New Pope. Same church?
In one sense, my lawyer friend has a point. Italians know how to manoeuvre their way around a holy see that the dissident theologian Hans Küng this week called a “medieval/baroque court”. They are playing a home game, with the language, the fans, the media and usually the referee, the old guy in white, on their side.
When you move around the holy see, attending news conferences and ceremonies and interviewing senior figures, one thing is clear. Without Italian, you are dead. It is not just that the procedures, the thinking and the office culture are all Italian; it is that they are Italian in the style of the court in a 16th-century Tuscan city republic.
The issue is about more than media communication. The holy see, seat of governance of the Catholic Church, is peculiarly Italian but it is also riven with internal power struggles, rivalries and jealousies, as the papal butler’s “Vatileaks” made clear. As Küng pointed out this week, it might matter little if the college of cardinals picks an African, an Asian or a Latin American as the next Pope; such is the “romanisation” of church HQ that unless radical organisational changes are introduced to the curia, the Vatican’s administrative apparatus, the new man will simply be absorbed by its medieval ways and rendered relatively ineffective.
Küng argues that the “medieval-baroque Vatican court” must be transformed into a “modern, efficient central church administration”.
Is that really possible in this country? Italy does very good Chianti, extraordinary historical patrimony, wonderful fashion and many other things, but it does not do modern, efficient administration.
It is not a modern, transparent, accountable democracy. Transparency International, the body that monitors corporate and political corruption worldwide, rates Italy 72nd, just above Bosnia, Montenegro and Tunisia.
The Italian influence does not stop at linguistic advantage or curia squabbling. When the 117 or so elector cardinals, who are under 80 years of age, go into conclave to elect the new pope in the middle of next month, Italy will still be hugely over-represented, with 27 cardinals, a formidable conservative rump. By comparison, Latin America will have 19 cardinals, even though 483 million Catholics, or 41.3 per cent of the world’s Catholics, live in that region. Given this, and the fact that all the elector cardinals have been nominated either by John Paul II or Benedict, is it unrealistic to expect radical change from the next pope? Perhaps not.
By any measure, this will be an unprecedented conclave. For a start, the cardinals around the world have had plenty of time to prepare a strategy and avoid their mistake of 2005, when most of the cardinals arrived in Rome to find that a group of senior curia cardinals already had their candidate, Cardinal Ratzinger, up and running. And as dean of the college of cardinals, Ratzinger was so impressive in the manner in which he handled interregnum set pieces, such as the funeral of John Paul II, that many of the local cardinals simply nodded and said, “He’ll do.”
The resignation will make this conclave radically different. There will be no period of mourning. The grief that hung over Rome throughout April 2005 will be missing. Rather, this will be a state-of-the-church moment when just about everyone with something to say about the future of the church will be able to make themselves heard.