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The Francis Fix In February

As the Catholic Church approaches its big February meeting at the Vatican on the sex abuse crisis, things really seem to be building to a crescendo.
The Vatican journalist Sandro Magister has a piece that brings the scandal even closer to Pope Francis. [1] Excerpts:

In this letter as well, in fact, as he had previously done with the bishops of Chile, Francis places himself on the side of the powerless and the victims of power, meaning the innocent “people of God,” against the clerical caste that indeed abuses sex, but in his judgment abuses more than anything else and first of all nothing other than “power.”

It doesn’t matter that in the case of Chile Francis himself was the one who, to the very end and against all the evidence, defended the innocence of bishops whom he finally had to acknowledge as being guilty. Nor does it matter that in the case of the United States he stands accused of having given cover and honors to a cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, in spite of knowing about his reprehensible homosexual activity. In both cases Francis absolved himself either by blaming those who had advised him badly or by refusing to respond to those who – like former nuncio in the United States Carlo Maria Viganò – personally called him to account. And also at the summit at the end of February he was getting ready to reproduce this typically populist dynamic, with himself in the guise of purifier of a clerical caste soiled by power.

But now that the case of Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta has exploded, all of that becomes more difficult for the pope.

Read the whole thing. [1] It is impossible to believe that Francis didn’t know about this man’s background before promoting him. The Daily Beast has lots of details on the new scandal. [2] Excerpts:

When 53-year-old Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta abruptly left his post as bishop of Orán in Argentina in July 2017, he cited “health reasons” and a need for “treatment.” Many were concerned that he might have a terminal disease, according to local press reports at the time. After all, the popular bishop didn’t even seem well enough to hold a farewell mass.

Zanchetta tendered his resignation to Pope Francis, who often sits on such matters for months. Instead, the pope granted it within three days, according to the Associated Press, which broke the story, and soon Zanchetta was on his way to Rome, first spending time at an undisclosed location in Spain.

Now safely in Vatican City where he enjoys diplomatic immunity, the bishop stands credibly accused of sexually harassing young seminarians in the home country he shares with Francis.

Not long after resigning, Zanchetta showed up on Pope Francis’ doorstep in Rome, apparently miraculously cured. Francis, who had made his fellow countryman a bishop right after becoming pope in 2013, naturally helped him out. Francis, back when he was Cardinal Jose Bergoglio and archbishop of Argentina, apparently knew Zanchetta well. He gave the younger man a high-ranking position in the Argentinean Bishops Conference when he was president of the organization. It made sense that he would find a place for a fellow Argentine in the Curia in Rome.


The charges laid out in the Argentinean press include mismanagement of diocese funds to buy the silence of several young seminarians between the ages of 20 and 25 that Zanchetta had allegedly sexually harassed and tried to convince to enter into a sexual relationship. El Tribuno cites “masturbation, groping and psychological pressure” brought on by the powerful bishop against the priests in training. One report outlines lavish gifts used to buy the silence of the young seminarians.

Catholic journalist George Neumayr comments: [3]

It was only after authorities in Argentina opened up a probe into Zanchetta’s misconduct and media coverage mounted that the pope finally cut him loose this week. The Vatican is once again playing dumb, claiming it knew nothing of the allegations against Zanchetta at the time of his new appointment. But who believes that? This is a pontificate that turned a predator known to Francis, Theodore McCarrick, into a papal envoy and dispatched him to the ends of the earth.

The pope’s plum-throwing to perverts is simply a habit he can’t break, not even at the most intense moment of the abuse scandal. A couple of weeks ago the pope vowed that the Church would “never’ conceal predators again. At that very moment, Zanchetta was working down the hall, overseeing the real estate holdings of the Church, even though one of the reasons for his disappearance from his diocese was that he had misused Church funds in furtherance of his misconduct.

Meanwhile, Catholic journalist Phil Lawler, who has seen some dark days, slips further into the abyss [4]:

But even after all that bad news, I have to confess that what sent me into a tailspin was a statement by Pope Francis. Not because he said anything particularly shocking or objectionable, but because the statement defied rational analysis. Here’s the line, from the Pope’s message for the World Day of the Sick, that stopped me cold:

Dialogue—the premise of gift—creates possibilities for human growth and development capable of breaking through established ways of exercising power in society.

It’s my job to report statements from Rome, and help readers to understand them. But I couldn’t tell you what that sentence means, because it’s nonsensical. Curious, I checked to see how Vatican Vatican News handled it, and found this:

The Pope also mentioned dialogue—the premise of gift—that, he said, creates possibilities for human growth and development capable of breaking through established ways of exercising power in society.

Well, that doesn’t get us much further, does it? It’s the same word-salad, without any explanation. Maybe Vatican News couldn’t make heads or tails of the sentence, either. I couldn’t blame them.

In the end I decided to include the sentence, verbatim, in our CWN news story, and let readers wrestle with it for themselves. That was a coward’s choice, I admit. But there are days—and yesterday was one of them—when I just don’t have the energy or the inclination to keep offering rational explanations of statements that don’t bear rational scrutiny.

No wonder Greg Burke resigned.

Meanwhile, First Things editor R.R. Reno is as serious as five heart attacks and an angina in his analysis of what he terms “a failing papacy.” [5] Excerpts:

The current regime in Rome will damage the Catholic Church. Pope ­Francis combines laxity and ruthlessness. His style is casual and approachable; his church politics are cold and cunning. There are leading themes in this pontificate—­mercy, accompaniment, peripheries, and so forth—but no theological framework. He is a verbal semi-automatic weapon, squeezing off rounds of barbed remarks, spiritual aperçus, and earthy asides (­coprophagia! [6]). This has created a confusing, even dysfunctional atmosphere that will become intolerable, if it hasn’t already.


Pope Francis seems to regard … uncertainty and instability as desirable. His anti-institutionalism tends to disembody the Catholic faith. A “field hospital” church can pick up and leave. The Church of brick and stone makes a claim to permanence. It contests with the City of Man for territory. It bears witness to the certainty and stability of God’s covenant fulfilled in Christ.

Looking back, we can see that Jorge Bergoglio wrecked some of the institutions he was in charge of before he was seated on the chair of St. Peter. He sowed division at the Jesuit seminary during his term as rector. When he stepped down as head of the Argentine Jesuit province, conflict and bad feelings reigned.

To be sure, some things need to be broken. I’ve written about the sclerotic chancery culture in the United States. Long ago, Joseph Ratzinger warned that the Church in the West must discard self-important illusions, legacies of her role in Christendom, in order to restore salt to her witness. By some accounts, Bergoglio broke down some of the corrupt connections between the Church and elite interests in Argentina. We can all think of needed reforms.

But those occupying the offices of leadership in the Church must also build up, unify, and encourage the troops. This Francis seems unwilling to do. He’s like a supreme commander who prizes his bold commando platoons while deriding the common foot soldiers. This leads to disaster, for the everyday soldiers, the grunts, are the ones who take and hold territory.

Read the whole thing. [5]

The Reno piece made me see more clearly why in Italy, at least, many Catholic conservatives are embracing The Benedict Option [7] in partial reaction to the Francis papacy. They know that with the institution and its teaching authority so unstable (for the moment, at least), establishing and holding solid ground is something they have to do on their own.

Watch that February meeting. If it doesn’t discuss the sexual abuse of seminarians by prelates, or the role of homosexual clerical networks in perpetuating a culture of abuse, you can be certain that the Francis fix is in.


28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "The Francis Fix In February"

#1 Comment By Jared On January 10, 2019 @ 10:49 am

“Pope Francis seems to regard … uncertainty and instability as desirable. His anti-institutionalism tends to disembody the Catholic faith.”

This line stuck out to me. Isn’t this…exactly what Trump does, just with government matters? The more I read about Francis and how he operates, the more it appears that he is basically Trump in how he governs, just with a nicer face.

#2 Comment By Ted On January 10, 2019 @ 11:00 am

Of course the fix is in:

1) First, he throws the head of Ted McCarrick out to the crowd, to show that this time he really means it (this stinks of Cupich’s supposed cunning, I can’t imagine anybody buying it, I hope E. Bruenig doesn’t): [8]

2) Then, the summit issues a “word salad” about how from now on they’re going to keep their hands off the boys, if not each other.

3) Francis goes back to his apartment and has a cup of tea with his old friend Zanchetta (an Italian surname, like Bergoglio, btw).

The only thing that could stop this is somebody rising and asking some questions. Is there anybody with a red hat showing up in Rome next month prepared to do that? Our own representative will be Day Late and a Dollar Short Dan DiNardo. With Cupich in the shadows like Alger Hiss at Yalta.

Yes, the fix is in.

#3 Comment By Lee Podles On January 10, 2019 @ 11:19 am

We have all encountered control freaks, aka tin pot dictators. The common view of a control freak is that he sets up a set of minute and detailed rules and expects everyone to live by them. He is a martinet in enforcing discipline.

But a more dangerous type of control freak is the one who controls by chaos. The abuser the Rev. Edward Donelan of the Casa de los Muchachos was that type (see my case study [9]). At the small school he ran, there were no rules. Everything, including whether you were allowed to eat, depended upon Donelan’s whim. He humiliated staff in front of the boys, so the boys knew that no one could protect them from Donelan.

Francis follows this style of management. He creates chaos: make a mess, he tells people, so that no rules are certain and everything depends on his whim. One day he says of a flamboyantly homosexual priest, Who am I to judge. Then he says gays should be allowed in the priesthood. He dislikes stability: everything is about what he says at this moment. He may contradict himself ten minutes later; and everyone has to agree with him in his new opinion or be denounced as a Judas.

The ingrained culture of sexual abuse and financial peculation (which are closely connected) can be dealt with only by careful investigation and a call to a strict and orderly life, precisely the things that Francis hates. Priests and laity must be strongly called to walk the straight and narrow; but Francis is doing the opposite. His toleration of irregular sexual unions and his dismissal of serious misbehavior create an atmosphere in which anything goes and the assurance that all sins will be covered, but not with the Blood of the Lamb, but only with airy dismissals of serious problems.

#4 Comment By Lance On January 10, 2019 @ 11:41 am

we already know the fix is in, but thanks for the heads up, anyhow.

#5 Comment By MaxCon On January 10, 2019 @ 12:14 pm

Rod, I’d avoid anything Neumayr writes–he’s a bit of a crazy person. Plenty of responsible, sane critics out there, like Reno and Lawler.

The Reno piece was great. I’d encourage readers to also read the middle piece at the link, on his experience with his Jewish wife in the Roman synagogue for what it reveals about the nature of history and tradition. Don’t miss it.

#6 Comment By Sid Finster On January 10, 2019 @ 12:14 pm

Reminds me of a boss I had.

The irony was that he was remarkably easy to manipulate. I survived five rounds of layoffs and left on my own terms, even though I am no Machiavelli.

#7 Comment By charles cosimano On January 10, 2019 @ 12:19 pm

Ah the February Meeting. It will be quite a show with all the oddly costumed gay clerics showing off their latest purple window treatments-er-finery and issuing word upon word of how they have to behave while all the while playing pass-the-seminarian.

It will be a veritable Council of Nicea.

The question is will there be anyone damned fool stupid enough to believe a word they say.

#8 Comment By thomas tucker On January 10, 2019 @ 12:31 pm

Cosimano- pass the popcorn, please.

#9 Comment By John Spragge On January 10, 2019 @ 12:54 pm

If people talk to one another then old dysfunctional relationships based only on the exercise of power can be changed. Dialogue requires an assumption that the other person’s ideas and witness are gift to respect, rather than obstacles to overcome or reject. I think that’s a pretty fair restatement of the supposed “word salad” that defeated the journalist you quote. I am no stranger to nonsensical statements, having made no few of them myself, and I don’t consider this one.

Please provide an example of corruption in the clergy motivated by same-sex orientation per se rather than homophobia or the abuse of power. From my experience, and I have heard survivor stories, abuses in the church have been about power rather than sex per se. Some horrific abuses I have heard of were not about sex at all, unless you assume pure sadism, and all cases of sex abuse I have heard of or experienced in the church involved the desire to express power rather than the desire for relationship.

#10 Comment By PapayaSF On January 10, 2019 @ 1:11 pm

Francis is such a terrible Pope in so many ways that he makes me think of people like Bella Dodd who talked about Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church.

#11 Comment By Rick On January 10, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

The “fix has been in” since the day Francis stepped onto the balcony after his election in 2013. The “Benedict Option” is our only sensible alternative as we await better days.

#12 Comment By assisi On January 10, 2019 @ 1:37 pm

After reading this blog in silence for a very long time I find the need to comment on this slow moving tragedy:

Last night, watching my newborn son, I worried about what I would teach him. I found myself again thinking of my repeated attempts to come into the Catholic Church both in my home country and in the US; my perpetual disappointment in both the liberal and conservative visions; my wandering pilgrimage to see if I could find another home; the other protestant and evangelical disappointments; the despair of those other young people I met along the way suffering the pain of trying to swallow dissonance in hopes of securing a home. Then a vision dawned within me.

I saw in my mind Christ on the cross, and something spoke to me saying in essence: the Passion never ended. The final torture was to take the crown of thorns and turn it into a Roman institution that would be make a mockery of Jesus, cause His followers to trade love for power, to splinter into a never ending sectarian war over physical and mental territories. To make “Christian” the most ridiculed and despised word in the modern world. To parade His broken body through the streets and have the whole world spit on Him.

The church must collapse, Christianity must fade into obscurity, this torture must end. We must then take Him and wash His body and suffer our grief and our guilt in silence. How could we have corrupted the Logos of Love and turned it into Violence and Division? We must pray and repent and commune and have faith that He will rise again in our hearts and in the world.

Christians spend so much time complaining that the world is turning its back on the church. I for one long for the end of Christianity. That we may begin again. Head out to the desert one by one to try once more to understand what the Nazarene was trying to say.

Maybe this is why I keep coming back here, attracted to the idea of a Benedictine retreat. Something in me seems to long for the full cultural and institutional defeat. That grace may open a way for us to begin again.

#13 Comment By John On January 10, 2019 @ 1:42 pm

So: Let’s roll this up.

JPII – Surely misled by advisors on this. Thus didn’t really support all the folks he actually supported.

Benedict – Surely misled by advisors on this. Thus didn’t really support all the folks he actually supported. Resigned in horror when he discovered he was misled and couldn’t reverse things.

Francis – Any claims of being misled by advisors a smokescreen and lie. He’s evil.

[NFR: You’re trolling. Who here has given JP2 and Benedict a pass? The fact that they were too lax does not give Francis a pass, though — which is what you’re trying to do. — RD]

#14 Comment By Augustine On January 10, 2019 @ 1:56 pm

Laxity and ruthlessness, the embodiment of Latin power. One local caudillo from the 30s used to say “for my enemies, I have the law”. Which meant that all rules would be bent for friends, but the book would be thrown at enemies. Francis is your typical Latin American bishop.

#15 Comment By Seraphim On January 10, 2019 @ 2:11 pm

Meanwhile here in Houston, Fr. Mark Goring, CC, the outspoken head of the local Catholic Charismatic Center has been ordered by some person in authority—they will not say who—- to shut up and stop uploading to YouTube his very direct thoughts about fighting the homosexual current in the Church, and that means not by just praying and fasting, either, although those are a start.

This is a tremendous scandal and without us knowing what clerical humanoid is responsible for this clamp down on a man who was telling the straight truth, all that one can conclude is that they all—the chancery in Houston and the leadership of the order, the Companions of the Cross (one was tempted to say the “so-called Companions of the Cross”) must be under suspicion, or rather, that they all are …

#16 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 10, 2019 @ 2:44 pm

What is Francis’ goal? What is his end game? Perhaps only damage control. I guess he thinks that he can pretend to do something and eventually the problem will go away. Unfortunately, so will many of the laity.

#17 Comment By Richard L Harrell On January 10, 2019 @ 3:15 pm

Bergoglio should submit his resignation as the Bishop of Rome to himself, and accept it. He should then return to Buenos Aires and resign as a priest of the Church, and spend his life in prayer and repentance. At the next conclave, the Cardinals need to explain as well as announce their selection of a new Bishop of Rome, and tell us clearly why.

#18 Comment By Maris Taidgh On January 10, 2019 @ 3:20 pm

Having been close to a situation that George Neumayr reported on recently, and seeing how much he freely draws on unsubstantiated gossip, I’d have to advise you to steer clear of anything he says. He gives every evidence of being an unhinged obsessive who reports partial truths, makes dubious causal connections, and employs numerous logical fallacies. He does not employ good journalistic practices.

[NFR: Thanks for the warning. I didn’t realize that. — RD]

#19 Comment By Jeff R On January 10, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

“The premise of gift” sounds like something out of the New Real Peer Review Twitter account. Just a coincidence, though, I’m sure, and not any indication that there’s some kind of obfuscation going on here.

#20 Comment By Windswept Housr On January 10, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

Would like Lee Podles insightful comments on this: [11]

#21 Comment By Adam X On January 10, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

Reading the Pope’s comments, I was reminded of a scene in “Talladega Nights” in which Ricky Bobby’s kids are running around screaming, “Anarchy! Anarchy! … I don’t know what it means, but I love it.” That’s the sort of attitude that I imagine the pope’s partisans must have when they run around defending nonsense–“I don’t know what the pope means, but I love it.”

#22 Comment By JMM On January 10, 2019 @ 6:34 pm

Rod,do you intend to comment on the Case of John McCloskey?

[NFR: I did the other day, when it broke. — RD]

#23 Comment By BT On January 10, 2019 @ 7:42 pm

Lefties are never wrong and are never the problem. Just ask them. Everyone else is always to blame, and they are allowed to preen and falsely claim the moral high ground since the espouse the right political views. The Pope embodies this attitude well.
Thankfully, this era of little public accountability, affording lefties in particular unbelievable leeway in avoiding direct consequences for their incompetence, is coming to an end.

#24 Comment By ginger On January 10, 2019 @ 8:54 pm

Meh. Since when has the Church as an institution showed much concern about sexual harassment of adults of any kind? Ask the many abused nuns around the world how much anybody cares.

Seminarians might matter slightly more, but not enough to get anybody too hot and bothered.

For the February meeting, expect the situation in the Vatican to be absolutely normal: all screwed up.

#25 Comment By John On January 10, 2019 @ 10:57 pm

Is anyone surprised by this development. Who of rightvmind actually thought thi pope, or for that matter any pope, would have done the right thing and turned these sexual molesters in. They protect their own.

#26 Comment By WesleyD On January 11, 2019 @ 1:18 am

Rod quoted R.R. Reno, who said:

But those occupying the offices of leadership in the Church must also build up, unify, and encourage the troops. This Francis seems unwilling to do. He’s like a supreme commander who prizes his bold commando platoons while deriding the common foot soldiers.

Ignoring the immorality of it, mocking your own troops is extremely counter-productive. Kipling warned of this in his poem [12], about a society that mocks it soldiers (except when they are needed to save them):

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ’adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-’alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an “Tommy, ’ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ’eroes” when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ’eroes,” when the drums begin to roll.

#27 Comment By Dan Green On January 11, 2019 @ 7:36 am

So so much is written of this issue. I still would hope one day , other than dancing all around decades of problems, some clarity emerges, of an obvious systemic problem within the organization . Currently it simply looks as if the far flung Catholic Church is a haven for pedophiles and gays.

#28 Comment By Ted On January 11, 2019 @ 12:53 pm

Uncle Billy: “What is Francis’ goal? What is his end game? Perhaps only damage control. I guess he thinks that he can pretend to do something and eventually the problem will go away. Unfortunately, so will many of the laity.”

But not the ones he cares about, Uncle Billy, there’s not enough of us to matter. He’s got growth in the global south (maybe not in his home country, which once upon a time was a first-world nation), JPII put that away as an insurance policy; in White World he’s got the literal and metaphorical South Boston who will show up on Sundays no matter what; and he’s got the lavender cosa nostra in the sanctuary and in the pews whom he will continue to protect, he’s said so pretty unambiguously.

That leaves you, and me, and ginger and Xenie and Elijah, in other words the people who give a flying eff. You think he’s sorry to see us go? Is any prelate?