At Least the Borgias Had Good Taste

The raid by Vatican police on the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and its Financial Information Authority on October 1, followed by the alleged dismissal of five Vatican employees, made headlines around the world. An official statement from the Holy See issued on the same day declared that the Vatican chief prosecutor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy, Alessandro Diddi, authorized the action and subsequent confiscation of “documents and electronic devices.” According to the statement, the raid was “related to complaints presented at the beginning of the summer by the Institute for the Works of Religion (Vatican bank) and the Office of the Auditor General, concerning financial transactions carried out over time.”

The allegedly dismissed employees included Msgr. Mauro Carlino, the Secretariat of State’s head of information and documentation, and Tommaso Di Ruzza, director of the Financial Information Authority. Domenico Giani, the head of the Vatican gendarmerie, also resigned after a leaked memo made the raids public.

Although four of the suspended employees were barred from reentering Vatican City, it was announced that Msgr. Carlino would continue to live at the Casa di Santa Marta, the home of Pope Francis and other clerics. Two days later, the Vatican announced that Giuseppe Pignatone, the renowned anti-Mafia magistrate and former chief prosecutor of Rome, would head the criminal tribunal handling the case.

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The unkind might say that Vatican scandals, both sexual and financial, have been seemingly constant for much of this pontificate. They may note that the malefactors are usually covered for, one way or the other. Despite George Cardinal Pell’s insistence on returning to Australia to face trial in his country’s legal system (such as it is), most of those in the Pope’s entourage facing accusations in their home countries are protected behind the Vatican’s walls.

And these aren’t the only interesting sounds coming from Vatican Hill in recent days. To kick off the excitement for the geriatric clerics of the Amazon synod, native shamans were specially invited from Brazil to adore their deities in the Vatican Gardens. In addition, following Archbishop Charles Chaput’s criticism of gay rights activist Fr. James Martin, SJ, the Holy Father granted Fr. Martin a private audience at the Vatican—something he has not yet done for the surviving “dubia cardinals,” Raymond Leo Burke and Walter Brandmüller.

Speaking of cardinals, His Holiness recently added 13 new princes to the Sacred College, doubtless in hopes that the next papal conclave will elect a like-minded successor. If the gods of the Amazon smile upon the Supreme Pontiff, then none of the newly minted eminences shall be indictable by then.

To the unkind, the current atmosphere at the Vatican might resemble the Holy See of the Renaissance, albeit without any of the taste in art.

The chaos reigning in the Vatican has driven many orthodox Catholics to despair. Perhaps their despair escalated after Francis declared himself unafraid of schism—a fear which led his last two predecessors to treat their ideological opponents within the Church gingerly. But such fear makes sense only if one believes the salvation of souls is bound up with their membership in the Church. If one is free of such belief, then neither schism nor heresy, nor even idolatry, holds any such terror. Of course, such an attitude would be neo-Pelagianism, which the Pope has repeatedly condemned.

In any case, as a thought experiment, let’s say that those who are fearful of the current senescent regime in Rome are absolutely justified in their apprehension. What’s really behind that fear? It’s the possibility that the Catholic faith isn’t true—that, thanks to her current leadership, the Church will prove just as vagrant as the Anglican Communion, and as willing burning incense to the great ones of this world.

Before we can look at lesser issues, we must look at this one. My response to this (admittedly worrisome) situation is threefold.

Firstly, the Catholic religion is true. Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, really did become Incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit; he did indeed die upon the Cross to open the gates of Heaven to fallen humanity. He founded the Catholic Church—made up in every age of fallen, sinful, and often pathetic individuals, such as ourselves—to apply his merits to her members via the Sacraments, to share his teachings, and to drive off the forces of darkness. As a token of her commission, signs, and wonders have ever accompanied her on her long journey. Those tokens include (but are not limited to) the five approved Eucharistic miracles of the past 25 years, the apparitions at Fatima, and the countless medical miracles required of prospective saints and blesseds.

That being said, the history of the Church is stained with the misdeeds of wicked and foolish pontiffs. Regardless of how the present or future may evaluate Pope Francis, no one can defend John XII, Benedict IX, Stephen VI, or the rest of that beastly fraternity. Still, the Church is not the Mystical Body of the Pope, but the Mystical Body of Christ. This reality doesn’t change, no matter what may happen in Vatican City. If one lives under such a pontiff—well, as is so often the case, J.R.R. Tolkien has some apropos advice:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

And what have we to do with that time? Just like the best of our forebears, we must strive to be saints. Adore the Eucharist, say the rosary, venerate the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts and the Precious Blood. Support solid clerics. Encourage our disheartened brethren, and evangelize those seeking truth. Above all, avoid giving in to anger or despair. The devil uses these vices to tempt us just as surely as he uses perversion, crime, and infidelity.

In that way, the Church’s eventual triumph shall be our own.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


  • Charles Coulombe

    Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine’s European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan’s Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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