima.
  10. Since the Vatican announced the transfer of Barros to Osorno, laity in the diocese, as well as clergy and even local politicians, had written to the papal envoy in Chile to void the bishop’s transfer. More than 1,000 signatures were sent to Rome. Last month, a leader of the Chilean parliament issued a letter signed by 51 MPs to the Vatican to oppose Barros’ appointment.
  11. Nevertheless, Francis has once again, it appears, opted to put the interests of the hierarchy as his highest priority. The Apostolic Nunciature in Chile on Saturday (3/14/15) issued a statement in “trust and support” of Bishop Barros. Once again Francis appears to have disregarded the “sheep” and acted to protect at all costs the interest of seemingly hierarchical wolves.
  12. At least two Chilean members of the hierarchy reportedly had also asked Pope Francis to rescind the appointment. Bishop Barros, it appears, has the  support of Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile and a member of the pope’s over hyped Council of Cardinals. Errazuriz himself reportedly has faced substantial criticism for alleged priest child abuse cover up missteps.
  13. During his time as archbishop,  Errazuriz reportedly refused to meet with some of those who claimed to have been abused by priests. He also reportedly refused public calls for an investigation of Father  Karadima and of the issue of priest sexual abuse of Chilean children more generally. And yet Francis picked Errazuriz for his Council of Cardinals.
  14. The Karadima case has been a major blow to the moral authority of the Catholic Church in Chile. But as Francis has done with the likes of Cardinals Law, Brady, Rigali and Danneels, as well as Bishops Finn, Vangeluhwe, et al., and even Monsignor Ricca, Francis once again appears to back the “boys’ club” members to the hilt, if at all possible.
  15. Three prominent Chilean survivors had denounced Karadima for sexually abusing them at his residence in the early 1980s, when they were 17 years old. The first complaints to the Vatican were reportedly made in 2010. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith opened a secretive Vatican internal process, and found Karadima guilty of pedophilia and sentenced him to a life of “penitence and prayer.”
  16. Soon after the Vatican finding, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, then archbishop emeritus of Santiago and currently member of Pope Francis’ council of nine cardinal advisers, publicly apologized for not believing the first accusations made against Karadima in 2004.
  17. After the Vatican’s earlier ruling, a Chilean civilian judge reopened the case. but dismissed it because the statute of limitations had expired. She reportedly did, however, determine that the abuse allegations were truthful.
  18. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has taken his unprecedented public relations efforts to new heights on Mexican TV. In front of a large painting prop of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he predicted in an interview that he may retire very soon, or within three years.
  19. Retire with so much undone? Pope John XXIII at least called, within barely two months of becoming pope, for an ecumenical council that effected some permanent reforms. He did this as he battled both cancer and entrenched Vatican bureaucrats until 81 years old.  Francis has so far mostly just salvaged the Vatican Bank’s profitable operations and protected Vatican cardinals from prosecutors, while also tightening popes’ absolute control over Vatican finances — that seems mostly to be about it.
  20. Now Pope Francis is discussing his exit plans and lowering expectations about permanent reforms. Really? What is now stopping Pope Francis from following Good Pope John’s shrewd example by convening an ecumenical council in his final years, instead of taking more unnecessary, almost diversionary, foreign trips?
  21. Moreover, the heat on the pope may have only barely begun, especially from public outrage over the child abuse scandals in the UK, the Philippines, the USA (Minneapolis), Poland, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. Indeed, a UK abuse survivor appointed to, and well advertised by the Vatican clerics associated with, the pope’s new “go slow” sex abuse commission, has recently indicated publicly his dissatisfaction with the Vatican’s overall approach to protecting children, which he now has observed up close as a commission member. Please see, “Leading anti-abuse campaigner offers to take charge of Holy See child protection office” here, The Tablet .
  22. Mexico is an important source of billionaire donations to the Vatican, as well as significant for the pope’s and his US bishops’ evident efforts to elect next year, with some additional US Latino votes, a “bishop friendly” right wing Republican US President.
  23. The Mexican TV interview was triggered by Francis’ unwarranted and ill advised slur about a purported “Mexicanization” process related to drug violence. Pope Francis is now, it appears, trying to pass the buck on Mexican drug wars to the “devil”. The pope reportedly said, ” … I think the devil is punishing Mexico with great fury, …”. Please see, reminiscent of the “Exorcist” movie, the almost surreal video clip of Pope Francis in the recent interview seemingly blaming “El Diablo”, “Mexico is being punished“, here, Washington Post.  Please see also my recent related remarks, “A Mess: Mexico & Electing Bishops & Jeb Bush Too“, here,  Christian Catholicism.
  24. Now Pope Francis is discussing in detail his exit plans? Did we miss a chapter? Other than salvaging the Vatican Bank and tightening up papal power, what has Pope Francis really achieved in two years? Was Pope Francis elected mainly just to change the subject for a couple of years while the heat was increasing on the Vatican following the abrupt and unseemly departure of the ex-Pope? Perhaps, but the real heat may have only just begun.
  25. For two years now, opportunistic papal promoters, including some “softball” journalists, have pleaded that Francis needs time to “warm up” to address the sexual abuse and financial scandals and the underlying lack of bishop accountability. Pope Francis, in the long TV interview continued his seeming effort to change the subject from what after two years still remains undone at the Vatican. He pays much too little attention in the ‘softball” interview to what specifically, and how procedurally, he intends to help the hundreds of millions who still suffer needlessly under the Vatican’s irrational and self serving policies.
  26. Please Pope Francis, before you tell us more of your retirement and future travel plans — since you took the pope job on voluntarily — please tell a billion plus Catholics what, and when, specifically are you really going to do for the hundreds of millions who suffer because of irrational, unnecessary and unchristian Vatican polices?
  27. Please also, Pope Francis, let the informed experts and democratically elected leaders worry about global warming, containing ISIS and other secondary issues that you spend too much time on. Please focus more instead on making Catholic leaders, including cardinals and popes, accountable and children safer. The pope’s fellow Jesuit, a UC Berkeley political scientist and expert on the Vatican’s organizational structure, has even significantly faulted the pope’s reorganization plan for the Vatican’s bureaucracy.
  28. Some Catholics may smell like sheep to some clerics, but they are not all as dumb as sheep. Many really could care less if Pope Francis likes pizza, soccer, kissing babies or the like! Many of them think Francis was selected to reform a corrupt, possibly even criminal, Church leadership, not to be a transitory “feel good” therapist or an international relations or economics theorist .
  29. In his interview discussion of retirement, Pope Francis reportedly said: “Sixty years ago there were no emeritus (retired) bishops. And now we have 1,400. They (church leaders) came to the idea that a man after 75, or close to that age, cannot carry the weight of a particular (local) church. …”.

    When asked if he could imagine a situation where a pope must offer his resignation at 80 (barely 20 months away for Francis), Francis responded that he could. but rejected the idea saying it would create the feeling that a pontificate is drawing to an end. It is incomprehensible to me how Francis can think dioceses may be too much for bishops to manage after 75 years of age, but the entire church can be managed well enough by popes who are even older.

    Francis now needs to call for a new ecumenical council as John XXIII did. Francis may win a short term public relations “battle” in the polls if he refuses to convene a full ecumenical council like Pope John did, but he surely then will also lose the longer term permanent reform war after the polls settle down.

    Unlike Pope John, Francis faces multiple major scandals in a 24/7 media Internet Age, especially unprecedented scandals involving priest and even bishop child sexual abuse. These scandals alone could well bring down an unreformed Catholic Church, sooner rather than later.

    On Vatican finance, Pope Francis seems naively overconfident. Even under Francis, financial matters are still managed by men who report to him privately and serve at his pleasure. After Francis, who knows who will be calling the financial shots in Rome. This is a real concern expressed even by the perceptive Jesuit educated former Wall Street lawyer, Gerald Posner, author of the  troubling and comprehensive  book, “God’s Bankers : A History of Money and Power at the Vatican” .

    On the sexual abuse scandal, the worst for the Vatican may be coming soon, in the UK, Minnesota (USA) the Philippines and elsewhere.

    Theresa May, in effect,  the head of the UK police and security services, has recently reportedly stated in pertinent part in connection with the new investigation commission with power to compel testimony: ” … We already know the trail will lead into … our churches, … and many other institutions that should have been places of safety but instead became the setting for the most appalling abuse. However, what the country doesn’t yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse. … ”

    May added: ” The inquiry won’t probe individuals but where there is evidence a person has abused their position – no matter how high or how low that position – it will be passed to the police to investigate. So if there has been a cover-up, we will uncover it. And if perpetrators of child sexual abuse are found, they will be brought to justice.”.

  30. Why otherwise would Pope John XXIII have convened a massive Church council in the early 1960’s if he thought he could fix the Church alone or with only minor groups of selected cardinals and bishops? This is about all that Pope Francis has tried to do so far for two years, unsuccessfully for the most part. Francis was elected by the cardinals who helped create the multiple Church crises. He has mainly relied on some of these same cardinals, mostly secretively so far, to try to resolve the crises. That cannot succeed. In the little time he may have left, he must now convene a full worldwide council as John XXIII did. Pope John, when he convened the Second Vatican Council, had much more Vatican bureaucratic experience than Francis has even today.
  31. Councils have been considered infallible by Catholics and other Christians from the Church’s beginning. They alone have resolved major Church crises over almost 2000 years from the first “Council of Jerusalem” attended by Jesus’ earliest followers in the year 50. So called “infallible” popes’ had, in effect, only been invented by Pope Pius IX in 1870 at an unfinished council he convened and controlled.
  32. John XXIII, with much more experience than Francis with the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy and with international politics, had been born under the first pope that had been elected after popes “became infallible”. He had worked directly under the imperious Pope Pius XI, who made his harmful deals with Mussolini in 1929 and Hitler in 1933 and also recklessly banned birth control in 1930.
  33. John knew with certainty that only an infallible council could possibly succeed in reforming the corrupt Church. He knew that it was ultimately futile to rely, as a cure for Church crises, on merely an “infallible” pope who could always be overruled by a successor “infallible” pope, as has happened often since John’s papacy untimely ended in 1963. Francis will be overruled by opportunistic future popes as well, if Francis unwisely fails to convene an open and  representative worldwide council soon, a council that alone can infallibly and permanently fix the Church now.
  34. Francis may win a temporary public relations “battle” in the polls if he refuses to convene a full ecumenical council like Pope John did, but he surely then will also lose the longer term permanent reform war after the polls settle down. Unlike John, Francis faces multiple major scandals in a 24/7 media Internet Age, especially unprecedented scandals involving priest and even bishop child sexual abuse. These scandals alone could well bring down an unreformed Catholic Church, sooner rather than later.
  35. Gary Wills wisely indicated recently in an interview for his new book, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, “If he [Pope Francis] follows the example of John XXIII, he will not make changes by his own personal fiat, but will encourage bishops to move in new directions, as John did with the Second Vatican Council … “. Minor temporary fixes, such as all celibate male Family Synods, financial oversight under the continuing control of an absolute monarch, and superficial media management moves under FOX News alumni are not enough, and can never be, to save the Catholic Church.
  36. Wills, a former Jesuit seminarian and award winning papal historian, is once again right. This confirms why in 2008 the leading Vatican expert, John Allen, described Wills as” … perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years”. Allen, in his new book, The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church, perhaps unintentionally confirms in my view Wills’ wise advice that Francis needs to follow good Pope John’s experienced path. Francis must either convene a full council soon or face failure.
  37. Pope Francis has in his first two years warmly reminded Catholics of why their Church and its unique Gospel message are worth saving. But most importantly, he has also shown why Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, instead of just deciding changes secretively alone or with a select group of cardinals and bishops.
  38. Pope Francis appears to have desperately done his best for two years to explore changes and reforms to try to save the Catholic Church, despite considerable clerical opposition and the ever present fallout from the priest child abuse scandal. But most importantly, Francis has showed why Good Pope John was right— convening an open and representative ecumenical council is the only way to save the Catholic Church. Anything less than a full council now can never succeed.
  39. Francis’ opposition clerics are mainly among the large majority of cardinals and bishops appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as “yes men”. This “yes” was especially critical on “papal infallibility sensitive” issues like Pope Paul VI’s 1968 ban on the birth control pill.
  40. The recent Family Synod’s vote of bishops and cardinals was, in effect, approximately 95 % in favor of continuing the ban on the birth control pill, indicating that artificial contraception should generally be avoided, apparently to promote more Catholic babies, among other goals. This should be a sufficiently ominous example of the strength of the current episcopal opposition, even to change a “teaching” that the vast majority of Catholics, including most priests, in good conscience have rejected for a half century.
  41. To see the effect of the “cherry picked” bishop selection process of the last two popes, compare this to the vote on the same issue of John XXIII’s birth control commission, which included cardinals and bishops and the Jesuit’s top moral theologian of the twentieth century, Fr. Josef Fuchs. The earlier vote was approximately 95% in favor ending the ban on the birth control pill. That is an approximate shift from 95% in favor of ending the ban to 95% in favor of keeping it, accomplished mainly by “infallible” popes’ bishop selection process.
  42. In 50 years, the “natural law”, that purportedly was the philosophical foundation for the ban of the contraception Pill, was unchanged, but the papal politics and bishop appointments did change over the half century. Incidentally, not only was the most prominent Jesuit moral theologian of Francis’ lifetime, Fuchs, opposed to banning the Pill, so was the most prominent Jesuit systematic theologian of Francis’ lifetime, Fr. Karl Rahner, who was also opposed to the ban. Were not Fuchs and Rahner also true Jesuit  “Sons of the Church” like Francis claims to be?

  1. Pope Francis over the past two years has also shown clearly, intentionally or not, that neither he, nor any future “revolving infallible monarch” (an 1870 non-biblical invention of Pope Pius IX), could ever really save the Church. This has just been confirmed for me again by the above linked recent “Francis books” of Gary Wills and John Allen.
  2. Pius IX, in effect, for the first time in 1870 made “infallible” whomever is the current pope, rather than the Church general councils that had exclusively been “infallible” for the 1800 prior years.  Since 1870, popes have been “infallible” and, for all practical purposes, the “last word” on moral “dogma”, Church “structure”,  bishops’ status and even Church finances. The latest pope was always the “most infallible”.
  3. To try to compensate for the loss of his Papal States kingdom in 1870, Pius XI created an ultimately unaccountable and fatally flawed “top down” Church management structure. Recent and ongoing Vatican scandals are the inevitable fruits of that misguided structure, as Francis must painfully be learning daily.
  4. The post-1870 unaccountable Church hierarchy up to the present, who mostly benefit in power and wealth from an absolute papal monarchy under an “infallible” pope, have resisted, and should be expected always to resist, strongly, every pope’s reform efforts that seeks to hold them accountable even for facilitating child rape or to forgo papal infallibility as is absolutely necessary.
  5. It is becoming increasingly evident that many of the current hierarchy are just waiting for the next pope’s election to reverse Francis’ present, and expected, further reforms that they may object to. Some cardinals clearly are already trying to do this with Francis’ initial reform efforts, as their hierarchical predecessors did with John XXIII’s key reform initiatives a half century ago.
  6. Most importantly, “Good Pope John” knew he needed a full ecumenical council’s decisions to make any meaningful permanent changes. He realized, as Pope Francis should realize by now as well, that mere decrees of a pope and determinations of marginal synods would always be ineffective longer term against a future “infallible” pope seeking to avoid the earlier decrees and determinations.
  7.  In the final analysis, it is for Pope Francis to decide now which way to go, either to adopt needed changes by his “own personal fiat” ( a big mistake) or by decisions of a new ecumenical council, the only approach that may work. The haphazard, staged and “cherry picked” Synod, with its narrow and pre-selected agenda and secretive discussions, hardly adds any weight to what would still after the Synods be Francis’ personal fiats, should he unwisely make decisions without at least the concurrence of a full vote of a legitimate general council. The Synods’ insignificant “imprimatur”  would fool few intelligent Catholics, any more than the Synods’ inane questionnaires fooled them as representing meaningful input from the Catholic 99% “People of God”.
  8. Unfortunately for Catholics, including Pope Francis, Pope John XXIII died in 1963 before his Second Vatican Council could complete essential structural reforms needed then, and still needed. The Vatican hierarchy knew in 1963 that it had an ally in John’s likely successor, Pope Paul VI, an experienced Vatican bureaucrat whom they helped elect, as they helped subsequently to elect the two other “Curia friendly” Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
  9. Forget the hapless celibate male Family Synods! The initial all celibate male Family Synod last October was ineffective, almost embarrassing as a serious effort, and the Final Synod in several months appears to be no more promising.
  10. The Catholic Church’s only hope now is with a truly representative and open worldwide general council. It could be convened either by Francis or even by concerned Catholics (perhaps funded in part by the likes of the Gates Foundation, co-headed by a practicing Catholic, Melinda Gates, an advocate for women’s equality and for universal contraception access).
  11. If such an open worldwide council effort fails to occur or to be effective if it is convened, I am convinced, as an experienced Catholic international lawyer, that the Vatican, sooner rather than later, will then be reformed forcibly by outside governments’ pressure. These governments will most likely seek, among other matters, to curtail the hierarchy’s illegal sexual and financial scandals and the continuing threats to defenseless children from predatory priests. If cardinals and bishops refuse to listen to the Catholic 99%, then they will have to listen to the governmental officials the 99% elect.
  12. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent papal “visit” with 15 of her top advisers, the Australian Royal Commissions’s massive institutional child abuse investigations, and the similar UK investigation now underway, are all likely preludes to this governmental pressure. Outside governments in 1870, in effect, reformed the unacceptably corrupt and incompetent Papal States’ governance by letting Italian nationalists take control of the Papal States kingdom, without serious opposition from major European powers, even from so-called Catholic monarchs.
  13. Governmental intervention, at least by indirect legal and financial pressure as is already beginning to happen, will inevitably increase if an ecumenical council is not held soon. This pressure may happen even if a council is held, since the Vatican may have stalled for too long in making real reforms. But Pope Francis would most likely still be better off by being “proactive” by convening a general council soon with a detailed and specified mandate. Otherwise, he risks having to accept outside governments’ terms, which are quite likely to be worse, at least for the hierarchy and their opportunistic plutocratic supporters, than any reforms the Catholic hierarchy may voluntarily adopt.
  14. Without an open and effective general council, the Vatican in due course will most probably self destruct under the weight of its unending scandals, irrelevant and irrational “dogmas” and its unaccountable “top down” management structure.
  15. Very significantly, following the Vatican’s own disastrous conference on women, an open and “unofficial” Vatican conference on women was held recently. It was a stark contrast to last October’s tightly stage managed and ultimately ineffective all celibate male Family Synod. It provided some indication of the really positive potential that could be expected from an open ecumenical council.
  16. Please note the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter (“NCR”), Josh McElwee’s enthusiastic report, and comments thereto, “Vatican event tackles women’s equality, inclusion, ordination“. Josh’s report got over 800 comments, many very supportive, in only two days before NCR conservatively first closed comments, and then moved the report off its face page, it appears. See here:
  17. . See also the related NCR discussion (with some informative pictures), “Women speak up about equality in the church from the heart of the Vatican here,
  19. Pope Francis’ cannot reform the Catholic Church permanently, unless he gets off the “infallible pope seesaw”. Anything he decides personally will likely be ideologically challenged internally, and will also be reversible by his “infallible successor”, as the latest “reform of the reform” as happened with some of the key reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
  20. Pope Francis, with help from his capable and eager Jesuit “army”,  must convene a broadly based worldwide council with an express and detailed mandate, including as specified tasks publicly making bishops (including popes) accountable again to the Catholic 99% “People of God”, as well as of adopting an overhaul of Catholic teachings in light of current scholarship and scientific knowledge. No more ideological Catechisms crafted, in effect, in secret.
  21. Absolute monarchies and pervasive secrecy are obsolete in the 24/7 media Internet Age. With modern technology and good planning, this council should be more efficient and significantly shorter than the Second Vatican Council, which had tried to address 400 years of accumulated neglect of pressing issues following the Council of Trent. That was an impossible task for one Council. The 1870 First Vatican Council had had only a limited agenda and ended abruptly, thanks to advancing and unfriendly Italian nationalist troops.
  22. The “infallible pope seesaw game” was invented in 1870 by a desperate Pope Pius IX. It still persists. When Francis said after the initial Family Synod last October that he will be the “guarantor” of Synod determinations, he was playing that “game”, intentionally or not. Guarantor of what? On what authority? Pius IX’s rigged council? Does the Council of Constance decision that council decisions always trump popes’ decisions apply to Synods? Does a papal decision trump a Synod’s determination? For how long? Until Francis’ successor is elected? Francis now needs to convene a council, or likely face being a footnote in the papacy’s final chapter.
  23. In the “game”, the latest monarchical pope’s preferences are always the “last word”. For example, John XXIII changed Pius XII’s positions. Paul VI changed John XXIII’s positions. John Paul II and Benedict XVI not only changed their predecessors’ positions, but they cunningly and arrogantly tried to cement almost all of their personal preferences into a permanent and “semi- infallible” Catechism that they almost dictated! Who will change Francis’ positions in a few years if he continues on the infallible seesaw without the needed general council?
  24. Unfortunately for Pope Francis’ situation compared to John XXIII’s situation, the “infallible pope seesaw” is most likely about to experience some abrupt stops if Francis fails to change his current trajectory by convening a general council. Ex-Pope Benedict has, in effect, already been knocked off the infallible seesaw by fallout from the priest child abuse scandal.
  25. Also, the Vatican still faces several potentially decisive challenges from the priest child abuse scandals. Francis and many of his cardinals, in my legal assessment, still unwisely underestimate this threat. For example, Francis and his advisers are clearly shortsighted with their “go slow” sex abuse commission and with Archbishop Wesolowski’s delayed and secretive Vatican trial.
  26. And going forward, the next pope will also control, absolutely and privately, Pope Francis’ powerful new financial staff. Who watches the papal hand in the till? Most of the recent Vatican financial scandals occurred right under papal noses, in some cases apparently with papal acquiescence, if not actual direction. For example, Cardinal Bertone, in effect, said that the ex-Pope approved the December 2012 $20+ million loan that the Vatican Bank’s outside auditors pressed to have written off as uncollectible.
  27. Francis seems to suggest he cannot get off his Vatican seesaw so easily. He indicates he is restricted because he is a “Son of the Church”. Which prior pope’s “Church”?
  28. Recent “infallible” popes have differed on major matters. Francis has not yet really even questioned one iota of the Catechism. He is running out of time. He is on top of the papal seesaw at present. The papal playground may soon be overrun by prosecutors. He can, indeed he must if he wants real change, get off the seesaw and return decision making permanently to a general council, as has been the acceptable tradition for over 90% of Catholic Church history.
  29. Moreover, as to whatever structural and teaching changes Francis might ultimately try to adopt on his own as pope, without convening a council, following his Final Family Synod in October, those changes would be, and I expect likely will be, up for further changes again in a few years by his “infallible” papal successor. Is that all Francis gave up his retirement years for? A few years in the Roman sun and a lot of “photo ops”?
  30. This seesaw effect even happened, after John XXIII’s untimely death, with respect to key matters like collegiality, married priests, contraception and priest child abuse. All of these matters were left unfinished by the Council under Paul VI, or in the case of contraception, married priests and priest child abuse, even unaddressed or untouched, by the 2,500+ bishops at the Second Vatican Council.
  31. Paul VI’s papal mismanagement of the Council’s agenda and spirit was possible likely only because of the post-1870 Catholic Church’s fundamental structural flaw of “infallible popes”, instead of only “infallible councils” as was the case for almost 1,800 years before 1870. The Church is still paying the high price of Pius IX’s and Paul VI’s misguided strategy.
  32. New popes are not really bound much either by their predecessors’ positions or even general councils’ loosely defined preferences. Indeed, since 1870, popes have been generally unaccountable to anyone.
  33. To prevent this currently embedded “infallible pope seesaw effect”, where the latest pope is always the “last word”, Pope Francis must act bravely to end this potentially perpetual and ultimately fatal “latest infallible pope tyranny”. Otherwise, he likely will be just the latest temporary turning point on the papal seesaw. Given the escalating outside pressures on the Vatican, the time for such games is over.
  34. Yes, Pope Francis must call for a decisive worldwide and representative Church council after, if not before, his inconclusive Final Synod meets in October. The farcical Synods make clear that more and broader dialogue is long overdue and desperately needed. This dialogue cannot happen at all secretive all celibate male synods.
  35. “Infallible popes” have ruled the Vatican often badly since 1870. Popes are free to disregard their predecessors’ decisions. Despite hollow talk about decentralization, popes still control all Church matters like absolute monarchs, at a time when absolute monarchs are obsolete for many good reasons.
  36. Even under Francis, financial matters will be managed by men who report to him privately and serve at his pleasure. After Francis, who knows who will be calling the financial shots in Rome. This is a real concern expressed even by the perceptive Jesuit educated and former Wall Street lawyer, Gerald Posner, author of the  explosive and comprehensive  book, “God’s Bankers : A History of Money and Power at the Vatican” .
  37. This seesaw approach can no longer work in the current 24/7 media Internet Age— that is very clear. As an experienced international lawyer. my growing fear, recently confirmed by my inferences from John Allen’s and Gary Wills’ new “Francis books” linked above and by a recent and unprecedented UK police raid, is that the pope, on his current trajectory, will likely ultimately fail due to escalating cardinal opposition. This opposition will likely then forestall essential accountability reforms until the Vatican itself is completely overwhelmed soon by growing legal pressures, as evidenced by both the UK raids and the relentless pressure from the Australian Royal Commission that, in effect, already drove Cardinal George Pell to Rome, and the UK investigation that has just begun.
  38. Yes, my fear was just strongly confirmed, first, by my reading of the newly released books by Allen and Wills. These reinforce considerably my fear of an impending Francis’ failure. John Allen’s book, “The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church“, is by one of the best connected Vatican journalists. Gary Wills book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis “, is by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian and one-time Jesuit seminarian. Both Allen and Vatican reform authority, Jason Berry, have indicated they consider Wills to be a top Catholic public intellectual. Wills, like Jason Berry, is an independent thinker. Like Berry, he also has some evident Jesuit sympathies in my view.
  39. My fear of Francis’ impending potential failure was also confirmed by the recent UK dawn police raids on very prominent public figures’ homes in a decades’ old pedophile ring investigation. This indicates clearly that the heat is rising rapidly, even for the most senior officials with any possible alleged tie to child abuse scandals. If homes of a recently deceased UK Home Secretary. Lord Brittan, and the UK’s 91 year old former top military leader, Baron Bramall, can be raided by teams of plainclothed detectives, are the residences, records and even persons of senior Catholic clerics immune from prosecutors’ reach? If the Vatican hierachy’s lawyers are telling them this cannot happen to them, Vatican officials would be well advised to get a second opinion!
  40. My concern is that there may soon be more than enough cardinals, who are insufficiently focused on the Vatican’s serious and increasing abuse scandal legal risks, who will be positioning to get the next “infallible” pope to try to undercut Francis’ reform efforts. Even Pope Francis seems to believe he can contain the priest child abuse scandal with pious platitudes and a “go slow” commission and also control related Church leadership investigations secretively within the Vatican.
  41. I am quite skeptical as an international lawyer that this Vatican effort to “lowkey” the abuse scandal can succeed, no matter how wealthy and well connected the Vatican may think it is. The recent police raids in the UK of prominent officials’ residences, the recent Australian Royal Commission’s very adverse public findings with respect to Cardinal George Pell’s mishandling of priest sex abuse claimants, and other recent aggressive governmental actions tend to suggest the Vatican can expect very rough sailing for many years to come. How much can a pope with a partial lung in his 79th year be expected to manage? Yes, he needs to convene a general counsel promptly.
  42. As mentioned above, cardinals a half century ago undercut some of Pope John XXIII’s key reform initiatives, including his birth control commission. Reversing the ban on contraception still remains a pressing major reform issue for most Catholics under the current pope. Pope Francis’ initial Family Synod bishops seemed more focused, however, on breeding more Catholic babies than on helping stressed couples plan their families. Did not the recent trip to the Philippines teach the hierarchy anything?
  43. I am disappointingly doubtful that Pope Francis will call for a general council, as he really needs to do, to end the pernicious modern tyranny of infallible popes. I expect, if he does not do so, that he will fail ultimately because whatever he “decides” upon solely as “infallible” pope, even with a thin “Synod veneer cover” can be, and likely will be, cunningly reversed by his successors’ “reform of the Francis’ reforms”. That assumes, of course, that Francis, and any of his successors, survive as unaccountable monarchs after the worldwide child abuse investigations in Australia, the UK and likely Germany and the USA and other countries eventually run their course over the next few years.
  44. Is the de facto tyranny of personal papal infallibility, that Pope Francis and all future popes face, really inevitable? Must the latest pope always be “idolized” as the “final word” on Church teachings? Pope Francis has expressly acknowledged popes make mistakes, including himself, as some of his public gaffes confirm.
  45. For over 90% of its history, the Catholic Church survived without infallible popes. For more than 450 years after the Council of Constance in 1415, the earliest tradition that held that representative general church councils (like Nicaea) were the “final word”, had been formally accepted and observed as “definitive”, notwithstanding some powerful Vatican popes who may have intentionally avoided convening a general council to avoid being “overruled”. Modern Catholic Church history since 1870 when popes were first “made infallible” and the “final word”, indicates very clearly, especially as it relates to the priest child abuse, that purportedly infallible and  effectively unaccountable popes can be doubly dangerous for the integrity of the overall Catholic leadership, as well as for that leadership’s fidelity to the true Catholic faith and to the Vatican’s conformity in practice to the Gospel message. The latest pope can often craftily overrule his predecessors, hardly a mark of infallibility or an acceptable way to handle the “truth”.
  46. Popes can, of course, also buttress this “mystical manipulation” of the truth by requiring candidates for bishop to declare allegiance to the latest “papal truth”, as the last two popes did with the “pope made ban” on contraception. Most significantly, personal papal infallibility is also historically unprovable, scripturally unsound, theologically unnecessary and morally dangerous. Gary Wills succinctly summarizes fairly and clearly, in his new book linked above, the overwhelming historical and scriptural case against personal papal primacy, the foundation for popes’ claim for personal infallibility, among other “papal truths”.
  47. Can Pope Francis end the cycle of infallible tyranny in practice that Pope Pius IX began in 1870, in effect, by having himself declared infallible just as he was about to lose his papal kingdom to Italian nationalist troops? Francis can end it — but his only real option, as discussed above, appears to be to call boldly for a broadly representative ecumenical council of all Christians, ideally with male and female, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox independent representatives as full participants. It may also be advisable to have in attendance as auditors representatives of other major religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Nothing less than a general council can preserve a Catholic Church that wants truly to try to follow the Gospel message,  in my view.
  48. The pope might also consider declaring now that the decisions of this new general council, with or without papal concurrence, will be definitive. Yes, the Council of Constance trumps the First Vatican Council — an honest historical reality and a wise outcome.
  49. This conforms honestly to what the first Council of Jerusalem showed in 50 with apostles in attendance, to what the first ecumenical council showed in 325 at Nicaea with the Roman Emperor Constantine in attendance, and to what the major Council of Constance decided in 1415 expressly, namely, that the decisions of ecumenical councils trump the decisions of popes. The earliest and clearest Church tradition, then, is about free and open dialogue among representative Christians who decide by consensus, not by coercion pursuant to top down decisions of unaccountable and self perpetuating monarchs.
  50. It is important for Pope Francis to be ever mindful henceforth, that a half century ago, the public prosecution of senior Catholic clerical leaders for covering up priest child abuse cover was unthinkable. Today, it is both thinkable and almost inevitable in due course. One readily available way to reduce prosecution risk for cardinals, and even popes, would be for Pope Francis and a general council to preempt prosecutors by reforming the Catholic Church voluntarily first. This would reduce future public pressure on prosecutors that the the UK police raids on senior officials clearly show is building.
  51. The Council of Constance solved in 1415 the then major problem of three simultaneously competing popes. Francis and future pope now face the problem of serially competing popes — the latest pope has all the power and thus is the “last word”. The superiority of a council over any pope was the absolute rule of faith for most of Catholic history and must be restored by Francis. That is the only way to resolve the problem of serially competing popes and to preserve the Catholic Church from the major challenges it still faces.
  52. Otherwise, any future pope can rewrite the rules, as post-1870 popes have done too often with mostly negative consequences — the worst being the efforts of the last two popes, who without the benefit and authority of a council,  often disregarded the clear import of the Second Vatican Council’s decisions and spirit,  and instead pushed. under color of a “creeping infalliblility”, their personal positions on many debatable matters, most egregiously in a “semi-infallible” Catechism. Gary Wills in his new book linked above provides excellent examples and succinct analysis of the weaknesses of some of these two popes’ positions, including those related to papal primacy, contraception, abortion, women priests, child abuse and confession.
  53. Even the all powerful Roman Emperor Constantine respected, at the first worldwide general Council of Nicaea in 325, the need for a spirited and open discussion among several hundred bishops, and a vote by the bishops on important teaching and structural matters, which Constantine accepted. Modern popes, ironically, who have personally benefitted from the top down coercive style that Constantine and his successors introduced to Church governance,  have shown much less respect for the process, precedents and decisions of 1800 years of Church councils than Constantine likely would have shown.
  54. This “papal tyranny” has been most evident during the last three decades with the so-called  “reform of the reform” in which Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI sought to “rewrite” positions that conformed to the spirit, and sometimes even the letter, of the Second Vatican Council’s pronouncements. These pronouncements had reflected the affirmative views and considered judgments of the vast majority of the world’s bishops who attended the Council.
  55. Are some Vatican cardinals then really just waiting for the next “infallible” pope to negate Francis’ efforts, as greatly concerns me. The well informed  John Allen, in my reading of his latest book linked above, seems to think that is exactly what at least some cardinals are expecting will occur. Allen, with good sources, appears in my view surprisingly pessimistic about Francis’ potential permanent impact. Given Allen’s up close observations of what I call the “infallible pope seesaw effect”, this is perhaps unsurprising, but still quite troubling to those with high hopes for permanent reforming changes seemingly promised by some of Pope Francis’ pious rhetoric. The recent and extensive mostly negative assessment of Pope Francis in the influential German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, seems to confirm the building resistance to Pope Francis reflected by the Vatican officials that Allen alludes to.
  56. Also, Wills, per Jason Berry in his review of Wills’ latest output, ” … in the new book had the option to say much more about Francis. Instead he sent off a flaming arrow of cautionary good news, and held back, waiting. …”. In the March 2015 boo linked above, Wills appears to me to be mostly hedging his bets on Pope Francis. However, as mentioned above, in an earlier interview last October about the upcoming book, Wills indicated, as mentioned above, that: “… If he [Francis] follows the example of John XXIII, he will not make changes by his own personal fiat, but will encourage bishops to move in new directions, as John did with the Second Vatican Council.” Wills also seems here to be in favor of an new general council as the way Francis can have the most positive impact. Wills added in the interview that he personally believes “the changes [to be expected under Pope Francis], in order of likelihood, are easing off from the condemnations of contraception, divorce, and homosexuality.” As with long-ago practices such as “interdicts, indulgences, and the ban on usury,” Wills predicted in October “church authorities [will] rather let practices lapse than end them with formal decrees.”
  57. Perhaps I am too much the lawyer, but it is difficult for me to see how one can “ease off” on some of these prohibitions. For example, there is no such option to become “half pregnant”! It the birth control pill sinful or not? If the knowledgeable Wills projected priorities are sound, it is difficult to see how reversing Paul VI’s 1968 ban on contraception could occur other than at a new broadly representative worldwide council. As indicated above, the initial Family Synod’s celibate male participants voted, in effect, over 95% to retain the ban on the birth control pill.
  58. In this new book, Wills revisits the blunders behind Paul VI’s fateful birth control encyclical of 1968, which permanently weakened popular belief in the pope as some mystical wizard. Paul had appointed an advisory commission of senior clerics and lay people, women and men, who over four years extensively analyzed the morality, biology and psychology of contraception and of the the birth control pill. They voted 64-4 in favor of the ending the birth control pill ban.
  59. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani a reactionary in charge of the old Holy Office of the Inquisition and long time friend and colleague of Paul VI, even stacked a small group of bishops to press for the upholding a natural law argument, that nothing should prohibit the fertile ends of sexual intercourse. The conservative Jesuit on the commission, John C. Ford, had told the commission that masturbation would now run wild. Souls had been sent to hell for committing the mortal sin of contraception. Would they now be given passes to leave?
  60. Paul VI agreed with Ottaviani that if he gave way on this, the entire structure of Church teaching (and papal infallibility) would crumble. So Ottaviani got Ford, after the commission’s final and only report was delivered to Paul VI, to write a “counter report” to give Paul VI some ‘cover”. This shabby effort, which was spun misleadingly as a “minority report”, as is told by me here in light of recent disclosures from Ford’s assistant on the “counter report” . Please see my NCR column, “New birth control commission papers reveal Vatican’s hand” here,
  62. Instead, the promulgation of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae saw a huge crumbling of papal prestige, a demystifying of the office in the media age, massive dissent on a global scale, with theologians and even some bishops siding with the freedom of conscience invested in People of God, the new term for lay people. I expect this will happen again if pope Francis fails to convene a general council soon as discussed above.
  63. Paul VI’s ruthless disregard for his own birth control commission’s pro-contraception advice has been documented fully in Robert Blair Kaiser’s classic “The Politics of Sex and Religion”, which he generously has made available as a free e-book here:
  64. An organization’s management culture and structure significantly influence the organization’s output, including within the Catholic Church. Structural changes, which can be implemented in a shorter period, change an organization’s culture over the longer term. I learned this first a half century ago at the Harvard Business School. This was confirmed numerous times since then while advising over several decades many multinational organizations, including religious ones.
  65. The Catholic Church’s structural absence of minimal bishop accountability and its accepted culture of pervasive secrecy, even after two years under Pope Francis, have significantly contributed to, and will continue to contribute to, the Vatican’s ongoing (and organizationally lethal) sexual abuse and financial corruption scandals. The pernicious structural defect cannot be repaired merely by replacing some officials and the culture cannot be changed merely by covering over it over with some vague “feel good veneer of mercy” and an emphasis on popular piety, including more papal saints, relics, myths, etc.
  66. Restoring transparent accountability for Church leaders, that clearly existed in the earliest Catholic Church, is the most important need that Pope Francis must address. All else are secondary needs that cannot be reformed permanently, unless bishops are once again accountable to the Catholic 99% faithful majority.
  67. Most importantly and perhaps paradoxically, in the 24/7 media’s Internet Age, the more popes continue to try to operate in this secretive and unaccountable way, the less moral authority they will actually have, the weaker the Vatican will really become, and the greater the prosecution and reputation risks for cardinals and bishops.
  68. For much of the time since Constantine until 1870, popes exercised power as absolute monarchs of a sizable Italian kingdom. Popes still in different ways, sometimes almost delusionally, try to continue exercising similar power. Popes base this exercise on their declining worldwide moral authority. Popes still also try to resist others rulers’ conflicting oversight on worldly matters, such as women’s equality, birth control access, child abuse prevention, marriage regulation, financial corruption, and, especially, Vatican management accountability to the rule of law for illegal actions.
  69. Papal monarchy is an increasingly counter-productive management structure both for spreading the Gospel and even for protecting bishops. In any event, the papal monarchy structure is no longer really necessary — popes almost everywhere can now evangelize openly and freely, raise sufficient donations readily, and communicate easily with bishops worldwide, without imperial or similar interference. The unaccountable papal monarchy is otherwise also unsustainable in an Internet Age of democratic oversight. Pope Francis must know that well by now.
  70. Popes have struggled to resist outside rulers’ oversight at least since Fourth Century Roman Emperor Constantine first sought to control popes directly. Popes resisted often by mimicking emperors and kings with popes’ own top down and self perpetuating male leadership structure that operated often secretly, usually without management accountability, and used religious propaganda broadly to protect the hierarchy’s power and wealth. The Vatican still operates this way in key respects. That is a big mistake — both religiously and politically.
  71. Moreover, Catholics want open dialogue with, and honest answers from, their bishops, no? They want more than absurd all celibate male Family Synods, with a chance to offer obtuse and/or irrelevant questionnaire responses that likely will barely be read. Catholics want, and need, to know if bishops, including popes,  really serve the Catholic faithful, including sinners? If they do, then why do bishops not dialogue openly and honestly more with the faithful? Are couples who use contraceptives truly sinners? Are divorced and remarried persons who receive communion truly sinners? Are same sex couples truly sinners? Is covering up priest child sexual abuse more than a “church sin” — is it also a civil crime to be reported always and promptly to the police?
  72. Catholics want honest answers from bishops to these and other questions, not patronizing acceptance by bishops as “sinners”, especially for actions many millions of Catholics do not think in good conscience are really “sins”. A clear corollary of bishops’ lack of accountability is that the faithful’s insights are rarely ever taken seriously by bishops, including Pope Francis, it increasingly appears. For example, the pope sets the agendas and selects the participants and timetables on Family Synod matters that are critical for hundreds of millions of families, with little significant input from real families, especially, God forbid, women.
  73. These pernicious Vatican management practices of lack of accountability and secrecy have also led to the related and continuing steady decline in papal moral authority. History shows clearly that in human experience serious scandals and moral decline are inevitable consequences of the lack of effective organizational accountability and true transparency. Checks and balances are needed in the Catholic Church as in every other organization. Whatever the Holy Spirit’s role, the Spirit is not a “hands on” papal manager, as Vatileaks made abundantly clear.
  74. Bishops watch very closely what Vatican officials, especially the pope, actually do, much more than what popes say in defensive public relations statements often intended to ward off other governments’ scrutiny. Francis continues to this day to protect shameful cardinals and bishops, seemingly as his top priority. This tells other cardinals and bishops clearly that they will not be held accountable either. This does not advance the Gospel message, and long term will not even protect cardinals and bishops who may be free of wrongdoing.
  75. Popes have struggled to resist outside rulers’ oversight at least since Fourth Century Roman Emperor Constantine first sought to control popes directly. Popes resisted often by mimicking emperors and kings with popes’ own top down and self perpetuating male leadership structure that operated often secretly, usually without management accountability, and used religious propaganda broadly to protect the hierarchy’s power and wealth. The Vatican still operates this way in key respects. That is a big mistake — both religiously and politically.
  76. Harvard’s renowned foreign policy scholar and at times top US State and Defense Departments official, Joseph Nye, had earlier fairly ranked the Vatican as the world’s No. 1 “soft power” with its influential worldwide moral authority. This power has been declining rapidly over the last decade with the Vatican’s continuing sexual and financial scandals, that are now regularly exposed worldwide in a 24/7 media world. For example, New York Cardinal Edward Egan’s recent obituaries focused more on his dismal priest child abuse cover up record than on his ministering to World Trade Center 9/11 attack victims.
  77. Moral authority must be earned regularly to be sustained. The massive Australian child sex abuse investigation, the similar new UK investigation (with its related “dawn detectives’ raids” on former UK officials’ homes)  and likely other similar investigations that appear inevitable in the USA, Germany and elsewhere, only guarantee the steady erosion of Vatican moral authority. So will the release expected worldwide later this year of the Hollywood movie, “Spotlight”, starring Michael Keaton. The movie will dramatize the Boston Globe’s exposing a decade ago of Cardinal Law’s massive Boston pedophile priest scandal. Meanwhile, Pope Francis and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, continue to invite Law as a honored guest at official functions. Pope Francis recently even made Law’s former canon lawyer, Fr. Robert Oliver, the key staffer on the Pope’s “go slow” advisory sex abuse commission. Talk about the absence of accountability, no?
  78. Pope Francis in practice appears to be continuing to try to underplay the child abuse scandal, evidently to try to protect shameful cardinals and bishops, whenever possible, as his top priority. This weakens, not strengthens, the pope’s moral authority. Paradoxically, that also weakens the legal and political positions of all cardinals and bishops, even those with nothing to hide.
  79. It is virtually certain that papal moral authority will continue to decline so long as Pope Francis tries to preserve the Vatican’s secretive lack of accountability, which inevitably diminishes the trust of Catholics and others in the Catholic Church’s leadership.
  80. This continues to be the case increasingly, even after the superficial and steadily diminishing returns from the Vatican’s massive public relations efforts to sell this “Friendly Pope”. Francis has been seen positively mainly by a fickle and discouraged public that had been fed up with his predecessor German Shepherd’s perpetual growling, endless evasions and incompetent management. Francis has had two years with few real results to show. He must now act decisively to restore accountability and transparency or else! The bloom is steadily fading from the papal rose.
  81. The slow and secretive Vatican prosecution under Pope Francis, for example, of a Polish Archbishop diplomat who allegedly abused many poor children and had over 100,000 child porn pictures on his computer, hardly enhances Vatican moral authority. Neither does a “go slow” child sex abuse advisory commission with “showpiece” abuse survivor members, nor financial “oversight” commissions dominated by conflicted clerics and “cherry picked” papal plutocratic pals, who are all replaceable at will by an unaccountable pope and his secretly to be selected successor. Pope Francis is clearly trying to build an even stronger papal monarchy that cannot possibly succeed in the post-monarchical Internet Age in the midst of endless scandals, civil lawsuits and governmental investigations.
  82. Secret papal elections and bishop appointments, and top down celibate male control of women, couples and children, are harmful holdovers from a long gone era that have little to do with the Gospel message. Making bishops, including the pope, accountable to the 99.99% Catholic faithful, female and male, is the most important challenge facing the Catholic Church, especially Pope Francis. Facing the challenge squarely is also the only way to preserve the Vatican’s moral authority and soft power. When will Pope Francis realize this sufficiently?
  83. Pope Francis has for two years now avoided facing this accountability challenge seriously — instead he unwisely, if not desperately, depends on slick media gimmicks, bureaucratic delay tactics and farcical distractions like all celibate male Family Synods to discuss families and sex. Francis’ avoidance of moving to restore transparent management accountability is his fundamental flaw to date, and also his Achilles’ heel! He is running out of time. He cannot succeed in saving the Catholic Church unless and until he begins to make the entire Church leadership, including and especially popes, accountable permanently to the Catholic 99% faithful, as they originally were, for good reasons and in conformity with clear Gospel mandates.
  84. Pope Francis cannot stop the momentum for democratic oversight no matter how many “low tax” billionaires, right wing politicians and papal promoters back him opportunistically in the short term. Powerful kings were unable with armies, torture and executions to avoid the inevitable democratic changes in leadership accountability and transparency wrought by the American and French Revolutions. Francis and his current clique of conflicted cardinals cannot avoid much longer, merely with platitudes, publicists and plutocrats, the related Catholic Democratic Revolution. He must act expeditiously to begin inexorably to eliminate the Catholic Church’s self interested and self perpetuating hierarchical structure, and also to restore permanently a leadership selected by, and accountable to, the Church’s 99% faithful, as Catholic leaders usually were pre-Constantine. If Francis fails to act accordingly, outside governments will soon force him to act. His recent “command performance” for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and fifteen of her key advisers should have taught him enough about how fragile his situation really is.
  85. Pope Francis, in his 79th year, has earned on his 2 year papal report card a “B” for effort as a senior citizen,  a “C” for generating hope for change with his skilled public relations and mixed messages, and at most an “Incomplete” for real and permanent results. Even John Allen,  a usually friendly “papal grader” perhaps concerned with preserving his Vatican access, appears to be hedging his bets. Allen has indicated recently with respect to permanent changes, that Francis has retained traditional teachings and that the ultimate impact of Pope Francis, after two years as pope, remains unclear. Unless Francis changes some “traditional teachings” (several of which have not been “traditional” for very long), his ultimate impact would be negative, as false and high hopes once again disappoint millions of Catholics, significantly as a result Francis’ skillful, but then misleading, mixed messaging.
  86. I think, as a concerned Catholic with some relevant experience who is not dependent on Vatican access to make a living, that Francis’s likely ultimate impact by following his current plans can now be seen clearly enough. The pope is, if one is objective,  failing on his interim report card, as his real positions are becoming clearer. He will also most likely fail fully ultimately, for reasons I discuss below, unless Pope Francis changes course substantially before his 80th birthday at the end of next year.
  87. Pope Francis says Catholics should “create a mess” to help him promote changes in the Catholic Church. The Catholic majority are pleased for now; although many are skeptical. Some see a bright ray of hope shining through the crisis of trust triggered by Church scandals. Others think the window of opportunity for hopeful light from Pope Francis will close soon if he is not prophetic and transparent. Indeed, some even think the Vatican’s current “holy mess” will be its final mess.
  88. Yet, Francis has so far offered few indications about concrete changes he really wants. Many Church leaders seem fearful of any changes. Yet, many Catholics and others are finally pressing for permanent changes. They have by now seen Vatican misconduct up close and too often. They now also understand better that many of the Vatican’s frequently ambiguous, if not vague, basic biblical and historical sources supporting papal power have too often been overplayed, if not misused, in encyclicals and a Catechism, to justify supreme papal power . Significantly, these permanent changes, that the Catholic majority seeks in good conscience and good faith, may differ ultimately from what many in the Vatican now want. As the “infallible Supreme Pontiff” for millions of Catholics, Pope Francis has the best papal opportunity in many years, if not centuries, to fix the broken Catholic Church. This may also be the final papal opportunity to clean up the “holy mess”. Time will soon tell.
  89. This crisis has led to one papal resignation already. Pope Francis appears for many reasons to be the Vatican’s best and last chance to lead on initiating overdue Church changes. Pressures beyond Vatican control can be expected to compel more severe changes if Francis fails to act effectively and transparently. This has already begun to happen with respect to Vatican finances, as a result of the continuing European governmental investigations of multiple misdeeds involving both the Vatican Bank and the Vatican’s own significant portfolio assets. Prospects for criminal prosecutions of Catholic Church officials have seemingly caused the Vatican to focus on overdue reforms in ways that earlier financial penalties and shameful publicity had rarely done before. As with corporate criminal executives worldwide, prosecution risk is generally a uniquely effective deterrent to future crimes by senior leaders.
  90. Almost 150 years ago, facing a similar crisis, Pope Pius IX refused to initiate overdue changes to his arbitrary and ineffective leadership of his Kingdom of the Papal States in central Italy. His key misguided “fix” was to push to be declared “infallible” in July 1870. Two months later, he militarily lost the Kingdom completely to Italian nationalists. Traditional papal protectors like France and Austria-Hungary stood by and passively watched, unwilling to support further papal mismanagement and capriciousness. Will Pope Francis make a similar mistake like Pius IX did by misjudging his precarious position?
  91.  The Vatican no longer even has comparable powerful protectors. It is mostly on its own now in the international political arena, like Pius XI’s Vatican was by 1870. Popes since 1870 have counter culturally tried secretively to rule mainly as “semi-divine infallible” absolute monarchs with tightly controlled subordinate bishops worldwide in an increasingly democratic world now linked by an open Internet and an 24/7 worldwide free media. The Vatican is running out of time to adjust to current reality and may be forced to do so soon.
  92. Building governmental pressures indicate currently that if the Vatican does not adopt key changes voluntarily and soon, the Vatican can be expected to be compelled to change involuntarily. This has recently already happened repeatedly, for example, in the financial area. Another recent example of increasing governmental pressure is the Australian national investigation into child abuse in religious organizations. It has already led to the Vatican changing both internal policies, and key leadership in Australia, including Cardinal George Pell, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Papal Nuncio, following a massive effort by government investigators. Similar investigations can be expected in other countries as well.
  93. The Vatican likely will be unable to contain much longer the cumulative and growing pressure, both internal and external, for change. Well publicized Vatican scandals continue to proliferate before a steadily skeptical world audience that is unconvinced either by the Vatican’s limited efforts so far or by its many public relations diversions. Many Catholics and others are becoming more impatient about protecting innocent victims of continuing Vatican scandals and misguided policies — including millions of poor women, children, couples, divorced persons and gay folks. The building governmental pressures indicate increasingly that the Vatican can change voluntarily or, as has already repeatedly happened in the financial area generally and in the child protection area in Australia, the Vatican will be compelled to change involuntarily.
  94. Significantly, the Vatican no longer benefits from the powerful international protection that had enabled the Vatican to avoid overdue changes for centuries. In the current world of democracies and a free press and Internet, the secretive Vatican is vulnerable. Neither the Vatican’s high priced consultants, lawyers and lobbyists, nor the Vatican’s opportunistic financial elite allies, who seek Vatican backing to protect the income inequality status quo that benefits them so disproportionately, are hardly comparable substitutes for the earlier military backing of the Holy Roman Emperor and other powers. These powers had effectively protected the Vatican for centuries from demands for change. No more.
  95. Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ Synod strategy has pulled back the curtain on the Vatican’s fallible and incoherent management structure and helped explain why ex-Pope Benedict had no real choice but to resign. In our 24/7 media world, as the Church’s scandal and mismanagement dominoes fall, a further domino effect will likely take over beyond the Vatican’s power to control it. Fear of this effect has likely contributed to provoking some of the strong opposition that Pope Francis is facing among many in the Church’s leadership.
  96. Pope Francis acts at times like a radicalized realist. He is pressing forward relentlessly on a novel path to change. When necessary, he is even bypassing or sidelining fearful and entrenched opponents and factions. His opponents often overlook the many risks that presently exist in the Vatican’s vulnerable predicament. Pope Francis is evidently well aware of these risks. At times, some of his opponents prefer “to play their fruitless fiddles while Rome burns”.
  97. And of course, money is usually lurking in these factions’  approaches to changes. For example, the German and US bishops seem to have basically different approaches to changes like permitting communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. German bishops depend mainly on a per capita government subsidy, presently totally more than $6 billion a year, that pays the bishops more if more Catholics remain on the government registry; hence the German bishops’ inclusive approach to divorced and remarried Catholics and their families. US bishops, on the other hand, depend significantly on fewer major donors who reward the bishops’ ability to draw out fundamentalists to vote for low-tax right wing US political candidates. These fundamentalists oppose most changes, especially those relating to traditional marriage. Not surprisingly, US bishops tend to oppose changes to traditional marriage sacramental rules. As with understanding approaches to other changes, sometimes it pays to follow the money.
  98. Significantly, the Catholic majority intuitively understands that these risks generated by the present crisis, especially from building governmental pressures on the Vatican, have paradoxically also generated an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Church to an earlier condition — to a Church that Jesus’ first disciples would have recognized as completely consistent with Jesus’ Gospel message of love of God and of neighbors, even of enemies. This will be a welcoming Church again that satisfies the needs of both conservative and progressive Catholics.
  99. Well publicized Catholic Church scandals have triggered a unique situation — both an unprecedented crisis and an unexpected opportunity. This crisis (A) erodes Catholic trust in light of the longstanding gap between the Vatican’s words and deeds, (B) invites outside governmental intervention at a time when the Vatican lacks powerful international protectors like it had for centuries, and (C) underscores the urgent need for key changes in Church structure and doctrine. The crisis has also contributed, as indicated, to one pope’s unanticipated resignation and to the replacement pope’s unpredictable revolution.
  100. Before his 80th birthday in barely two years, Pope Francis can successfully seize the opportunity, follow his conscience and apply his unique status, forceful temperament and popular appeal. Most importantly, he can declare “infallibly” key changes. By then, he will have received new input from his two advisory Synods of Bishops. He has already been enlightened by his valuable almost two years of  experience as pope. He now also is unhampered by his prior pastoral positions and unfettered by his earlier ideological constraints as an obedient cardinal, bishop and Jesuit. If Francis fails to act effectively soon, the consequences will likely be quite negative for the leadership of the Catholic Church.
  101. Pope Francis can accomplish much if he wants to and finds the wisdom and courage to do so. Equally important, it seems unlikely any of his successors will get a more propitious opportunity in the foreseeable future to adopt long overdue changes. It may be now or never for Pope Francis and the Vatican.
  102. Any needed changes that Pope Francis leaves uncompleted, whether by choice or circumstances, Catholics can then push to complete soon thereafter, with or without Vatican support. Catholics can be expected to do so, given the current Catholic majority’s momentum and mounting democratic governmental pressures. The Catholic majority can expect help in effecting these changes from powerful forces, outside the Church structure, that are now pressing harder for key Vatican changes, like greater accountability and transparency.
  103.  The Making of the Unique Present Crisis: The Catholic Church is in the throes of its worst crisis since the Reformation. Vatican leaders in the 16th Century, aided by powerful outside military protectors, had mainly evaded making overdue structural changes, and their successors also managed with outside protection to avoid such changes mostly during the four centuries since.
  104. Nevertheless, Church changes are badly needed now and the Vatican no longer has any dominant outside protectors willing to help it avoid the changes. The changes cannot be deferred much longer if the Vatican wants to avoid both further Church decline and splintering into competing factions and constant interference from outside governments. Pope Francis’ confident and bold approach, and the Vatican’s evident need to avoid further negative repercussions from the current crisis, are both generating some hope now, as well as creating what appears to be the best opportunity since the Reformation for the worldwide Catholic majority to press the Vatican successfully for key overdue changes.
  105. According to Augustine: “God judged it better to bring good out of evil, than to suffer no evil to exist.” Catholics are now pondering whether God will soon bring some good changes out of this evil crisis, likely with some help from either Pope Francis or the worldwide Catholic majority or some international investigators or some combination of all three.
  106. There are now hopeful indications (A) that the Catholic Church may restore some of its management structure to its earliest consensual, bottom up and distributed form, from its current coercive, top down and hierarchical form, and (B) that some questionable traditional Church teachings may change to fit mercifully the actual lived experience of sincere Catholics and to conform honestly to current biblical, historical and scientific scholarship, all with or without the Vatican’s affirmative assistance.
  107. This scandals underlying the crisis have deeply discouraged millions of concerned Catholics, yet many of them now also see a new ray of hope. This hope springs less from Pope Francis’ skillful public relations efforts than from the likelihood that the present crisis will necessarily help accelerate Church changes. Moreover, some of these changes are ones that the usually silent Catholic majority can and likely will play a key role in bringing about. This would be a refreshing change in itself for the Catholic majority, a change from only being able to react passively to misguided top down Vatican decisions dictated by a celibate, aging, conflicted and self perpetuating all male leadership.
  108. It appears likely now that the Pope Francis will soon make, or be induced by outside pressures to make, major structural and other changes — changes that the Vatican had been able to resist making for centuries under earlier better positioned popes. Powerful governmental, legal and media forces are now pressing from the outside for changes, whether the presently weakened Vatican wants changes or not.
  109. While Pope Francis mostly can only play the bad cards that ex-Pope Benedict dealt him, he can use both his papal authority over bishops and the Catholic majority and this building outside pressure, enhanced by the power of his personal popularity and his strong will, to help convince his entrenched Vatican opposition that voluntary Church changes are more in their interest than the otherwise inevitable involuntary changes could be expected to be.
  110. Paradoxically, these anticipated changes can also help restore the Catholic Church to one that is much closer, in essential structure and compassionate spirit, than the current Church is to the Church that Jesus’ earliest disciples, including prominently some women, left behind for over three centuries.
  111. Pope Francis has brought fresh hopes after centuries of papal evasions. Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, by 1520 had sought similar changes to an earlier Vatican bureaucracy then slithering through major scandals. Only military protection initially from the Holy Roman Emperor ultimately saved, for another 350 years until 1870, the Vatican’s centuries old Kingdom of the Papal States from many of the religious wars, internal divisions and radical reforms that followed Luther’s revolt. But Vatican scandals and structural shortcomings continued mostly as unresolved problems.
  112. The usually well positioned papacy generally remained unchanged structurally after the Reformation until the popes’ imperial protectors faded by 1870 and then finally disappeared in the First World War. This was almost 1,600 years after the powerful Roman Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century first sought, often in practice by threats and bribes, to redirect the early Catholic Church leadership to become part of his imperial bureaucracy. Constantine’s and his successor’s imperial designs still infuse the current Vatican’s coercive and top down leadership structure.
  113. In 1870, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) lost his last major monarchical protector due to the Franco-Prussian War. Pius IX then, without a strong outside protector, promptly lost the Kingdom of the Papal States finally on September 20, 1870 to a direct military assault on the Vatican by Italian nationalists. Both the Vatican and the Italians suffered fatalities. Two months prior to this assault, Pius IX had desperately tried to offset some of the projected negative effects of the Vatican’s expected military and political defeats. He sought to salvage some papal prestige on July 18, 1870, by being declared infallible at the First Vatican Council (Vatican I) that then soon ended prematurely due mainly to the military risks.
  114. A new era of “semi-divine Supreme Pontiffs”  thus began in 1870 and still continues under Pope Francis today, as he presses to solidify, at least temporarily, his extensive power over the Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia, as well as over the world’s bishops.
  115. The powerful prestige of infallibility has been the keystone of papal power from 1870 until now. Papal infallibility, ironically, has also been the tragic papal flaw. Concerns for preserving a claim to being infallible have, it seems, prevented politically insecure popes from making long overdue changes out of fear of appearing to be fallible and, yes, a mere mortal.
  116. This almost obsessive papal concern has been quite evident, for example, in the continuing papal opposition to contraception, mainly based on outdated natural law philosophy and medieval physiology, despite the overwhelming contrary witness in good conscience of the Catholic majority, and the latest strong and contrary evidence from natural science and modern philosophy.
  117. Incidentally, the Vatican’s opposition to family planning seems to be  a “win win” proposition for the Catholic leadership and a “lose lose” situation for couples. especially with other children, who cannot afford more children financially or emotionally.  From the Vatican’s perspective, if Catholic babies survive and thrive, they can then become potential future Church donors and docile voters to enhance the Vatican’s position in bargains with desperate vote seeking political forces. If the babies do not thrive, they become their parents’ or society’s problems, not the Vatican’s to be sure.
  118. Nevertheless, the Vatican’s strong pro-pregnancy opposition to contraception is unlikely to generate at current birthrates enough new Catholic babies to offset the Church’s escalating exodus among the practicing Catholic majority. This ongoing net decline in practicing Catholics is further eroding the Vatican’s already declining political influence and financial resources.
  119. Ironically, the more that recent popes press their opposition to positive ongoing human advances like pharmaceutical contraception, that enable couples, especially poor women, to plan their families, the less infallible they appear to be to more Catholics. The present crisis, exacerbated by the disarray among the pope and some cardinals and bishops exhibited at the recent Vatican Synod that ironically had been intended to curtail part of this crisis, also has put unsustainable additional weight on the already weak claim to papal infallibility.
  120. For almost 150 years until now, popes have been shrewdly able, despite the loss by 1870 of their actual Kingdom in central Italy, to maneuver politically, diplomatically and financially to retain some of their international influence, operational independence, considerable wealth and legal immunity, free of international laws and foreign restraints. Are the Vatican’s unique international status and contrived legal immunity claim both now about to collapse in the present crisis? Yes, it appears that the Vatican’s unique status and legal immunity are both likely facing collapse soon enough, no matter what Pope Francis now does.
  121. Many of the problems Luther initially noted in 1517 remained unresolved even after Vatican I in 1870, and still remain unresolved. These include Luther’s issues with the Vatican’s top down, coercive and unaccountable Renaissance structure and with recent popes’ historically and biblically questionable, if not idolatrous, claim of unaccountable absolute papal power. Vatican I was terminated abruptly and prematurely due mainly to the military risks, before the relationship of bishops and the Catholic majority to the newly proclaimed infallible popes could be addressed fully. Pius XI and many of his successors, through Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013), have at times used this uncompleted and unexpected result for almost 150 years to extend papal power over bishops and the Catholic majority.
  122. These continuing problems remain after (A) unsuccessful Vatican efforts prior to 1945 to seek favorable and special political arrangements with powerful leaders, such as with the Fascist dictators of Italy, Germany and Spain, (B) numerous Vatican efforts since 1945 to solidify in many countries favorable arrangements with various powerful political, financial and media elites, and (C) significant and still uncompleted and frustrated reform efforts from 1962 to 1965 at the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).
  123. Most significantly, there are no longer any Holy Roman Emperors, or any other powerful monarchs, dictators or even democratically elected leaders, who appear willing to save the Vatican from facing the international legal and political consequences of its seeming sins and harmful policies. On the contrary, outside governments are already currently and forcefully pressing the Vatican firmly on its financial misconduct. Moreover, these outside forces are now also pressing hard, including through UN committees and national investigation commissions, on other Vatican misconduct, including facilitating priest child abuse.
  124. The current crisis paradoxically presents all Catholics worldwide with an unprecedented, even hopeful, opportunity to resolve longstanding problems, some that even predate Luther. Whether the Vatican will on its own initiative seize this opportunity positively or will imprudently wait, like Pius IX did in 1870, (A) to be invaded, now by Italian, Australian and other government investigators and prosecutors, and (B) to be forced to accept the latest geopolitical reality, remains to be seen.
  125. Catholics believe that God providentially guides their Church in mysterious ways. Some even wonder if God is not using this crisis as an opening for Church structural reforms overdue for centuries. Catholics increasingly are losing trust in their top leadership and want effective changes now. Many Catholics are curtailing their donations or just leaving the Church. Others are remaining nominally, but opting out of many Church rituals and doctrines for themselves and their children. And many younger Catholics are at best just indifferent about participation in a seemingly out of touch organization run, in effect from all appearances, as an all male absolute monarchy for the benefit of a few.
  126. The well publicized Church scandals include clerical sexual misconduct and widespread child abuse, as well as financial corruption and excesses — some longstanding and pervasive. As mentioned above, this crisis paradoxically may offer Catholics some hope and the best opportunity since the Reformation to restore the Church to the consensual, bottom up and distributed management structure that Jesus’ first disciples, prominently including women, originally left behind for centuries.
  127. Catholics overwhelmingly want leaders they can trust, which essentially means leaders who are accountable, not absolute, and who act transparently, not secretively. Given the Catholic Church’s pervasive worldwide influence and its universal potential as a strong public force, and counterweight to non-religious leaders, for either good or evil, the issue of how the Catholic Church is structured matters to all the world’s citizens, and to their political leaders as well.
  128. Governments worldwide are responding more actively to citizen complaints and media pressure about these Church scandals by investigating and prosecuting clerical crimes being revealed. Catholics elect and influence their political leaders, who in turn can influence Church leaders, who currently remain completely free of any democratic oversight by the Catholic majority.
  129. At present, the pope is still the last word on almost all matters concerning the Church and its leadership and laws, even on matters that impact the overall society like access to contraception and protection of children. The pope, as Supreme Pontiff, is purportedly accountable to nobody else, which is at the heart of the present crisis. Making sure no man is above the law is the modern antidote to the ailment of modern popes who seek to be, and to operate as, Supreme Pontiff without accountability.
  130. Citizens worldwide can be expected steadily and increasingly to encourage their political leaders to press the Vatican for major Church structural reforms, especially by these leaders enacting and enforcing vigorously civil laws against Catholic leaders who commit crimes. This legal process, especially prosecutions of alleged crimes, will very likely, if not inevitably, lead to the outside imposition of Church structural reforms in the near term if the Vatican fails to adopt the reforms on its own initiative.
  131. Continually hard pressed Vatican leaders really have no alternative, as earlier European absolute monarchs in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere painfully learned, other than to submit to independent oversight by the Catholic majority.
  132. Meanwhile, the Vatican is risking the division of the Church into numerous splinter cults and the incarceration of some of its leaders for crimes related to the sexual and financial scandals, as the Catholic hierarchy wastes precious time at Synods debating arcane theological topics like graduality.
  133. This crisis for the “99.99% Catholic faithful majority” appears to be mainly about TRUST. For many of them, it is mostly about losing trust in the “0.01% Catholic leadership minority”, given the leadership’s frequently flawed and unaccountable management and the scandalous and repetitive misbehavior of too many of them.
  134. By contrast, the crisis for the leadership minority appears to be mainly about SURVIVAL. For many cardinals, bishops and priests, this crisis seems too often to be largely about trying to save at all costs the current top down and coercive Church structure that has supported and rewarded many of them so handsomely.
  135. The present crisis has already led to unintended negative consequences — even to unprecedented and growing challenges to worldwide Catholicism, including: (A) a leadership challenge, to the Pope’s ethical authority and doctrinal infallibility as the “last word”; (B) a political challenge, to the Vatican’s modern immunity from outside governmental oversight and to its opportunistic support of plutocratic political promoters;(C) a financial challenge, to the Vatican’s long term financial viability and to its self interested arrangements with selective financial, oil and media moguls; and (D) a competitive challenge, to the Catholic Church’s prospects in its continuing competition with other Christian and world religions, especially Islam, and even with non-religious secularism.
  136. These accelerating challenges surely have influenced, if not at times dictated, the Vatican’s recent tactics, and even its public style on many issues. This historically is almost a new papal experience, since modern popes mostly had operated secretly as near absolute monarchs for centuries. It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that popular popes alone are insufficient to resolve the crisis — the Vatican can no longer defer confronting these challenges fully, honestly, transparently and promptly, even if they would rather defer them as recent popes often have. Both internal Church political factions, and external governmental legal forces, are increasingly pressing for greater papal accountability, sooner rather than later. Deferral is no longer a viable papal alternative.
  137. Jesus left a short, simple and revolutionary oral message of “Good News” about a caring and trustworthy God. Jesus, it appears, thought this message could be passed on by word of mouth by his usually uneducated disciples. 2,000 years later the oral message has been buried seemingly under millions of written words by thousands of scribes that have obscured Jesus’ direct simplicity, often to advance the personal agenda of those overseeing the scribes with their countless and opportunistic “explications” of what Jesus really meant.
  138. Was Jesus naive or foolish? And is his originally oral message essentially that simple? Even a quick perusal of the New Testament indicates Jesus’ core message is simple and direct, especially when stripped of some of the heavily philosophical and selectively imposed explications in Latin and Greek. This often stultifying and self serving explication process was most recently illustrated amply by the Catechism of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
  139. Will the Vatican now finally begin to try to remove the self serving papal gloss and counterproductive clerical crust that have for many centuries obscured Jesus’ radical and revolutionary Good News —  to trust in a caring God and to love one’s neighbors, even enemies, as oneself? Or will the the Catholic leadership minority once again futilely try to contain the current crisis within its latest hierarchical structure?
  140. Will the Church leadership minority now restore its management structure to the early Church’s consensual and distributed network of bishops accountable to the faithful majority from the current coercive, top down and unaccountable model? And will the leadership minority now restore its general Church-state policy to Jesus’ earliest approach of peaceful coexistence with political leaders and prophetic witness for the poor and disadvantaged from the current Vatican approach that seeks opportunistic financial, legal and other leadership preferences in exchange for papal political support?
  141. Hopefully, the coercive and top down Vatican will finally soon restore, or be required to restore, some meaningful consensual and bottom up power to the Catholic faithful majority. Anything less will merely be at best a temporary glue on a crumbling structure. 500 years after Luther had been more than enough time to fix the structure, but the Vatican has failed, and is continuing to fail, to do so. It will continue to fail unless and until it submits to effective and transparent oversight by the Catholic majority, as almost all other absolute monarchies in history have already learned, often the hard way following violent revolutions.
  142. A consensual and bottom up Church management approach had been a common norm in the Church that Jesus’ disciples, including women, left behind for the first three centuries. That was before the decisive top down takeover, in effect, of the Church hierarchy that began under the powerful Roman Emperor Constantine and his imperial successors. Constantine’s top down and coercive Fourth Century legacy has survived in Rome in key respects, and still fundamentally overshadows Vatican decision making and operations. This must and will change, perhaps much sooner than the Vatican presently anticipates.
  143. As indicated with Pius IX’s underestimation of Italian nationalists, and Pius XI’s and Pius XII’s overestimation of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s protections, whatever else infallibility encompasses, international politics is evidently excluded. Time will soon tell if the current Vatican leaders are any wiser than their modern predecessors were.
  144. Millions of disrespected couples, women, children, divorced and gay persons and other innocent and marginalized victims of the Vatican’s current unchristian policies deserve the initiation of positive Church changes, as soon as practicable. Moreover, the beneficial worldwide potential for Jesus’ simple message of loving God and one’s neighbor, including enemies, needs to be freed of the blinders and constraints that too many popes have opportunistically and selectively imposed on it for centuries. Not only were modern popes “Prisoners of the Vatican” unnecessarily. So was Jesus.
  145. It is important in my judgment that citizens of the world, especially Catholics, weigh in now strongly and often, and try to influence the potential Vatican outcomes. Since the Vatican operates mostly secretively and often covers its real objectives with frequent and well funded media diversions, I have at times tried to draw my best inferences and projected what seemed to me to be likely outcomes, in light of the evidence available to me and my long legal experience. Some, of course, will object, but this appears necessary to assess the actions of an organization that still too often is shown to be dissembling considerably.
  146. My approach is intended to assist concerned readers in acting timely and proactively to advance structural and other reforms, and not just reacting defensively, after the fact, to papal faits accomplis. It is the Church of all Catholics, including the 99.99% faithful majority, and not just of the 0,01% leadership minority, and all need to weigh in now as their situations permit.
  147. The present crisis presents major risks for the Catholic Church’s leadership minority. Providentially, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for the Catholic majority to recover their Church from the clerical clique that centuries ago hijacked Jesus’ message. By recovering their Church, Catholics can then re-direct it and unleash the full potential of Jesus’ simple message of love of God and neighbor to a world that at times seems eager to hear that needed message of hope and peace.
  148. The Current Unprecedented Situation:A free media in a steadily more accountable world is pulling back the Vatican’s dark curtain letting all see the scandals, up close and personal. Luther, as mentioned above, had complained loudly about similar scandals as early as 1517. Yet, it took 500 years for the many misdeeds of Pope Alexander VI and other Renaissance clerics to be featured in several “Borgia TV Series”. Today, the latest “Secrets of the Vatican” are widely reported almost simultaneously, as in a recent PBS documentary by that name covering several current Vatican scandals.
  149. Moreover, Renaissance popes were protected by a powerful Holy Roman Emperor whose last successor lost power a century ago. Politically and militarily, popes since the end of the Second World War in 1945 have been dependent for protection and support mainly on Western democratically elected leaders.
  150. Even now after 1700 years, however, Constantine’s Fourth Century legacy of an imperial top down and coercive leadership structure remains influential in Rome, centuries after most of the world had rejected unaccountable monarchs. European monarchical protection of the Vatican diminished after 1850 and disappeared completely by 1918, replaced soon thereafter with de facto alliances with Fascist dictators in Italy and Germany and Spain until Italy and Germany’s defeat by 1945.
  151. As late as 1903, significantly, the Austria-Hungary Emperor reportedly vetoed a top contender in a papal election leading to the election of Pope Pius X. That was the last election prior to the start of World War I, in which the Austria Hungary Empire was dismembered, in effect, ending imperial veto power in papal elections. That veto power, however, had sometimes worked positively to restrain elections of some less dependable papal candidates.
  152. The defeat of the Fascist powers by 1945 has contributed to popes subsequently having almost to scramble opportunistically at times to make arrangements on a local basis with many countries for political protection and financial advantage for the Vatican and its bishops and priests. These papal arrangements have often been negotiated with local dictators and wealthy elites, as well as with some democratically elected leaders seeking local papal political support as opportunities arose in particular countries, most noticeably Pope John Paul II’s close ties with US President Ronald Reagan and his right wing Republican successors, including President George W. Bush.
  153. Popes Benedict XVI and Pope Francis continued to maintain close ties with right wing US Republicans and continue to provide them with political support through the US bishops and otherwise.  This is reportedly already underway for the 2016 US presidential election. Popes tend to be more pragmatic than ideological when under considerable pressures as in the present crisis.
  154. With the unrelenting spotlight that the 24/7 modern media now shines, the timeless “philosopher king” leadership question of Plato’s Republic now arises in Rome publicly and dramatically: Can any man, even a popular pope, be trusted honestly to face a major crisis of trust like the Vatican is facing, and to set important policies for over a billion people, unless he is truly accountable to others and also decides key issues transparently?
  155. Given the current pope’s age, the further question arises, are his successors also to be trusted without accountability? What have Catholics learned from the sordid history of bad popes, as well as from the revelations of current scandals that seem at times to be as sordid as the earlier scandals? Given the present crisis, the Vatican’s procedures and processes, now and in the future, in evaluating and adopting reforms are almost as important as the potential substantive reforms themselves.
  156. Pope Francis had little choice, it appears, but to try to contain this crisis of trust, after suddenly, in the midst of this crisis, unexpectedly succeeding the first pope to resign in almost 600 years. Francis’ Synods of Bishops strategy, his ongoing sophisticated and well funded media campaign, and his efforts to shore up favorable arrangements with some powerful world leaders of government, finance and media, all appear to be key parts of his strategy to contain this crisis.
  157. The Vatican under the current pope and his successor surely must soon either “lead and act”, or they will most likely be compelled to “follow and react”, by internal and external pressure. Neither this present crisis of trust, nor the resulting challenges, can be avoided much longer to any significant extent.
  158. Some Relevant Recent History: The Vatican under Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) had aligned itself in the Second World War (1939-1945) with the once seemingly invincible, but losing Fascist dictators, Hitler and Mussolini and their “neutral” ally, Franco. Pius XII had been born into a Roman family that had been immersed earlier in the monarchical Papal States. He served for almost two decades under the autocratic Pope Pius XI (1921-1939). A top down coercive leadership must have seemed natural to Pius XII.
  159. Nevertheless, it had become increasingly clear by Mussolini’s removal in July 1943 that Western autocratic structures were losing to Western democratic structures and that major Catholic Church reforms were sorely needed, if not inevitable. By September 1943, Pius XII was endorsing modern biblical scholarship, which eventually planted the seeds that undermine some papal claims as Supreme Pontiff.
  160. Pius XII’s less well born immediate successor, Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), an experienced diplomat and church historian, knew change was inevitable in the postwar situation populated by powerful Western democracies and decided boldly in early 1959, after only a short time as pope, that major Church reforms were badly needed and even overdue. This was clearly evident, especially after the defeat of the Vatican’s powerful European allies, Italy and Germany, and the takeover by 1950 of Eastern European Catholic countries like Poland, Hungary, Croatia and the Baltic States, by the Soviets.
  161. John XXIII must have also understood that as an “infallible pope” that he could ultimately control the key outcomes of the Second Vatican Council (1962- 1965), or “Vatican II”. He called for the Council in 1959 less than a decade after Pius XII had in 1950 exercised the ultimate papal “infallibility power” in declaring Mary’s Assumption. That dramatic papal exercise appears to have been a desperate attempt to flex his “semi-divine infallibility” power after suffering the defeat of his Fascist allies and in the face at the time of the rise of Soviet power under Stalin.
  162. So John XXIII could risk letting the 2,500 plus Vatican II bishops talk with some freedom at Vatican II. As Pope, he would still have the last say.  Pope Francis seems to have a similar understanding that he has the last word no matter what his current Synods may decide or however the Synod bishops may vote. For modern popes since the 1870’s declaration of papal infallibility, councils like Vatican II and  Synods of Bishops are ultimately only advisory. This positions Francis to act decisively on Synod Bishops’ advice and otherwise.
  163. Unfortunately, John XXIII died in 1963 before he could implement many essential reforms as he may have planned to do. John had served in key diplomatic posts directly under two autocratic popes, Pius XI and Pius XII. These popes had enjoyed until 1945 powerful Fascist protection and support. John XXIII evidently understood well that the days of unaccountable autocratic popes protected by conservative European monarchs or Fascist dictators were over, especially with the postwar expansion of democratically accountable governments in many Catholic countries, including Italy and Germany.
  164. John XXIII in January 1959 had suddenly, unexpectedly and almost haphazardly announced publicly his reform intentions and initiated the preparation for the massive 2,500 plus bishops’ Second Vatican Council. His old friend, Paul VI, who was an experienced Vatican bureaucrat and his successor, reportedly thought in 1959 that John was stirring up a “hornets’ nest”. Similarly, Pope Francis appears intentionally now to be “creating a mess” with his unusual Synods. Undeterred, however, by John XXIII’s unexpected boldness and realizing that a retrenchment opportunity had been presented by John’s death early in the Council’s proceedings, the Vatican’s “hornets” reacted, specifically some of its entrenched bureaucrats like powerful Cardinal Ottaviani (1890-1979), and their preferred choices of subsequent Curial accommodating Popes, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
  165. These Vatican bureaucrats like Ottaviani and their successors, in effect, sidelined several key Vatican II era reforms for a half century with their “reform of the reform”, generally, a rhetorical euphemism for obstruction. These sidelined reforms included those relating to papal power sharing, married priests, contraception and even priest child abuse.
  166. These and other inevitable reforms can no longer be sidelined by the Vatican without risking dire consequences, given the escalating internal and external pressures at present on the Vatican. Maintaining, at times, the almost medieval Vatican status quo is no longer a papal option, as it may earlier have been for Pope Francis’ predecessors.
  167. This current crisis is now forcing the Vatican to try harder (A) to defend its exclusive doctrinal authority, (B) to maximize its wealth and solidify its allies among powerful national elites, and (C) to counter its religious competitors, as it tries try to survive reasonably intact.
  168. After a half century of frequent papal resistance and Vatican bureaucratic diversions that thwarted key elements of John XXIII’s and Vatican II’s reform approach, Pope Francis appears to be seeking to resume some of what John XXIII had tried to initiate. But Francis may not be doing enough, soon enough, as he approaches his eightieth birthday in two years.
  169. Many Catholics’ mistrust has now even led some of the Catholic 99.99% publicly to question the Vatican’s selective interpretation and application of Jesus’ simple Gospel message of love of God and neighbor. The Vatican’s opportunistic approach to the Gospels had earlier been at least widely tolerated, if not accepted by many Catholics. Now even at the initial Vatican Synod of the Family in October 2014, a significant number of bishops selected by   conservative prior popes even voted against several traditional Vatican positions. Such episcopal independence had been scarce since 1980 under the prior two popes.
  170. The Vatican dam has burst under the pressure of the current scandals and the the floods being released will not likely by contained by anything short of a return to the consensual, bottom up approach that prevailed in the Church and that Jesus’ disciples, including some women, left behind for over three centuries. The current coercive and top down papal management structure is not likely to contain the floods much longer, without major reforms, including especially power sharing with an independent Catholic majority. Cardinals and bishops who resist this pressure will likely be swept away by the flood of reforms, as happened with Cardinal Raymond Burke even before Pope Francis strengthened his authority to remove bishops.
  171. Strategic Alternatives and Assumptions: Any serious and objective assessment of this current Church crisis must consider at the outset several key questions. How is Pope Francis, after almost two years as pope, addressing this current crisis, as well as the related challenges to the Pope’s moral leadership and doctrinal authority, to the Vatican’s political and financial positions, and to the Catholic Church’s competitive advantage that this crisis has dramatically and unexpectedly provoked? What are Francis’ strategic options to resolve the crisis and which strategy has he selected? Is his selected strategy based on valid assumptions and truthful analysis? What are the likely outcomes from this crisis for the Vatican?
  172. The Expanding Crisis and Interplay of Related Challenges: The current Catholic Church crisis, and the four challenges the crisis has provoked, have been occasioned by almost unending scandals These scandals involve priest child abuse, bishop misconduct and financial corruption. The yet uncontrolled scandals have caused the ongoing crisis, while the insatiable 24/7 media cycle and the Internet are accelerating it non-stop.
  173. The scandal fallout is even leading many Catholics to question the previously accepted assumption that “The Holy Father knows best.” Basic questions now arise about infallible papal authority, as well as the Vatican’s hierarchical structure and unquestioned control of biblical and moral theology, especially regarding sexual and gender matters.
  174. Pope Francis indicated as the new pope at the World Youth Congress in July 2013 that he wanted a “mess” to stimulate change, and now he has one he helped create. He cannot now avoid confronting and attempting to defuse the expanding crisis, since it has unleashed unstoppable international legal and political responses. Previously, modern popes could discuss some pressing issues, while also deferring other important issues, and then sit on or even avoid the implications of these discussions, even for a half century as with some of the key issues discussed in the 1960’s during the Second Vatican Council period, such as married priests, power sharing among bishops and contraception.
  175. No more! With the pressure from the current crisis increasing, the Vatican can no longer just table these issues, and must address them now, along with additional significant issues, like (A) holding bishops accountable to the 99.9% faithful majority, (B) ordaining women priests, (C) celebrating gay marriages, (D) welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics at Mass, and (E) protecting children.
  176. These scandals in today’s wide open media world have created unprecedented reputational, political, financial and competitive risks and also generated related challenges for the Vatican. One pope has already resigned under pressure, the first to do so in almost 600 years. Many tough questions, rarely asked earlier, are now proliferating rapidly and are being raised constantly and publicly. The days of popes on pedestals are over permanently, notwithstanding the rapid acceleration of Pope Francis’ new pope saint making spree as part of his crisis response.
  177. Will Pope Francis be next to resign under similar pressure? Who will succeed him? How many Vatican officials are now being investigated by outside government prosecutors? Could the Vatican financially go broke, as over a dozen US dioceses and religious orders already have, under the weight of rising scandal related legal costs and declining donations and subsidies? Will even more Catholics now leave the Church seeking greener pastures and truer shepherds?
  178. Until recently, the Vatican’s decades’ old strategy aimed simultaneously and defensively at protection and preservation. Protecting, as the Vatican’s highest priority, its top leaders from governmental legal accountability, has meant employing media management tactics with help, it appears from billionaire media masters and seeking opportunistic arrangements with powerful political leaders and wealthy financial barons.
  179. Preserving Vatican wealth and membership statistics, both to maximize its eroding income worldwide and to reverse declining Catholic birth and retention rates in key countries, has meant continuing to pursue a “pro billionaire” fundraising approach and a “pro-birth’ population policy. This population policy had been earlier declared in Pope Pius XI’s 1930 anti-birth control papal encyclical occasioned by both the rising threat of atheistic Soviet communism against a declining Western European birthrate and the military ambitions of Pius XI’s key protector, Mussolini. Today, the Vatican’s pro-baby policy appears directed at the Vatican’s near obsession with the threat of radical Islam and Muslims’ high birth rate.
  180. The Vatican’s defensive instruments of power currently include (A) endlessly quoting in Vatican public relations releases from Jesus’ appealing message of brotherly love, while avoiding the message too often in actual Vatican actions,  (B) constantly fronting a smiling  “semi-divine infallible pope”, preferably hugging babies, (C) shrewdly managing a self interested, obedient and self perpetuating hierarchy, (D) carefully applying its significant worldwide wealth advantage,  and (E) tightly controlling its considerable political influence in key countries, like the USA and Germany.
  181. The major current Church challenges, on top of the present scandal crisis, are:
  182. (A) A leadership challenge — diminishing papal authority and declining adherents, as millions of older Catholics are leaving the Church, many due the Vatican’s rigid sexual policies and its mismanagement of the scandals, while many younger Catholics are similarly disaffected and are increasingly marrying in non-Church ceremonies, are having and baptizing fewer Catholic babies, and are even avoiding or deferring the early introduction of their children to the Church’s formative indoctrination process associated with First Communion/First Confession;
  183. (B) A political challenge — to the Vatican’s modern immunity from outside governmental oversight and to the Vatican’s opportunistic arrangements with plutocratic political promoters ;
  184. (C) A financial challenge — declining personal donations and governmental subsidies while facing unending legal expenses and litigation penalties — fewer Catholics are donating, while billions in scandal related expenses are still being incurred, as more dioceses go broke and bankrupt and more Churches and schools are closed and sold off; and
  185. (D) A competitive challenge — increasing competition from other faiths and from secularism, ranging from Christian pentecostals, to Islamic converts, to the growing category of “nones”, unaffiliated with any faith group.
  186. Many of the world’s billion Catholics worry increasingly about the future of their scandal infected Church. While many millions still support the Catholic Church devoutly, millions of others, including women, children, poor couples, divorced and remarried, gay folks and even non-Catholics, suffer under Vatican policies that often seem unchristian and unnecessary.
  187. Pope Francis must currently confront this crisis and these challenges. He needs a comprehensive strategy to do so. His individual actions cannot really be assessed adequately or intelligently, except in the context of his overall strategy.
  188. Strategic Alternatives Presently Available to the Vatican: Pope Francis has given many Catholics new hope for a Church cure, for positive changes and for overdue reforms. Recent developments make clear that major changes for the papal monarchy are underway and that more are coming. When and how the newest changes may come surely raise complicated questions that demand responses, even if “final answers” are yet unavailable.
  189. Some Catholic Church changes may come voluntarily and others involuntarily, but come soon they will to the current papal monarchy, as they long ago came to other European monarchies. Depending on the specific change, either voluntary consensus among many Catholics or involuntary coercion from outside governments (as has already occurred in the financial area), or both, are driving these changes relentlessly. As a Catholic, I hope the changes come voluntarily. As an international lawyer, I expect the major changes will come involuntarily in any event, if needed voluntary changes are not implemented soon.
  190. Of course. the Church’s future options necessarily depend on, and are limited by, its present situation, as influenced by its unique history and traditions. Pope Francis cannot start afresh. He also faces considerable opposition from many sides. In some respects, Pope Francis’ situation today is like that of Pope Pius IX, who lost his large Papal States’ kingdom a century and a half ago to outside Italian governmental forces. Pius XI tried to recover some lost power by being “declared infallible” at the 1870 First Vatican Council. That move, however, may have created more problems for the Church than it solved.
  191. Pope Francis appears similarly desperately to be trying, with recent papal saint making spectacles and his Synods of Bishops, to make changes to try to head off some of the likely changes he may anticipate being imposed on the Church by escalating outside government pressure. His fine tuning the rules recently on his power to remove bishops suggests he does not plan on endless debates with the likes of Cardinal Burke.
  192. Moreover, Pope Francis must try to follow Jesus’ message closely if he wants to succeed. But traditions about Jesus, especially the all important “Good News” of the four Gospels, have been interpreted in different ways, prophetically, theologically and even politically, by earlier Catholic leaders and thinkers. These influential leaders and thinkers and their specific interpretations have generally dominated Church dogma and practice over much of its 2,000 year history, often in unpredictable ways at times with unanticipated consequences.
  193. For much of this long period, popes benefited from considerable protection from powerful monarchs, and at times even tyrants. But this has generally no longer been the case since the end of Fascist hegemony in Germany and Italy by 1945. Since then, the Vatican has had to nimbly weave its web of political protection by trading Vatican support on an ad hoc opportunistic basis for national arrangements. These alliances ranged from close ties since the 1980’s with elected US Republican leaders to alliances with military dictators in Latin America and Africa.
  194. Importantly, the Bible, including the Catholic New Testament, has a complex and complicated origin and multiple textual, linguistic, and cultural sources. It is now well known by scholars that the Bible is no straightforward guidebook on many modern problems. Early Church history also is poorly documented, quite diverse and easily manipulated by selective sourcing and quotations.
  195. Indeed, millions of words have been written by modern biblical and church history scholars. Nevertheless, in recent years, there has frequently been greater rather than less uncertainty about some important aspects of Jesus’ reported words and deeds and about some of his “clear mandates”, than had sometimes been assumed as beyond question by earlier popes. “The Tradition is …”, is at times much more complicated than modern popes have sometimes suggested in their encyclicals and the Catechism.
  196. The Vatican’s Current Strategy and Strategic Assumptions: Modern popes, including Francis, in their key dogmatic and moral pronouncements and proclaimed pastoral policies and practices, rely on many assumptions, occasionally unstated ones, sometimes selectively derived from preferred “in house” Catholic scholarship on scripture, history and theology. There are several assumptions in essential areas that are less certain than at times presented by self interested Vatican officials and their opportunistic apologists.
  197. These assumptions are a major part of the foundation for the Vatican’s claims about the Church’s (A) origins and sources, including some key New Testament mandates, (B) structure, leadership and management, and (C) dogma and practice. On closer inspection, these assumptions are more doubtful than modern popes, including Pope Francis, have at times indicated and the propositions popes construct on these assumptions are often more uncertain than not.
  198. By acknowledging these uncertainties now, some “unchangeable” dogmas and practices at variance with the lived experiences and informed consciences of hundreds of millions of Catholics can, and will be, changed voluntarily or involuntarily by the Vatican, to conform truthfully and honestly to Catholics’ current knowledge of, and daily experience, with reality. These truthful acknowledgements are often, as well, an essential prerequisite for the Vatican to survive the crisis and challenges it must face to survive.
  199. The Vatican can no longer avoid addressing the current relentless questioning of some of its key assumptions, given the growth in the Catholic scholarship community beyond Vatican control, as well as the 24/7 media coverage and Internet revelations that at times undercut Vatican positions. And future papal pronouncements, without ample underlying independent scholarly support, are hardly going to influence many Catholics for long. The Vatican can no longer address modern day “Galileos” solely by placing them under house arrest.
  200. Acknowledging honestly the uncertainty of the Vatican’s assumptions is fundamentally important, and also provides additional reasons to hope that positive changes in Church structure and doctrines are likely in the near term. If, as Jesus reportedly said, the truth makes us free, it is  mandatory that the Church’s options for change henceforth be pursued based honestly on truthful assumptions, and not opportunistically on “selective truths”, as at times still occurs and has also occurred in the past.
  201. Pope Francis had as a young Jesuit provincial in Argentina direct experience with the outside government power of a military dictatorship. He understands well that the Vatican he inherited from the ex-Pope was and remains in several areas, especially priest child abuse, on a collision course with outside governments armed with a coercive rule of international law. Longtime Vatican players, that had been accustomed until recently to living in a Vatican bubble in an Italy run by a seemingly billionaire swinger, do not yet seem to understand, as Francis appears to, that the days of “The Holy Father says … ” are over. Francis appears to know that either the Vatican reforms itself now or it risks being forced soon to reform, with the chaos and divisions that forced reforms would likely entail.
  202. These assumptions, in varying degrees, have shaped much of the Catholic Church’s present. They will also influence significantly its future, no matter what Pope Francis decides to do. Understanding better these often unstated assumptions creates hopeful opportunities for adopting long overdue positive reforms by eliminating non-essential and questionable “certainties” that at times have been impediments to needed changes.
  203. The overarching Vatican “framework” at present, based on current Vatican assumptions, appears to be mainly that (A) Jesus endorsed popes as supreme papal monarchs, (B) who are accountable only to God, (C) who uniquely interpret infallibly matters of “faith and morals”, including New Testament moral themes, and (D) who appoint as unaccountable bishops superior men, exclusively, (E) to implement and enforce unchangeable dogmas and practices mandated by popes. The Vatican currently, in effect, requires a billion plus Catholics to operate within this framework as well. This framework does not stand up well to close scholarly scrutiny.
  204. Complicating Pope Francis’ difficult tasks are many opportunists, including several very wealthy and powerful Church donors, who appear to be seeking, for their own personal agendas, to exploit the considerable “spiritual power” possessed by the modern papacy and to benefit from the political prestige and financial assets that popes control. For more than the last three quarters of the Catholic Church’s  2,000 year history, popes have at times been important “players”, sometimes a major player, in the international political economy; hence, the age old objective of wealthy donors to influence both papal decision making and wealth management.
  205. These opportunistic donors at times rely implicitly and selectively on several present weak papal assumptions, as do many in the Catholic hierarchy of cardinals and bishops. Of course, some of these Catholic religious leaders, with over 1,500 year years of accumulated political and economic traditions behind them, often also share some of their wealthy donors’ primary goals of maximizing their personal wealth, while also minimizing their individual accountability.
  206. Neither Pope Francis, nor any of his potential successors, can make many of the needed positive changes, without at a minimum revising key elements of his weak assumptions. Pope Francis and his successors, of course, may be unwilling voluntarily to make these revisions. That may matter significantly for the 0.01% minority leadership who may then not survive. It may not matter much, however, to the 99.9% faithful majority, who may still get to see these reforms imposed on the leadership majority by outside governments.
  207. The current likelihood is that Francis or his successor will, nevertheless, be compelled soon enough to make many of these changes, by pressure from outside governments accountable to their constituents, many of whom are Catholic. This is not the 1960’s, with the Second Vatican Council, when a collusive Vatican bureaucracy and their selected popes can stymie for a half century needed reforms agreed to by almost all of the world’s bishops at the Council.
  208. European governments are already beginning to apply considerable pressure in the financial area with mandated reforms for the Vatican Bank and the Vatican’s own asset management operation. This pressure has included so far a Vatican Bank asset seizure, a Vatican City credit card facility freeze and criminal investigations, even an arrest of a key Vatican financial official by the Italian government. The Vatican has been, in effect, required to hire some of the world’s most influential and expensive financial and banking consultants, lawyers and auditors and that may still not be enough to keep all Vatican officials out of prosecutors’ reach.
  209. While Francis bobs and weaves and seeks political allies like anti-gay American fundamentalists, Catholics need to cover their bets by continuing to press their leaders, including President Obama to act. Papal promises of change are no longer a safe bet without concrete papal actions fulfilling the promises. Insufficient papal action to date suggests a need for more caution and prudence, and less cheerleading and wishful thinking.
  210. Please see:


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