September 26, 2018, Wednesday
Today is the 32th day since the publication of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s Testimony. (The full text is here; it was made public on the evening of August 25.)
And yesterday Pope Francis, in his airplane press conference on the flight back to Rome from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, broke his silence on Vigano’s document(!). At least, to an extent…
What did Francis say? (See full text below)
Pope Francis attributed his decision to sign the new pact between the Holy See and the Chinese government (on September 22) in part to events set in motion by… Vigano’s text.
But why did he say that?
“A sign of God”
Because, when Vigano’s text came out on August 25, and was reported worldwide as an attack on Pope Francis, bishops and bishops’ conferences in every part of the world sent letters of loyalty and support to Pope Francis, Francis said yesterday, and among these letters was a letter from China signed by…
…one bishop from the “Patriotic” Catholic Church (approved by the Communist government) and…
…one bishop from the “underground” Catholic Church loyal to Rome.
Pope Francis said all this yesterday evening during his press conference on the airplane flying back from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. (See below for the actual text of the Pope’s remarks)
Then Pope Francis revealed that he interpreted this letter, signed by two bishops representing the two main “groups” of Chinese Catholics as “a sign from God” to go ahead with his agreement with China(!).
That is an interesting insight into the Pope’s mind and decision-making.
An “obscure threat”
But what is still more interesting is an “obscure threat” mentioned today in a curious report on this matter in the Italian press.
This report is entitled “Papa Francesco, il caso Viganò e il ‘segno di Dio’ che ha accelerato l’accordo con la Cina” (“Pope Francis, the Vigano case and the ‘sign of God’ that accelerated the accord with China”).
It was published this afternoon in Italy by HuffPost. (link)
The author is Maria Antonietta Calabrò.
Calabrò suggests that there is some connection between the allegations against Pope Francis made by Archbishop Vigano, and the just-signed accord between the Vatican and China.
The Vatican, as the center of the Catholic Church, has been the most long-enduring and, arguably, influential “spiritual” power in human history, and counted among its faithful some 1.285 billion people at the end of 2015. China, whose citizens have always considered their country the “Middle Kingdom,” is now a rising global economic and “temporal” power, and in 2016 it counted a population of 1.379 billion people.
In this context, Calabrò is suggesting that some authority or power would like to impede or halt a rapprochement which would see a new and unexpected collaboration between a “spiritual” and a “temporal” power which together have some type of moral or governing authority over more that 2.7 billion people out of a total present global population of 7.652 billion people (link) — more than 35% of the world’s total.
She is suggesting, it seems, that the turmoil surrounding the papacy of Pope Francis is to be explained as the result of various “chess moves” in a complicated geopolitical game involving worldly powers struggling for predominance who care not at all about the implications of their moves for the spiritual life or souls of Catholics everywhere.
Is this thesis tenable? Does it have any basis in fact?
First, we must begin by assessing the author of this report. Is she credible? Answer: Yes. Calabrò is not only a talented, well-informed and highly respected journalist, she has also written in a thoughtful way precisely about some of the most important matters in the Church over many years, including stories on the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano and the death of Roberto Calvi, and books called The Hands of the Mafia, and The Secrets of the Vatican (on Vatileaks 1). Moreover, as I can confirm, she is a journalist whose work has long been closely and attentively read by none other than… Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, as Vigano himself told me some years ago. So we may assess the author as someone generally worthy of our attention.
Second, we must analyze and assess her argument.
What is the main thrust of her report? It is that the signing of the Holy See-China agreement is of such importance that opponents of the agreement have been willing to pull out “all the stops” to postpone the signing of the agreement, or, failing that, to diminish dramatically the credibility of the signers of the agreement.
In other words, she is arguing that in this moment the Holy See-China agreement is “the real issue,” not pedophilia or homosexuality in the Church or the coverup of sexual abuse by the hierarchy, and therefore that any and all attacks on Pope Francis, whether by Vigano or anyone else, must be read in the light of the Holy See-China agreement.
“No one can deny that the accord of the Vatican with China takes on a geopolitical value beyond a spiritual and religious value.” (“Nessuno può negare che l’accordo del Vaticano con la Cina assuma un valore geopolitico oltre che spirituale e religioso.)
“Just when the United States of Trump has begun a trade war with Beijing, the American Catholic right in recent days recalled the role of unofficial negotiator carried out by the now former Cardinal McCarrick precisely with China.” (“Proprio nel momento in cui gli Stati Uniti di Trump hanno iniziato una guerra commerciale con Pechino, la destra cattolica americana ha ricordato nei giorni scorsi il ruolo di negoziatore non ufficiale svolto dall’ormai ex cardinale McCarrick proprio con la Cina.”)
“It is precisely about a trip to China by McCarrick in 2013 that the former Nuncio Viganò spoke in his ‘statement,’ as proof of the Pope’s condescension towards him. (“E proprio di un viaggio in Cina di McCarrick nel 2013 ha parlato l’ex Nunzio Viganò nel suo ‘comunicato,’ come prova della condiscendenza del Papa nei suoi confronti.”)
“Also the predecessor of Francis, the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who was also the author of an open letter to Chinese Catholics, received obscure threats at the beginning of 2012 after a trip to China by another prelate. And that document ended up among those of the first Vatileaks scandal.” (“Anche il predecessore di Francesco, il Papa emerito Benedetto XVI, anche lui estensore di una lettera aperta ai cattolici cinesi, ricevette all’inizio del 2012 oscure minacce dopo un viaggio in Cina di un altro prelato. E quel documento finì tra quelli del primo scandalo Vatileaks.”)
Calabrò has been making this argument for some time.
For example, a week ago, on September 19, before the Holy See-China agreement was signed on September 22, she wrote a piece titled “Le ombre del caso McCarrick si allungano sull’accordo tra Santa Sede e Cina per la nomina dei vescovi” (“The shadows of the McCarrick case lengthen over the accord between the Holy See and China for the nomination of bishops”).
The subtitle was: “Il dossier cinese per il Vaticano si interseca con quello della pedofilia e il caso Viganò. Ciò potrebbe scatenare nuovi attacchi contro il Papa” (“The Chinese dossier, for the Vatican, intersects with the dossier on pedopholia and the Vigano case. This could unleash new attacks against the Pope.” (link)
In her piece of last week, she also stressed that the Vatican accord with China was occurring just as the US President, Donald Trump, was launching a trade war with China. She summed up: “Si tratta [speaking of the negotiations of the Vatican with China] di un altro “dossier” in cui Trono (Presidenza USA ) e Altare (Papa Francesco) si trovano su lunghezze d’onda molto diverse” (“The negotiations of the Vatican with China constitute another ‘dossier’ in which Throne (the presidency of the USA) and Altar (Pope Francis) find themselves on very different wavelengths.”)
So her argument is that the attacks on Pope Francis and the calls for his resignation are in some way animated by… forces close to the present US government, seen as in strong opposition to the Holy See’s new “opening” to China.
In today’s piece, Calabrò notes that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 88, the man at the center of Vigano’s Testimony (which is, essentially, a “who’s who” of those in the Church hierarchy whom Vigano charges “covered” for McCarrick over the past two decades) made at least 8 trips to China over many years, including at least one during this pontificate of Pope Francis.
She notes that it was precisely a trip that McCarrick made to China in June of 2013, with Francis’ evident knowledge and blessing — after a period of about 7 years under Pope Benedict when McCarrick made no trips to China — which was used by Vigano as “proof” that Francis “favored” or “rehabilitated” McCarrick though (Vigano says) Francis knew of allegations sexual abuse against McCarrick.
In other words, she is pointing out that the trip of McCarrick to China in June 2013 is a key hinge point in Vigano’s Testimony.
This is interesting, as a thesis.
But the concluding lines of this report today by Calabrò seem a bit odd.
Calabrò says that, after another trip to China by another high-ranking Catholic cardinal, Benedict XVI in early 2012 received “obscure threats.”
So Calabrò is suddenly comparing the allegations against Francis in 2018 (that he did not take action to sanction a cardinal said to be guilty of sexual molestation of seminarians) with “obscure threats” made in 2012 against Benedict.
It is true enough that “obscure threats” were made in 2012 against Benedict.
In 2012, on February 10 — exactly one year and one day before Pope Benedict XVI announced he would resign the papacy — an Italian paper reported that, during a November 2011 trip to China, Cardinal Paolo Romeo, Archbishop of Palermo, Sicily, speaking to a group of Italian businessmen also visiting China, had told the businessmen that there was a plot in Rome to poison Pope Benedict and that the assassination plot would succeed and that Benedict would be dead within one year.
The report was picked up and published around the world.
For example, the London Daily Mail reported:
“A senior Vatican cardinal has sensationally claimed Pope Benedict XVI could be ‘the victim of an assassination plot’ within the next 12 months, it emerged today.
“Cardinal Paolo Romeo is said to have revealed the details while on a visit to China and that another cardinal who was told of the comments, then submitted a top secret report to the Vatican Secretary of State.
“The plot, which could come straight out of a Dan Brown-style thriller, was revealed in Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano today.
“Cardinal Romeo, who is Archbishop of Palermo, is said to have made the claims during his visit to China last November where he met with Italian businessmen and local Catholic Church officials.
“The Catholic Church is not officially recognised in China and relations between the two are strained but in November, Pope Benedict did grant approval for the ordination of a new bishop which was accepted by the Bejing government.” (link)
Of course, Benedict was not poisoned, and did not die “within 12 months” as allegedly predicted by Romeo.
So, Romeo was, in fact, wrong.
And being wrong, we might simply ignore Romeo’s entire prediction, regarding it, perhaps, as some sort of “un-serious” conversation among Italians on a visit to China.
But about 15 months after Romeo made his (alleged) remarks, Benedict was no longer Pope, in one of the most startling ecclesial decisions in centuries, a decision still affecting us in profound ways today.
So, to this extent, Romeo seems to have been oddly prescient: Benedict was no longer Pope a very short time after Romeo predicted he would not be Pope.
But why does Calabrò bring all this up again today, in a totally different context?
Why would a serious Italian journalist end a piece about the (very controversial) decision of Pope Francis to sign an agreement with China with this odd observation:
— that, just as one cardinal’s visit to China (McCarrick’s in 2013) led (eventually) to “threats” made against Pope Francis (in 2018, in Vigano’s Testimony, in his call for Francis’ resignation), so another cardinal’s visit to China (Romeo’s in late 2011) ended up in the circulating of “obscure threats” against Pope Benedict (that he would be poisoned in the course of the year 2012).
This is puzzling. An allegation that someone has covered up for someone who has sexually molested young men (the allegation made against Francis by Vigano) is seemingly not comparable to the prediction that a Pope will die of poisoning due to a plot against him by his enemies (the prediction made by Romeo about Pope Benedict). Why are they compared?
Frankly, I remain puzzled. I do not understand how Vigano’s Testimony relates to Romeo’s prediction about Benedict dying. Still, often when people write something, they have a reason for what they write. It just isn’t clear what that reason is in this case…
The Pope’s Words, and Today’s Article by Maria Antonietta Calabrò
(1) The Pope’s words. Here is the text of the Pope’s September 25 remarks on the airplane in reference to Archbishop Vigano’s Testimony. The entire press conference was translated by Catholic News Agency here (link). The question relating to Archbishop Vigano, and also to China, was the final question of the airborne press conference.
POPE FRANCIS: Another question? On the trip, it’s over. Pelayo I think wanted to say another thing?
Greg Burke: Antonio Pelayo of Vida Nueva.
Antonio Pelayo (Vida Nueva): Holy Father, three days ago agreement was signed between the Holy See and the government of the Chinese Republic. Can you give us some additional information about its contents, because some Chinese Catholics, in particular Cardinal Zen, are accusing you of having sold the Church to the government of Beijing after so many years of suffering. How do you respond to these accusations?
POPE FRANCIS: This is a process of years, a dialogue between the Vatican commission and the Chinese commission to put the appointment of bishops in order.
The Vatican team worked a lot. I would like to say some names: Monsignor Celli (Ed. note: Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli), who with patience went into dialogue. Years. Years!
Then, Fr. Rota Graziosi, a humble Curia official of 72 years of age who wants to be a priest, to go in a parish, but he stayed in the Curia to help in this process.
And then, the Secretary of State, who is a very devoted man, Cardinal Parolin, but he has a special devotion to the lens, he studies all of the documents down to the period, comma, notes, and this gives me a great assurance. Also, this team with these qualities went ahead.
You know that when you make a peace agreement or a negotiation, both sides lose something. This is the law. Both sides. And you move ahead.
This went ahead two steps and back one, two ahead and back one. Then, months passed without speaking to each other and then the time of God, which appears to be [the time of the] Chinese. Slowly.
This is wisdom, the wisdom of the Chinese.
And the bishops who were in difficulty were studied case by case and in the case of the bishops, in the end dossiers came on to my desk about each one. And, I was responsible for signing the case of the bishops.
Then, the case of the agreement returned, the drafts on my desk. They were spoken about. I gave my ideas. The other discussed and went ahead.
I think of the resistance, the Catholics who have suffered. It’s true. And, they will suffer. Always, in an agreement, there is suffering.
They have a great faith. And they write. They make messages arrive that what the Holy See, what Peter says is that which Jesus says. The martyrial faith of these people today goes ahead. They are the greats!
I signed the agreement. At least, the plenipotentiary letters for signing that agreement that I had signed. I am responsible. The others that I appointed in all have worked for more than 10 years. It’s not an improvisation. It’s a path, a true path.
Then, a simple anecdote and a historical datum, two things to finish.
[Note: Here below Francis refers to the Testimony of Archbishop Vigano. He does not mention him by name, but he calls him an ex-Apostolic Nuncio, and it is clear that he is referring to Vigano.]
When there was that famous communique of an ex-Apostolic Nuncio, the episcopates of the world wrote me, saying clearly that they felt close, that they were praying for me.
The Chinese faithful wrote and the signature of this writing was from a bishop, let’s say it this way, of the traditional Catholic Church and from a bishop of the Patriotic Church, together and faithful, both of them.
For me, it was a sign from God.
An anecdote as well: we forget that in Latin America – thanks to God that this is over — we forget that for 350 years it was the king of Portugal and of Spain to appoint the bishops and the Pope only gave jurisdiction. We forget the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maria Teresa was tired of signing the appointments of bishops and gave jurisdiction to the Vatican Other times, and thanks to God that they aren’t repeated. But, this isn’t that they appoint. No, this is a dialogue about eventual candidates but Rome appoints, the Pope appoints. And, let us pray for the suffering of some who don’t understand and who have at their backs so many years of being clandestine.
Thank you very much. They tell us that dinner is ready and the flight isn’t any longer. Thanks so much, thanks so much for your work and pray for me.
Greg Burke: Thanks to you, Holy Father. Have a good dinner and a good rest.
(2) Today’s September 26 article by Maria Antonietta Calabrò, analyzing the Pope’s comments yesterday.
26/09/2018 16:25 CEST | Updated 2 hours ago
Pope Francis, the Viganò case and the “sign of God” that has accelerated the agreement with China
On the return journey from the three days in the Baltic countries, Bergoglio also referred to the attack launched by the former nuncio in the USA
By Maria Antonietta Calabrò
“The Lord draws good from evil with his power and infinite creativity.”
This tweet of Pope Francis was launched by the Vatican last night, September 25, at 18:30, just as the Pope’s press conference was takeing place on the Air Baltic plane returning from three days in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Perhaps a reference to the growth of faith in the nations just visited, martyrs during Nazism and under communist regimes.
But the tweet on closer inspection fits perfectly with the “simple” anecdote that the Pope told, before concluding his meeting with journalists, answering a question by Antonio Pelayo, of the Spanish magazine Vida Nueva, on the agreement with China just reached.
Which anecdote? Surprisingly, the Pope referred to the attack against him, launched just a month ago, by former Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò. The Pope did not call him by name, but said: “When there was that famous communiqué of a former Apostolic Nuncio, the episcopates of the world wrote to me saying that they felt close to me, that they prayed for me, even the Chinese faithful wrote, and the signature on this text was of the bishop — so to speak — of the traditional Catholic Church and of the bishop of the Patriotic Church: together, both of them, and the faithful of both Churches. For me, this was a sign of God.”
And the Pope made his final decision, he signed. “I signed the agreement, I signed the Plenipotentiary Letters to sign that agreement. I am responsible,” he said, despite having been a negotiation process of years and years, after the “sign of God.” And then he signed what will serve to open a new phase in history, in which he exhorted all the Chinese faithful, writing a Letter to the Catholics of that country to urge them to trust, and to reconcile with each other.
In short, the Viganò case ended up hastening the Pope’s agreement with China.
Equally out of the ordinary then the reference of Francis to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attacked in recent days by Cardinal Zen, always opposed to the agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong accused the Vatican Secretary of State of not having even the faith.
“Cardinal Parolin, who is a very devout man,” Francesco said, “has a special devotion to the close reading of texts: he studies all the documents, periods, commas, accents… And this gives me a very great security.”
Francis recalled that the negotiation was “a process of years, a dialogue between the Vatican Commission and the Chinese Commission, to fix the appointment of the bishops.The Vatican team has worked hard, I would like to mention a few names: Mgr Celli, who with patience went, talked, came back… years, years! Then, Mgr Rota-Graziosi, a humble 72-year-old curial official who wanted to be a priest in a parish, but stayed in the Curia to help in this process. Then, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin (…)
“And this team, with these qualities, went on: you know that when you make a peace agreement or a negotiation, both parties lose something, this is the rule: both sides, and it goes on: this process went like this: two steps forward, one back, two forward, one back… then months passed without speaking, and then… They are the times of God, which resembles Chinese time: slowly… This is wisdom, the wisdom of the Chinese.
“The situation of the bishops who were in difficulty were studied on a case-by-case basis, and at the end the dossiers arrived on my desk and I was responsible for the signature, in the case of the bishops.
“As for the accord, the drafts passed on my desk, we talked, I gave my ideas, the others argued and they went on.
“I think of the resistance, of the Catholics who have suffered: it is true, they will suffer. In an accord there is always suffering.
“But they have a great faith and they write, they send messages, stating that what the Holy See says, what Peter says, is what Jesus says: that is, the martyr-like faith of these people continues today. They are great persons…
“The others, whom I named, worked for more than 10 years. It is not an improvisation: it is a journey, a real journey.”
The Pope made it clear that the appointment of Chinese bishops will be his sole responsibility under this agreement. “The current case is not for the nomination: it is a dialogue on possible candidates, which is done in dialogue, but the appointment is in Rome, the nomination is by the Pope, this is clear. And we pray for the suffering of some who do not understand or have many years of clandestine life behind them.”
No one can deny that the Vatican’s agreement with China takes on a geopolitical as well as a spiritual and religious value. Just when the United States of Trump began a trade war with Beijing, the American Catholic right in recent days recalled the role of unofficial negotiator carried out by the now former Cardinal McCarrick with China. It is precisely about a trip to China by McCarrick in 2013 that the former Nunzio Viganò spoke of in his “statement,” as proof of the Pope’s condescension towards McCarrick. Also the predecessor of Francis, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was also the author of an open letter to Chinese Catholics, received obscure threats at the beginning of 2012 after a trip to China by another prelate. And that document ended up among those of the first Vatileaks scandal.
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