A number of signs suggest that the freedom of the Church is under increasing attack. This includes the freedom of the Holy See itself, and thus, of the Pope. We need greater unity among Christians to defend our freedom.
There are several “nuggets” of information in articles in this issue. They concern the freedom of the Church: “libertas Ecclesiae.” The Church, the “mystical Body of Christ” in this world, is under pressure aimed at restricting her activity and dividing her. And the greatest concern of this magazine is the freedom of the Church to be herself, to speak the Gospel truth in complete freedom, without fear, without coercion.
The first “nugget” concerns something which might seem insignificant, a mere “glitch”: the recent blocking of all credit card transactions inside Vatican City (see the story). Since January 1, there has been some kind of inter-governmental “snafu” between Vatican City State and Italy which has led to the disruption of an international banking service (credit card processing). One would normally expect such an administrative “glitch” to be solved quickly. But that has not been the case. No credit cards have functioned in Vatican City for a full month now. The Vatican is losing an estimated 30,000 euro a day (about $40,000) in sales of postage stamps and entrance tickets to the Vatican Museums not made because pilgrims and tourists are arriving with credit cards to buy tickets, the credit cards can’t be processed, they don’t have the needed cash with them, and they are walking away without buying anything. During 30 days of lost sales, an estimated $1.2 million has been lost. If this continues for all of 2013, $36 million could be lost. As of press time, the block remained.
The deeper issue is why this has occurred. The Bank of Italy, Italy’s central bank, in December decided not to approve a license for Deutsche Bank Italy to continue to operate credit card terminals inside Vatican City. Press reports say the bank made this decision because it believes the Vatican’s financial transparency laws are not up to international levels. But the Vatican’s financial transparency laws last year passed an international assessment! And even if the Bank of Italy has some question about the Vatican’s financial laws, would not the normal way to handle such a situation be to discuss it and arrive at a solution, rather than to simply “pull the plug” without warning? This suggests that the officials at the Bank of Italy are willing not only to cause the Vatican financial harm (by blocking credit card transactions) but also desire to harm the Vatican’s image, holding up the Vatican to shame and ridicule — and, it seems, all unfairly.
Some in Rome see this action as a “shot across the bow” against the freedom of the Church. These observers say that the world’s monetary authorities seem to be saying to the Church: “Look, we can do this, and you can’t do anything about it.” Such an action is a threat against the sovereignty of the Holy See. And the sovereignty of the Holy See is an important guarantee for the freedom of the Pope to preach the Gospel.
A second “nugget” comes in the talk delivered by Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX, the traditionalist Catholic disciples of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) on December 28 in Canada, excerpts of which we publish in this issue (pp. 28-33). At the top of p. 32, in the middle column, Fellay says: “I know also that the state had prepared a counter-action which would be a breach of relations with the Vatican, if the Vatican would have recognized us.” (It seems he is referring to Italy, but it is not entirely clear; perhaps he is referring to some other state.)
Now, we do not know anything about the truth or falsehood of this statement. We do not know whether Fellay misunderstood something he heard, or is exaggerating something a Vatican official may have told him. So we do not know how reliable this information is. All we know is that Fellay, speaking to supporters in Canada about his three years of negotiations with Vatican officials, is making a claim that he “knows” that a “state” had planned a “counter-action” in the event that “the Vatican had recognized us.” If true, it would mean that a major government had conveyed to Vatican officials that, if the Pope took a decision to recognize the SSPX as fully Roman Catholic, there would be a “cost” for that action (what “cost” is not clear; perhaps it might be a financial provision, to reduce or remove tax exempt status, for example) which would be a “breach of (diplomatic) relations with the Vatican.” If true, this would be an attempt to limit the freedom of the Pope to make the decision he thinks best, to pressure him legally or financially.
Christians are in this world, where we have no “lasting habitation,” as wayfarers, pilgrims. Still, we attempt, as long as we remain in this world, to do good to all men, to bear witness to the truth we have glimpsed, to treasure that truth, rejoice in it, defend it, and hand it on. This truth proclaims and protects human freedom. It proclaims the liberation of human beings from slavery of every type, physical as well as spiritual. And the very core of this freedom is our freedom to know, believe and declare the faith handed down to us. This freedom must not be lost to us. But this essential freedom to believe what our forefathers believed is under increasing attack. The “Lead Story” gives one example of this pressure.
The truths we believe are precious to us. They shape us, individually and collectively. Our faith informs our worldview, shapes our personality, brings light and life to our innermost being. Our faith is the treasure, the glory, of the Church, “the bride of Christ, who makes her holy and beautiful by his grace,” as Pope Benedict said on January 20 in St. Peter’s Square.
He then added that the divisions of Christians have “disfigured” the Church. “One of the most serious faults that disfigures the face of the Church” is the sin “against her visible unity, particularly the historical divisions that have separated Christians and still have not been overcome completely.” Seeking to do what we can, in our small way, to defend the faith, and to preserve our freedom to believe, we have set up the Urbi et Orbi Foundation to work for Christian unity, particularly with the Orthodox. We invite you to join us.