Friday, June 14, 2019

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State
CNS photo/Vatican Media

Friday, June 14, 2019

Pope Francis greets Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin yesterday, June 13, at a meeting between Francis and all of the nuncios, active and retired, of the Catholic Church — the men who serve as the Pope’s “ambassadors” around the world. The Pope’s prepared remarks included “Ten Commandments” for those who would wish to be “good nuncios.” Among those Ten Commandments was one which said a “good nuncio” would not “criticize the Pope behind his back.” Many observers took this remark as a veiled criticism of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, one of the Church’s most prominent retired nuncios (having served in the prestigious post of Washington D.C. for five years). Vigano has been sharply critical of some of the actions and decisions of Pope Francis. Vigano by right could have attended the meeting, but he did not attend. It is not known where he has been staying since he published his “Testimony” on August 25, 2018, more than nine months ago

The Ten Commandments of the Good Nuncio

A good nuncio cannot be a ‘hypocrite’ and engage in back-stabbing, Pope Francis said in his prepared remarks [on June 13]. ‘It is irreconcilable, therefore, to be a pontifical representative while criticizing the Pope behind his back, to have a blog or even unite with groups hostile to him [the Pope], the Curia or the Church of Rome,’ the text said.” —A June 13 Catholic News Service report on the meeting yesterday, June 13, of Pope Francis with the assembled nuncios of the Church, about 100 active nuncios and about 50 of 80 retired nuncios (several dozen of the older retired nuncios did not attend). These remarks were taken by many observers to be a direct criticism of one retired papal nuncio in particular: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who has been critical of certain actions, or non-actions, of Pope Francis. However, note well: the Pope never actually spoke these words; they were part of a prepared speech that was intended to be read, but the Pope set aside the prepared text, and spoke extemporaneously to the nuncios.

Meeting the diplomats at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that instead of reading the ‘short speech’ of 20 pages he had prepared, he preferred to have an open discussion with the diplomats ‘to help you not fall asleep.’ The Vatican press office said the Pope’s prepared text was handed to the nuncios; his conversation with them was not broadcast.” —Further information about the June 13 meeting from the same Catholic News Service story. So we know: 1) Pope Francis did not read the prepared remarks; 2) the prepared remarks were, yes, handed out; 3)but there is not yet any video or transcription available of what the Pope actually said, so we have no idea what the Pope really did say to the nuncios.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (“Who will guard the guards themselves?”) — A Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal (Satire VI, lines 347–348). It is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” though it is also known by variant translations, such as “Who watches the watchers?” and “Who’ll watch the watchmen?”. The phrase is used generally to consider the philosophical question of how power can be held to account…

The Good Nuncio

Wheels within wheels.

Or perhaps better, sails within sails… some well-set to catch the wind, some fluttering, as the helmsman of this vessel that is the Barque of Peter tacks and jibs to make forward progress against oncoming winds…

The news items ceaselessly pour forth — it is difficult even to list all that is happening (the following is obviously a partial list):

(1) the fiscal results of the Vatican bank (annual report here; news report here; troubling commentary here);

(2) the 25th anniversary today of the Holy See’s recognition of the state of Israel in 2004 (Cardinal Pietro Parolin‘s speech here) and a summary of the 25 years of negotiations with Israel about the rights of the Church in the Holy Land (link);

(3) the arrival in Rome this week of many top executives from the world’s biggest oil companies(!) for the second year in a row to discuss transitioning from an oil-based to a renewable energy-based global economy (link and link);

(4) the Pope’s recent decision to approve re-translation of the last passage of the Our Father (for the moment, this affects the Italian and French language only, link; see also this link citing a Cambridge University Greek scholar);

(5) the recent decision of the head of the Knights of Malta to forbid the use of the old Latin liturgy at all the order’s Masses (well-explained by Christopher Lamb of The Tablet at this link and regretted by the pro-Latin Mass Una Voce society here, link);

(6) seemingly never-ending scandals involving high-ranking prelates (for the astonishing story of former Wheeling-Charleston West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield, who was a leader of the American Papal Foundation, see a detailed early June Washington Post report, link, and a Catholic World Report follow-up link)…

Any ordinary observer must be shaken by the rapid-fire unfolding of all of these strange stories and appalling scandals in the Church… many not listed here.

Is all of this “par for the course”?


Is every age equally confusing and challenging for the faithful, and for the Church, so that all this is to be expected?

I once had a discussion on these matters with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict in 2005. It was in his private residence, not long after the year 2000.

He told me he thought that, yes, there had been considerable “infiltration” of the Church by people who desired to transform the Church into something different from the traditional Church… but he also stressed that there is enough weakness and cowardice in individual men and women who are striving to be faithful Christians — enough cowardice and weakness in each of us — to explain a great deal of the confusion, evil actions, and departure from the high ideals and moral discipline in the Church.

So we are not wrong to look first of all within, to our own hearts and souls, and begin the process here, of repentance and renewal.

Still, this present confusion may indeed require special clarifications, special re-assessments and special renewed commitments, in order to renew the life of the Church in time to come.

The “Good Nuncio” and the “Truth-teller”

In this context, talk of Rome in these days remains what it has been for months, perhaps for years: toward what port, what harbor, is Pope Francis directing the barque of Peter?

And, have the Pope’s lieutenants, his so-called “magic circle” (as the group of his close advisors is referred to in Rome), counseled him wisely as he sets the course of the great vessel of the Church, guiding it across the vast and turbulent seas of time?

And, have some advisors who might have counseled differently been excluded from this “inner circle,” diminishing the breadth and depth of the data that the Pope has received as he sets his course?

And has Archbishop Vigano acted courageously and in deep faithfulness to Christ, or has he acted abominably and threatened the stability of the Church and the faith of millions?

These questions emerge with special force in assessing the text that was prepared for the Pope’s meeting yesterday with the nuncios of the Church, a text handed out to the nuncios, but not read by the Pope.

We do not know who wrote this text. It seems doubtful that it was the Pope himself. Perhaps Francis gave some guidelines, and an assistant drafted the text. So we do not know the author, and it may have been prepared by a staff diplomat, not by Francis himself.

In any case, there seems to me a problem with this text. (Here is a link to the entire text prepared for the nuncios, link). (Note: We do not yet know what the Pope said to the nuncios, so perhaps in some way he addressed this problem in his unscripted remarks.)

The text speaks of “Ten Commandments” which every nuncio should try to follow.

Here are the Ten Commandments given in this text:

  1. The nuncio is a man of God.
  2. The nuncio is a man of the Church
  3. The nuncio is a man of apostolic zeal
  4. The nuncio is a man of reconciliation
  5. The nuncio is a man of the Pope (this is the commandment from which the passage cited at the outset comes)
  6. The nuncio is a man of initiative(?)
  7. The nuncio is a man of obedience
  8. The nuncio is a man of prayer
  9. The nuncio is a man of active charity
  10. The nuncio is a man of humility

But none of the “commandments” states quite simply that the nuncio should be a man who speaks the truth — even if that truth may be uncomfortable for the Church hierarchy.

But perhaps this is a structural problem — perhaps the very nature of diplomacy is to speak the truth only partially, only obliquely, only for purposes of reaching a sometimes difficult and precarious agreement.

So it may perhaps be true that nuncios — Church diplomats — really cannot be asked to “be men of truth”… willing to speak the truth without fear or favor because they know that cover-ups can never in the end be good for the Church… because the art of diplomacy is the art of avoiding difficult truth that may cause a break in tense and delicate relations.

The Danger of “Yes-Men”

Still, it seems arguably true that diplomatic talk may have grave disadvantages, negative effects, in the live of individuals and of the Church.

How can people speak in less than frank and truthful terms about the terrible crimes of abuse? It seems impossible.

So it would be a mistake to yield to the arguments of those in the Church who might argue that the Church can get through this abuse crisis without truth-telling, and without repentance and reparation.

And it is certainly true that, though there may be conservatives and traditionalists in the Catholic Church who are narrow-minded, rigid, neurotic, lacking in mercy and tenderness toward their fellow sinful human beings, it is also certainly true that there are men and woman of deep traditional Catholic faith and devotion in the Church who have “given all” for Christ, and who are thoughtful, not narrow-minded, generous and kind, not rigid, merciful and tender toward the weak and fallen, not unmerciful and cruel.

Is the team that is charting the course of the Barque of Peter alongside the Pope, and with the Pope… is that team providing Francis with all of the necessary “pros” and “cons” that he ought to be aware of as he sets the course of Christ’s Church in this world?

Have certain warnings, and certain concerns, been dismissed out of hand… risking dangerous consequences, as the vessel may be veering toward shoals which will tear out the ship’s bottom, or into deep seas where finding safe harbor in a future storm will be a hard, arduous task?

The Church is not made up only of (to cite the Ten Commandments of the text) men of God, men of the Church, men of apostolic zeal, men of reconciliation, men of the Pope, men of initiative, men of obedience, men of prayer, men of active charity, and men of humility, but also men of truth.

The Church is also made up of men, and women, of truth.


And if these truth-tellers are told to be obedient to superiors, and not to tell the truth, how will the Church ever have greater transparency?

The thing the Church needs today, as always, is truth.

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

It is the truth that shall set us free from all of the scandals, and all of the secret lobbies, and all of the corruption and clericalism and factionalism that is wounding our Church.

The Church must be a place of free discussion, so that the arguments on one side or the other of any question may be evaluated, weighed, and judged, so that human reason (which I take to be related to the divine Logos itself, that is, to the word of God, that is, to Christ) can play its role in setting aside all passions to come to a conclusion by rejecting the weaker arguments, and accepting the stronger — the ones which build up the truth.

Here is a Catholic News Service account of the Pope’s meeting with the nuncios yesterday.

Yesterday Pope Francis Pope Francis to nuncios: Be men of God, not luxury-seeking diplomats

By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

June 13, 2019

VATICAN CITY — Apostolic nuncios are called to be men of faith focused on proclaiming the Gospel and shunning the power and corruption that can come from the luxurious trappings of their diplomatic status, Pope Francis said.

The pope met June 13 with more than 100 Vatican diplomats, who serve either as nuncios — ambassadors — or as the Holy See’s permanent observers at U.N. and other international agencies.

The nuncio represents the pope and while the nuncio, like anyone, may have “reservations, sympathies or antipathies,” a good nuncio cannot be a “hypocrite” and engage in back-stabbing, Pope Francis said in his prepared remarks.

“It is irreconcilable, therefore, to be a pontifical representative while criticizing the pope behind his back, to have a blog or even unite with groups hostile to (the pope), the Curia or the church of Rome,” the text said.

The pope’s words came several days after The Washington Post published an interview with Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States who published a long document in 2018 criticizing the pope and other members of the Curia.

Meeting the diplomats at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that instead of reading the “‘short speech’ of 20 pages” he had prepared, he preferred to have an open discussion with the diplomats “to help you not fall asleep.”

The Vatican press office said the pope’s prepared text was handed to the nuncios; his conversation with them was not broadcast.

In the prepared text, Pope Francis listed a “decalogue” or 10 commandments that should characterize the life of a nuncio, beginning with the principle that they must be men of God who do not allow themselves to give in to petty gossip and slander nor be “deceived by worldly values.”

“The nuncio who forgets to be a man of God ruins himself and others; he goes off track and also damages the church to which he dedicated his life,” the pope said.

A papal representative, he continued, is also a man of the church who doesn’t represent himself but rather the Catholic Church and the pope.

Recalling Jesus’ parable of the unfaithful servant who, upon his master’s delayed arrival proceeds to “beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards,” the pope warned the diplomats that they cease being men of the church if they treat their “personnel, the sisters and the community of the nunciature like an evil master and not like a father and shepherd.”

An article published in March by Crux, a Catholic news outlet, detailed allegations by several former employees of the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations who accused their former boss of mistreating them and of being financially corrupt.

The pope also lamented those nuncios who “search for luxury, clothes and autographed items while living among people deprived of necessities.”

“This is a counter-testimony,” he said. “The greatest honor for a man of the church is that of being a servant to all.”

Another characteristic of a papal nuncio is apostolic zeal in proclaiming the Gospel wherever they are sent and in seeking “the salvation and sanctification of the greatest number of souls.”

“It is dangerous to fall into timidity and the tepidity of political or diplomatic calculations, or even in the ‘politically correct,’ renouncing the proclamation” of the Good News, the pope said.

Reminding the nuncios that they also must be men of charity who concern themselves with caring for the poor and marginalized, Pope Francis said they should avoid the danger of receiving gifts in exchange for diplomatic favors.

Prudence, he said, was a crucial virtue in discerning whether to accept “gifts that are offered to cloud our objectivity and, in some cases, unfortunately, to buy our freedom.”

“No gift of any value should ever enslave us!” the pope said. “Reject gifts that are too expensive and often useless or direct them to charity and remember that receiving an expensive gift never justifies its use.”

Special Note to Readers: I would like to ask some of the readers of these letters — which will remain free — to consider joining me by sponsoring this work (here is a link to the donation page: link.) Even quite small monthly donations (for example, $2.50 per month, more or less the price of one cup of coffee) would be much appreciated, and help cover the costs of travel and filing reports. —RM

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