Issues facing new pontiff: I – Vatileaks

The white smoke has blown away, the @Pontifex twitter account is reactivated and the coat of arms of the Holy See again carries the papal tiara rather than the ombrellino.  Consequent on his appointment, there were a number of engagements in Pope Francis’ diary for the week ahead

Thursday, 14 March: Pope Francis made a private visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Madonna, where he prayed before a famous icon of the Madonna called the Salus Populi Romani –  Protectress of the Roman People.

At 5:00pm he presided over Mass with the Cardinal electors in the Sistine Chapel.

Friday, 15 March: At 11:00am in the Clementine Hall he will meet with the full College of Cardinals, electors and non-electors.

Saturday, 16 March: At 11:00am in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope will hold an audience with journalists and those who work in the media.

Sunday, 17 March At 12:00pm he will recite the first Angelus of his papacy from the papal apartments.

Tuesday, 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph: Mass to inaugurate the new papacy will be held at 9:30am in St. Peter’s Square.

Wednesday, 20 March  Pope Francis will hold an audience with fraternal delegates. However, there will not be the usual General Audience.

Nevertheless, there are many significant issues requiring prompt action by the new Pontiff, and whilst the religious and secular media attempt to define his in-tray, a better indication of what he is likely to tackle may be gained from an examination the issues discussed by the College of Cardinals in the General Congregations prior to the Conclave – the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) (i.e. the Vatican Bank); evangelism; the Holy See and its Dicasteries, improving the Curia; ecumenism; relations with other Christian churches; and the Church’s charitable efforts. [The proceedings of the General Congregations were summarised in reports by the Vatican Information Service].

There is, however, an apparent omission from these reports which was identified in the secular press reports before there was a clampdown on media briefings by the cardinals : the Vatileaks report, known in the Vatican as il Relatio – the findings of three cardinals appointed last year by Pope Benedict XVI to investigate the leaking of documents from his study.

On 25 February 2013, Vatican radio reported that the three cardinals on the Commission who conducted the investigation – Julián Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi – were received by the Benedict XVI:

“The Holy Father wished to thank them for their fruitful work, expressing satisfaction for the results of the investigation. In fact, their work made it possible to detect, given the limitations and imperfections of the human component of each institution, the generosity, honesty and dedication of those who work in the Holy See at the service of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Roman Pontiff. The Holy Father has decided that the facts of this investigation, the contents of which are known only to himself, will be made available exclusively to the new Pontiff”.

Fr Lombardi added that the three cardinals “will participate fully in the General Congregations, where they too will have the occasion to express their own convictions. But it was also pointed out that participants in the Congregations are also bound to secrecy”.

On 4 March Reuters and the Japan Times reports carried reports that on the first day of the General Congregations three cardinals – Walter Kasper, a German, Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Budapest – had demanded, unsuccessfully, that Herranz circulate the Relatio.

“Yet Herranz’s reaction was to hold out, apparently signaling that Benedict ordered that the report be kept for his successor. Many in and around the Vatican interpreted his reaction as confirmation of something already becoming apparent – faced with demands for transparency, the departmental satraps of the Curia were closing ranks.”

These reports contrast with the official version (VIS) of a “serene, constructive, positive atmosphere in the first of congregations of cardinals”.  The La Stampa version is more detailed, and significantly contains the statement

Sarebbe però un errore considerare scandali e Vatileaks come il segno distintivo della prima giornata di dibattito: la preoccupazione della maggior parte dei presenti è quella di trovare un nuovo Papa che sappia parlare al mondo, annunciare il Vangelo in modo positivo. «Ci vorrebbe un Papa come San Francesco – confida a La Stampa un porporato influente a fine giornata – un uomo che sappia sorridere come Giovanni Paolo I, che possa mostrare il volto della misericordia di Dio. E che sappia riformare la Curia per renderla più credibile e trasparente»”.

“But it would be a mistake to consider scandals and Vatileaks as the hallmark of the first day of debate: the concern of most of these is to find a new Pope who can speak to the world, to proclaim the Gospel in a positive way.  “We need a Pope like Saint Francis – an influential cardinal confided to La Stampa in the evening – a man who could smile like John Paul I, who can show the face of the mercy of God and who knows how to reform the Curia to make it more credible and transparent.”

As long as the two stiff, unmarked red folders containing the ~300 pages report remain in a safe in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace, speculation is bound to continue.  An important first step towards increased credibility and transparency would be for Pope Francis to authorise the release of the general findings of the Vatileaks report and the action that is to be taken.

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