Vatican power struggle laid bare


IT SAYS much about innermost Holy See perceptions that one unnamed Vatican monsignor yesterday told Turin daily La Stampa that the crisis undermining the governance of the Catholic Church “in many ways is much worse than the storm prompted by the sex abuse crisis”.

Sex abuse survivors might not be much impressed with that affirmation, but the reality is that the Holy See seems caught up in an unedifying – and most unholy – power struggle in which Pope Benedict XVI has so far played the role of ineffectual bystander.

An indication of the climate in the Vatican came at last Sunday’s Angelus when protesters shouted “Vergogna” (shame on you) at Pope Benedict.

That was just one of the many unsavoury recent events that have besmirched Benedict’s pontificate. Another was the opening three weeks ago of the tomb of Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, a mobster with the Roman gang La Banda della Magliana, who just happened to be buried in a diamond-encrusted tomb in the central Roman Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare. De Pedis will forever be linked to the unresolved mystery surrounding the 1983 disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, daughter of a Vatican lay employee.

That story, though, was as nothing compared to last weekend’s events that saw the president of the Vatican bank, IOR, unceremoniously dismissed, just 24 hours before Pope Benedict’s own butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested on charges of having stolen documents and papers from the pope’s apartment.

Both events have come at the end of a spring marked by a bewildering series of media leaks concerning delicate internal Holy See matters such as rows within IOR, the predicted death this autumn of Pope Benedict (a prediction made by the Cardinal of Palermo, Paolo Romeo) or the removal of the reform-minded Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, formerly secretary-general of the Vatican city-state administration.

Many commentators believe the leaks, sackings, criminal investigations and arrests are the result of one thing: many Vatican groups are keen to discredit Benedict’s closest adviser, his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. No one believes the butler acted on his own. He is widely seen as the instrument of a larger discontent in which senior Vatican figures have used the media leaks to highlight the crisis of poor governance in Benedict’s pontificate.

Benedict is dismissed by some in the curia as the “professor with his head in the clouds”. There are no real concerns about the pope’s health but he is 85, prompting many to think in terms of his successor.

Holy See diplomats have suggested that many in the Italy-dominated curia believe the next pope should be an Italian. To that end, groups are jockeying for position in order to promote their own candidate. However, the negative publicity may convince many that the last thing the church needs is another Italian pope.