To be frank, I am not particularly interested in Vatican chit-chat. It seems far removed from my tiny little life in the miasmatic swamps of Arkansas. And I wonder how anyone can truly know what goes on in the inaccessible miasmatic swamps inside the Vatican. Anyone other than insiders, that is, and everyone who works inside the Vatican takes an oath, as I understand, not to see, hear, or tell.
But, even though I tend to avoid Vatican insider talk, people will, as I noted on Friday, talk about the announcement that the retiring pope is taking his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein into retirement with him, when he moves to a monastery now being spiffed up for his use once he abdicates the throne. And because people will talk about this arrangement, count me fascinated by some of the blockbuster revelations of this examination of Gänswein's role as a papal favorite written by Robert Mickens last December.*
Blockbuster revelations to me, though this information may be old hat to those who have followed this story more closely than I have up to now. I didn't know, for instance, that Gänswein began his seminary training at a Swiss seminary run by the schismatic St. Pius X group (and is this the information that whoever disappeared biographical details about Gänswein from the internet after he was made papal secretary wanted to hide?). I also hadn't been aware that Gänswein had taught at Opus Dei's Holy Cross university in Rome.
I'll be honest: learning that Gänswein has deep ties to SSPX makes me wonder quite seriously about the extent to which Benedict's fixation on rehabilitating that schismatic group--seemingly at any cost--has been driven by his personal relationship with Georg Gänswein. And that, in turn, makes me wonder about the extent to which various aspects of Benedict's restorationist agenda have been driven by such personal connections and commitments and not primarily by a desire to see the universal church thrive--though not a bit of this information about who wields power behind the throne is really accessible to anyone outside the inner circles of the Vatican, is it?
And as Jason Horowitz notes in the Washington Post recently, those inner circles constitute a "hermetic universe" absolutely impervious to even "a modicum of transparency," which will apparently do almost anything to exercise damage control lest information about the Vatican's inner workings leak out to the world at large. It's a hermetic universe rife with factions and power struggles, where the powerful presence of Opus Dei can be found, it appears, down almost any dark corridor--especially where money is being counted.
Here's the picture I get as I read Horowitz's article about the machinations now going on inside the Vatican: corruption. This is not just the run-of-the-mill, par-for-the-course kind of corruption one can count on in any non-transparent, closed, hierarchical organization. What we're witnessing now at the top levels of the Catholic church (insofar as the veil of secrecy is ever pulled aside) is the quite specific kind of decay that takes place as institutional corruption advances and reaches a critical peak. Fighting and in-fighting for the spoils of a corrupt, decaying, wealthy and powerful institution.
Corruption that those on the inside, who have their hands on the purse strings, don't intend to stop, since they have engineered the corruption and stand to benefit from it--because watchdogs never abound when a hermetically sealed and very corrupt institution falls apart, and helping oneself to the spoils is all the easier under such circumstances.
It's hard to read Philip Pulella's report at Reuters right now about how the decision to keep Benedict in Rome after his abdication has everything to do with keeping him away from the long arm of international law in the sexual abuse crisis, without thinking of those words "corruption" and "decay" all over again. It's hard to read Philip Pulella's article and give much credence to Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner's claim that Benedict is the "great reformer" in the sordid sexual abuse story of the Catholic church at this point in history.
As Jason Berry reminds us in a recent article in National Catholic Reporter, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger, initially blocked the investigation of John Paul II's close personal friend Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, though Ratzinger was surely aware of the thick, credible file of accusations against Maciel by former seminarians whom he sexually abused, and of the allegations about his drug abuse and the children he fathered by several women while he ran the Legion of Christ.
It's true that as Pope Benedict, Ratzinger did finally discipline Maciel--after John Paul had died. But if this faint and post-factum response which never contravened the will of a tyrannical and aging former pope intent on shielding Maciel constitutes being a "great reformer," then I'm no longer sure what the term "reformer" means. Or the term "great," for that matter.
And if Benedict is a great reformer of the sex abuse situation in the Catholic church, why does he apparently fear international prosecution now, as he abdicates the papal throne? What on earth is really going on in those dark miasmatic swamps in Rome, in that hermetically sealed universe where Opus Dei's presence seems to loom larger and larger every day, as the money is tallied and the purse strings fought over by one powerful group after another--or so it appears--while things fall apart all around the heads of those counting the money?
And if I'm wrong about all of these speculations--since I truly am no kind of insider at all--what do the top leaders of the Catholic church who intend to elect the next pope intend to do to retrieve the shattered confidence of so many of us now, confidence that has been shattered due to strong indicators that make us ask the preceding questions about what's going on in the ruling elite of our institution?
*Thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing this article to me.