We’ve got a real scandal on our hands: The papal household has exposed a whistleblower, and just like a good crime novel would have it, it is the Pope’s butler. The last butler who created a comparable stir was employed by Lady Di, and angered the British royal palace by passing along private information about the Princess of Wales. But this scandal is more important and potentially more destructive than the revelations about the House of Windsor. The Vatican’s scoundrel leaked the private mail of the Pope himself to the press.
At the same time, the Pope has come under fire for an issue that has received little mention on this side of the Alps. When Joseph Ratzinger ascended to the papal chair as Benedict XVI in 2005, he vowed to reign in the endemic corruption that has engulfed the Vatican like a malignant cancer.
During the pontificate of John Paul II, corruption blossomed as if the reformation had never happened and the Borgias still practiced incest in the Apostolic Palace. The talk in Rome is that simple administrative tasks could be bought for 10,000 Euro. A photo op with the Pope could also be purchased if one was willing to spend lavishly. It might not be immediately obvious why someone would agree to such a deal, but a photo with the Pope can help to drive up a company’s business and improve a businessman’s reputation in Italy and other Catholic countries.
Rumors had it that the former private secretary of John Paul II, Stanislav Dziwisz (who has since been appointed arch bishop of Krakow), was behind the corrupt schemes. In the final years of John Paul’s pontificate, he was the most powerful man inside the Vatican and controlled access to the sick Pope.
When Benedict XVI took up residence in the Vatican, he terminated the photo audiences that allowed twenty to forty selected people to have their photo taken with the Pope. The official reason was that the Pope’s schedule had become too crowded, but insiders knew better.
John Paul II had brokered a deal with the Roman Curia: He left them alone, and they left him alone. In retrospect, we might speculate that the former Pope cherished traveling around the world because his public sermons proved more fertile than his internal dealings with the Curia. The German chancellor Konrad Adenauer once said, when asked why he hadn’t gone on a pilgrimage to Rome, that he didn’t want to lose his last spark of faith in the Vatican. Given the rumors that emanate from the Vatican today, there is really no fun in being Catholic. It appears that very little has changed since the Reformation inside the Church.
We must give credit to Benedict XVI for confronting the secret rulers of the Vatican – a state that is ruled in absolutist fashion by the Pope only on paper. The head of the Vatican Bank was let go. And as is usual in politics, such determined actions also lead to new enemies.
John Paul and Benedict had (or have) one important disadvantage: Neither of them is Italian. Even though they have both lived in Rome for a long time, the structures and dependencies inside the Vatican are hard to understand. John Paul’s decision to appoint more cardinals from Latin America, Africa, and Asia (cardinals who ultimately voted on the next pope) was a landmark development in breaking the Italian dominance over the Vatican. On the day after Karol Wojtyla’s election as John Paul II, Italian newspapers were filled with articles that expressed disappointment that a Pole, and not an Italian, had become Bishop of Rome.
The German Catholic Church is now tasked with supporting their man in Rome. Benedict has come under fire inside the Vatican. Some speculate that the liveried whistleblower did not act in solitude but was supported by those who seek to prevent a reform of the Curia.
German Catholics have a big influence in Rome, since they provide regular monetary support to the Vatican. Money that is collected not only on June 29th, when faithful parishioners around the world donate the so-called “Peter’s Pence” to St. Peter and the papal treasury. This year, we’ll leave the corrupt friars hanging in thin air, to support the Pope! This is what Catholic disobedience looks like!
Wouldn’t that be something for those who perpetually criticize the Catholic Church. But I guess they are busy planning the next info table campaign against celibacy and for female priests. Where are the Church’s critics when the Pope really needs them?
Read more in this column Alexander Görlach: Gender Wars