Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Outdated Vatican is an institution ripping itself apart

The Vatican has long been said by those who know it to be a nest of vipers. But, recently, the poison has been laid bare for everyone to see as leak after an embarrassing leak has revealed an institution at war with itself.

Already this year we've read about documents warning of a death threat against the Pope, widespread nepotism and corruption, exiled whistleblowers, gay smear campaigns and embarrassing revelations about the Vatican's tax affairs.

As ever, lumbering several steps behind, the powers-that-be at the Holy See finally set out to catch the mole (or moles) behind the leaks. The Pope's butler has already been nabbed, but few people think he acted alone.

Now we learn that an unnamed Italian cardinal is a suspect. But even if all the leakers are caught, few observers think that there's an end in sight for the PR disasters that have blighted the reign of 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI.

Unloved Benedict might reasonably claim his record is more virtuous than that of his PR-savvy predecessor John Paul II.

As the author of a new book on the Vatican, Gianluigi Nuzzi, says: "During the papacy of John Paul II, paedophilia was not pursued like it has been today. This pope has removed 50 priests."

Another Vatican watcher, Robert Mickens of The Tablet, has a simpler take the Holy See's woes: "It's arrogance. The people in charge still think the Vatican is above ordinary laws."

Observers also point to the Vatican's decision to censure nuns in the US for daring to "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops" on key social issues.

"All these things are symptoms of a bigger problem. The structure of the Vatican - which is an absolute monarchy - is no longer suitable for the modern world," says Mickens.

The Pope's overtures to the extremist and anti-Semitic Society of Saint Pius X's, with which he shares a love of traditional Catholic Mass, is thought to have angered many Church figures.

But it is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's number two and Benedict's chief of staff, who is usually seen as the common denominator in the endless Vatican in-fighting.

In consolidating power for himself Cardinal Bertone, has made many enemies.

Last summer, Bertone even received a death threat, which the Italian news magazine Panorama blamed on his exiling of a difficult priest, Carlo Maria Vigano, to the other side of the Atlantic.

But, in spite of the political poison and claims by respected observers that the leadership is suffering a 'profound crisis of identity and credibility', few expect any immediate changes at the top.

Earlier this year, a letter made the headlines for its warning of a death threat against the Pontiff. It also suggested that relations between Cardinal Bertone and the Pope were falling apart.

Not many people believe that. But, even it were true, the pair have little choice but to support each other to the bitter end.

Now the question is: how low will the Vatican's reputation sink before that day arrives?

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