Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gay Scandal in Vatican?

Two or three years ago we had the egregious spectacle of the leading candidate for the presidency of France or some such post, brought down by a sudden allegation of attempted rape by a New York chamber maid.  It all since has pretty well gone away but not without smashing the man’s career.

In the meantime, the leader of Italy carries on like Caligula in his prime making one wish for a restoration of that other fine Roman custom of a sharp knife from a best friend.

Whatever the result here, it will be handled professionally and compassionately as that is what the Church brought to our civilization, however imperfectly.   In the meantime we read nonsense.

Pope Francis is strengthening the virtue of humility in the Catholic Church and this is welcome.  Without question there are long festering errors to resolve but starting with humility is a good start.  Do not forget that problems of this sort are identifiable and been caused by people, can be resolved by people.  One can only look at the confrontation with the problem of pedophiles that did finally get handled and cleansed. Could if have been sooner?  Of course.  However it could never have been even started until society itself understood the problem and also confronted its own failings.  The Church, the boy scouts, our teachers all needed to confront the reality that they were even unwittingly an office of enablement that a blind eye had been turned to for centuries.

Today our communities are aware of the risks and this allows all our institutions to resolve historical abuses.  It is not entirely over yet but it is certainly well begun.

And now we want to jump all over homosexuality. That is what makes this piece of gossip so annoying.  It is not the homosexuality that is an issue here, but whether or not the prelate broke his vow of chastity.  He may well not have but that is surely something between him and his superior.  It certainly appears that he was reckless in appearances.

As it is, I consider priestly chastity as a not so divinely inspired historical anomaly that served the Church well this past Millennia to prevent dynastic ambitions within the fabric of the Church.  Those are gone now and it needs a Divine rethinking to strengthen the Church.  After all, couples are today living well past the demands of child rearing and sustaining an active old agvge that is now likely to run between 60 and 90 years of age.  This population is a natural recruiting ground for pastoral work.

Gay scandal at the heart of the Vatican: Pope Francis faces his first crisis

Damian Thompson Religion Last updated: July 20th, 2013

Pope Francis is discovering just what a nasty place the Vatican can be. Having acknowledged that there was a "gay lobby" in the Curia, the Pope has been told that the man he's appointed to be prelate of the Vatican Bank, Monsignor Battista Ricca, has an allegedly scandalous gay past. Moreover, Ricca is not only Francis's personal representative at the bank: he's also Director of the Domus Santa Marta, where Francis has chosen to live. Indeed, the Pope often eats with the 57-year-old Ricca, whose supposed sexual indiscretions are the subject of an explosive article by Sandro Magister, Vatican expert of L'Espresso magazine.

The best guide through this troubling affair is Dr Robert Moynihan, one of the most respected of all commentators on Vatican affairs and the author of a new book about Pope Francis. I receive his email newsletter, the Moynihan Report, in which he sets out the sequence of events:

Ricca, a 57-year-old Italian prelate is a career Vatican diplomat who … in the past year, has directed the Domus Santa Marta, where the Pope is now living. In his post at the Secretariat of State, Ricca was in charge of accounting for all financial expenditures in all the nunciatures of the world. So he has a certain competence in economic matters.

His staff confirm that he is a considerate, thoughtful man. I myself, during recent stays in the Domus, have spoken with him several times, and he has spoken eloquently of the need for Christians to live out the Christian faith, especially through acts of charity toward the poor and needy.

During these years, Ricca got to know Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio [who] came not only to know Ricca, but to trust him.

When Bergoglio became Pope, and decided to remain in the Domus Santa Marta, he turned to Ricca, with whom he often took his meals at the great central table in the dining room, to help him in his work of cleaning up and reforming the Roman Curia, one of the main things the cardinals asked for in the days leading up to the conclave.

On June 15, the Pope named Ricca to perhaps the key post in the overall effort to reform the curia: his personal representative at the Vatican bank, to oversee every aspect of the managment and reform of the bank.

Since the Vatican bank is a very important "nodal point" for the Curia and for the Church, the Pope's decision to appoint Ricca as his "eyes and ears" at the bank immediately made Ricca much more important than he had ever been before, and a potential target of those who might wish that something up until now hidden at the Vatican bank might not come to light.

In other words, if there were any "weak points" in Ricca's personal or professional past that could be used either to condition, control, or discredit him, his appointment might have made it urgent (to some) to discover those "weak points," and then make use of them.

On July 3, Magister – himself a renowned Vaticanologist – ran an articleclaiming there was evidence that Ricca had engaged in "scandalous behaviour" while in the nunciature in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2000 and 2001. But there were no specifics. As Moynihan says, it seemed like a public warning to Pope Francis. Nothing happened. Then Magister published a much more damning article, entitled "The Prelate of the Gay Lobby". He wrote:

The black hole in Ricca's personal history is the period he spent in Uruguay, in Montevideo, on the northern shore of the Rio de la Plata, across from Buenos Aires.

Ricca arrived at this nunciature in 1999, when the mandate of the nuncio Francesco De Nittis was coming to an end. Previously he had served at the diplomatic missions of Congo, Algeria, Colombia, and finally Switzerland.

Here, in Bern, he had met and become friends with a captain of the Swiss army, Patrick Haari. The two arrived in Uruguay together. And Ricca asked that his friend be given a role and a residence in the nunciature.

The nuncio rejected the request. But a few months later he retired and Ricca, having become the chargé d'affaires “ad interim" until the appointment of the new nuncio, assigned Haari a residence in the nunciature, with a regular position and salary.

At the Vatican they let it go. The substitute for general affairs in the secretariat of state at the time was Giovanni Battista Re, a future cardinal, he too originally from the diocese of Brescia.

The intimacy of the relations between Ricca and Haari was so open as to scandalize numerous bishops, priests, and laity of that little South American country, not last the sisters who attended to the nunciature.

The new nuncio, Janusz Bolonek of Poland, who arrived in Montevideo at the beginning of 2000, also found that “ménage” intolerable immediately, and informed the Vatican authorities about it, insisting repeatedly to Haari that he should leave. But to no use, given his connections with Ricca.

In early 2001 Ricca also got into a scrape over his reckless conduct. One day, having gone as on other occasions – in spite of the warnings he had received – to Bulevar Artigas, to a meeting place for homosexuals, he was beaten and had to call some priests to take him back to the nunciature, with his face swollen.

In August of 2001, another mishap. In the middle of the night the elevator of the nunciature got stuck and in the early morning the firemen had to come. They found trapped in the car, together with Monsignor Ricca, a young man who was identified by the police authorities.

Nuncio Bolonek asked that Ricca be sent away from the nunciature and Haari fired immediately. And he got the go-ahead from the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Ricca, dragging his heels, was transferred to the nunciature of Trinidad and Tobago, where he remained until 2004. There as well he butted heads with the nuncio. Finally to be called to the Vatican and removed from diplomatic service on the ground …

In Uruguay, the facts reported above are known to dozens of persons: bishops, priests, sisters, laypeople. Without counting the civil authorities, from security forces to fire protection. Many of these persons have had direct experience of these facts, at various moments.

But at the Vatican as well there are those who know about them. The nuncio at the time, Bolonek, always expressed himself with severity with regard to Ricca, in reporting to Rome.

And yet a blanket of public silence has covered until today these past episodes of the monsignor.

But if the article was intended to force Francis's hand, it didn't work. To quote Moynihan:

Once again, the Pope was not moved. He authorized Father Lombardi [his press officer] to deny the allegations, saying that Magister's report was "not trustworthy," and he did not ask for Ricca's immediate resignation.

So now the world is wondering: what is the truth? Why are these allegations emerging now, instead of (for example) when the Pope decided to stay in the Domus, directed by Ricca?

Why is the Pope not asking for Ricca's resignation, removing even the suspicion of scandal from the initial efforts of his pontificate to reform the Roman Curia?

In the past week, a couple of well-informed priests have contacted me about this crisis. Both noticed the same detail in Magister's second report. When allegations about Ricca were flying around, one of the Vatican officials who apparently chose not to act was Giovanni Battista Re – who went on to become a cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Re is loathed by traditionalists, who blame him for undermining the pontificate of Benedict XVI; certainly as Prefect until 2010 he arranged the appointment of many bishops who were out of sympathy with Benedict's liturgical and theological opinions – and, also, he didn't handle the paedophile scandals with any skill. The last thing conservatives want is for Re to start flexing his muscles under the new regime; perhaps the Ricca affair will curb his ambitions.

What are we to make of all this? Moynihan is surely right that this is a crucial juncture in Francis's pontificate – his first crisis, and not a small one. But I think Moynihan hits exactly the right note when he writes:

I have been a Vaticanist for a quarter century. In those years, I have seen many cases when what seems to be true at first glance is not the truth, or not the whole truth. There is information, and there is disnformation. There are maneuvers to gain influence or to ward off change. This can even include discrediting a person with false charges. We must be very attentive to weigh all evidence and to ask: Is it true? Who provided the evidence? For what purpose or goal? Why now? And, could the facts have a more innocent explanation than appears at first glance? In short, we have to be cautious, and careful, and fair.

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