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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.” 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!). 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.
The Reno piece made me see more clearly why in Italy, at least, many Catholic conservatives are embracing The Benedict Option 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.