If you read the headlines of some publications, you would be convinced that Pope Francis’s project to renew and reform the Catholic Church has been dealt a staggeringly sharp blow and is now in deep crisis.
The journalists and commentators who are pushing this story line have what they believe is mounting evidence that the pontificate is on the ropes.
They point to the kerfuffle surrounding Francis’s controversial decision on June 30 not to renew Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s mandate as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
They also cite the temporary “forced suspension” one day earlier of Cardinal George Pell’s brief as head of the Secretariat for the Economy, due to still-unspecified charges of sexual abuse that the cardinal will soon confront in an Australian court. And they note the abrupt and still-unexplained resignation some eight days before that of Libero Milone, the Vatican’s first-ever auditor general and close aid to Pell.
Then there’s the case of at least two priest-officials in the Roman Curia who were recently reported to be engaging in scandalous homosexual behavior, a perennial dark side of clerical life in the Eternal City.
One was denounced for “cruising” St. Peter’s Square in search of sex with young men. The culprit is said to be a member of an important religious order and an archbishop in a major Vatican office. There are only six such people that fit the description: two are Jesuits, another two are Dominicans, one is a Legionary of Christ, and one is a Franciscan.
The other cleric reportedly caught in a gay sex scandal has been identified as a monsignor who serves as personal secretary to one of Pope Francis’s most important curia allies. The incident involving this priest supposedly included the use of cocaine. Some “journalists” have embellished their accounts of this sordid tale with sensationalized and factually erroneous details, including the assertion that the said cardinal knew (or should have known) what naughty business his secretary was up to.
Vatican employees and Church commentators who are not especially keen on Papa Francesco have seized upon this series of “bad news” and have tried to throw it like mud at the pope. But, most likely, it won’t stick.
First of all, the religious-archbishop accused of cruising for gay sex and the cardinal who allegedly turned a blind eye to his priest-secretary’s drug-fuelled sexcapades were both appointed by Benedict XVI. So you can’t blame Bergoglio for showing bad judgment in personnel matters, at least not these appointments.
The other cases—especially those involving Cardinals Müller and Pell—are of a somewhat different kettle of fish.
A number of the news stories and commentaries that followed Francis’s dismissal of the CDF prefect after only one five-year term in office complained that the Argentine pope is acting like an insensitive bully and a ruthless Latin American dictator. Some of their reports were simply made up, nothing more than fake news, which even Cardinal Müller has since acknowledged.
Nonetheless, it was curious that these writers, most of whom are über-papists, would accuse the pope of acting like an autocrat. These are the same people who would normally defend the “supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power” that Canon Law (c. 331) ascribes to the Bishop of Rome. During the last pontificate they loved reminding people “there is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision of the Roman Pontiff” (c. 332 par. 2).
Now they are complaining. And so is Cardinal Müller and a number of others who work in the Roman Curia.
The supporters of Cardinal Pell, for example, raise their own lament. They complain that Pope Francis has never given the Australian cardinal the necessary support he needs to clean up corruption and reform the archaic way the Vatican manages its financial resources.
Yes, you can hear lots of bellyaching going on right now among clerics and even some of the non-ordained baptized who have made their careers at Pope World on the Tiber. They have been slow to understand that Francis has bigger fish to fry than to sort out the petty squabbles and turf wars between Vatican chieftains and their minions.