VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ recent words about corruption and an influential “gay lobby” in the Vatican have revived, in the media at least, concerns raised in the Vatileaks scandal.
Pope Francis spoke about corruption, including a “gay lobby,” in an off-the-cuff conversation with the presiding board of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women (CLAR).
After the June 6 meeting, which reportedly lasted about an hour, the six board members in attendance sketched a summary of what the Holy Father told them. It is noteworthy that no mention was made in this summary about the questions and the inferences the six religious who met the Pope made.
The text of this summary was given to the Chilean website Reflexión y Liberación (Reflection and Liberation), which decided to publish the text in its entirety.
During the conversation, Pope Francis reportedly spoke about a “gay lobby” and corruption in the Vatican.
Moreover, speaking about the reform of the Curia, Pope Francis said: “I cannot promote the reform myself, these matters of administration. ... I am very disorganized; I have never been good at this. But the cardinals of the commission will move it forward.”
These declarations, albeit informal, have been headlined all over the world. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, did not deny that the conversation took place, nor the contents of the conversation. But he declined to comment further because it was part of a “private meeting.”
CLAR did not deny the authenticity of the summary. Rather, in a statement issued on June 12, the organization stated that it “regretted” the summary’s publication, which was meant only for private reflection. The editors of Reflexión y Liberación have stood by their decision to publish the information.
In fact, notice of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican is not groundbreaking news. Much has been rumored about such a lobby inside the Vatican during the last few years, and the Vatileaks scandal was the peak of such widespread gossip.
Under Benedict XVI’s pontificate, actions against priestly lobbies and careerism were carried out.
One reform that had the potential to correct these problems was Benedict XVI’s decision to limit access to seminaries in “The Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” Issued in November 2005, it was one of Benedict’s first acts of governance as pope. The instruction denies access to seminaries to anyone who has in any way, even superficially, supported a “gay culture” or a culture based on gender identity.
According to one source who works in a Vatican congregation and asked for anonymity, the instruction was intended to avoid even the opportunity for a “gay lobby.”
He explained that the “Pope’s decision would break the chain of the old boys' club that had been taking place inside the Vatican for a long time. Vatican officials used to co-opt and hire priests and clerks faithful to them among Vatican ranks, so that they can influence his protégés. This is how any kind of lobby rises up. …This is what Benedict XVI tried to fight … by asking for a more severe selection of the candidates to the priesthood.”
This kind of Vatican system was also described in Via col Vento in Vaticano (Gone With the Wind in the Vatican), a book signed by the anonymous group of I Millenari (The Millenarians), which is full of allusions and indirect attacks on Roman Curia exponents. The book shocked the Vatican world at the end of the ’90s and was an Italian bestseller.
The instruction on seminaries was just the first step. Several times Benedict XVI censured and condemned priestly careerism. One of his strongest denunciations was in 2009, when he celebrated a Mass to ordain five bishops.
On that occasion, Benedict XVI said, “We do not bind people to us; we do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. We lead men and women toward Jesus Christ, hence toward the living God. In so doing, we introduce them into truth and into freedom, which derives from truth. Fidelity is altruism and, in this very way, liberating for the minister himself and for all who are entrusted to him.”
These two examples are evidence that a fight against a possible (never verified or verifiable) “gay lobby” and against priestly careerism was handed on to Pope Francis from Benedict XVI. Pope Francis also inherited the report of the three cardinals appointed to investigate the leaks of private documents from the Vatican. In fact, Pope Francis did not mention the Vatileaks report in the meeting with CLAR, and he was more likely speaking of the need for reform in general terms.
What Surprised Vatican Insiders
While media have focused on the corruption and “gay lobby” references in the CLAR summary, what astonished most within the Vatican corridors was the part of the transcript where Pope Francis admits he “cannot promote the reform” himself. In fact, the sentence has been viewed as a misunderstanding of the role of the pope himself.
A consultant of a Vatican congregation, who requested anonymity, told the Register June 12 that “no pope can afford a reform of the Roman Curia by himself. He always asks for the support of commissions, consultants, canon-law experts.”
But, he added, what the Pope said to CLAR “could lead to an understanding that there are people who are taking over the power while he is acting as the bishop of Rome.”
Such an understanding would be dangerous if the message people take away is that the Pope has handed over his own authority over the universal Church to other people.
In fact, there is much that must still be understood about the role of the “advisory board” of eight cardinals appointed by the Pope to help him to develop a Curia reform.
According to Paolo Gherri, who teaches canon law at the Lateran University, “The advisory board could lead to a complex reform of the Roman Curia or simply to nothing. … They just give an institutional/political line, giving the Pope suggestions and ideas. Only the Pope will decide if this will lead to a reform and what kind of reform it will be.”
The prominent Italian Vaticanista Sandro Magister underlined that the Pope seems to be following the Jesuit way of managing things. In the leadership of the Society of Jesus, the superior general appoints assistants, who represent their respective geographical areas. Each of the assistants gives his own suggestions to the superior general, who is the only one charged with making the final decision.
According to Magister, the same style of management is taking place with Pope Francis’ advisory board of cardinals, who represent eight geographical areas and are expected to report back to the Pope Oct. 2-4.
Magister wrote, “The eight will be gathered around the Pope. They will deliver to him a set of proposals. He will be the one to decide. Alone.”
Francis’ recent declarations to CLAR seem to cast shadows on his capability of governance, since he himself admitted his disorganization.
In some Vatican corridors, this is the more profound focus of the Pope’s off-the-cuff comments to CLAR, not the attention-grabbing headlines about a Vatican “gay lobby.”
The bigger questions must still be answered: Who is counseling the Pope? Who will he appoint as secretary of state and to other key Vatican positions? And, ultimately, will Pope Francis be truly capable of reform?
Andrea Gagliarducci writes from Rome.