03 November 2015
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pursuit of power at heart of Vati-leaks II
Any shake-up of a system is going to face opposition. So it is with Pope Francis and his reforms of the Vatican.
Part one of the Vati-leaks saga saw Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s butler, release private documents from inside the papal apartment detailing corruption. Now we have part two. .
Two individuals have been arrested and questioned by Vatican police in relation to the leaking of private documents. Both had been key members of a commission overhauling Vatican finances and administration (COSEA) in the early part of Francis papacy. But neither had been given positions in the new economic structures that the Pope then established.
The first is Francesca Chaouqui, a 33 year-old financial PR expert. She is a controversial figure who claimed former Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was “corrupt” and posted racy photos of her and her husband on Facebook. She co-operated with Holy See police inquiries and has now been released.
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The second is Mgr Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, a Spanish priest associated with Opus Dei (not, it should be stressed, a priest of the personal prelature) who is being detained in a Vatican prison cell. Opus Dei priests are often trusted for their financial and administrative skills and the prelature issued a statement saying they were “shocked and saddened” by the arrest.
The arrests appear to be linked to two books out this Thursday which will rely on leaked documents to show the battle the Pope’s reforms are facing from inside the Vatican.
One is by the journalist who obtained the Vati-leaks part one documents, Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book is titled Merchants in the Temple. The second is by Emiliano Fittipaldi and is titled Avarice: Documents Revealing Wealth, Scandals and Secrets of Francis' Church.
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"A veritable war is waging in the Catholic Church," Mr Nuzzi said this week. ”On one side, there is Pope Francis' strong message for one church of the poor" and on the other, "there is the opaque and aggressive power systems within the Vatican's hierarchy.”
In a statement following the arrests the Holy See Press Office said: “Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth,” and then, crucially adds: “we must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.”
The leakers of documents could feel justified in doing so in this case in order to lay bare the hostility the Pope is facing in his reform efforts.
Francis’ changes to Holy See finances has been swift and far reaching. There is a new council for the economy filled with lay experts, new leadership of the Vatican bank, the first auditor general and a new economy secretariat led by the tough Australian Cardinal, George Pell.
But the people who are likely most happy by the leaks will be those in the Vatican who want to maintain the status quo. The leaks heighten the tension and make change harder to implement.
Francesca Chaouqui has been criticised in the past for publishing racy photos with her husband on Facebook
Furthermore, might Ms Chaouqui and Mgr Balda have felt a loss of power and influence having served on the important COSEA commission but with no position of influence at the end of it? Mgr Balda had expected to be appointed the secretary to Cardinal Pell’s economy secretariat and spoke about it in an interview with a Spanish radio station. This never happened.
He is currently the secretary of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs which is widely expected to be abolished in the Pope’s ongoing restructuring of the Roman Curia.
Perhaps the hardest thing any leader trying to reform an institution faces is the taking on of vested interests. This is particularly the case in the Vatican which for so long has operated like a court where clerics and others jostle for positions of power.
Reforming such a structure is going to leave some people unhappy - namely those who no longer wield the power they were once used to having. For clerics, who forsake families and amassing personal wealth, power is sometimes the only thing they may feel they have.
One senior church figure once told me that it is very hard to reform any part of the Vatican unless you are able to make those who have lost influence still seem important.
This is a lesson that the Pope may be learning.
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