Reform of the Vatican: Papal Disengagement Not an Option

In recent–and supposedly private–remarks to a group of priests and nuns from Latin America and the Caribbean, Pope Francis disclosed that a “gay lobby” was indeed at work in the Vatican. Those present at the papal audience on June 6 took notes–notes which somehow became public. As we know all-too-well, very little stays private these days!  Referring to the contents of the secret dossier prepared at the previous Pope’s behest, Pope Francis admitted that “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there…We need to see what we can do….”   

A whistle-blowing butler had tried to see what he could do!  Recall the Vatileaks scandal that erupted in January 2012.  Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, had stolen the pontiff’s personal papers and turned them over to an Italian journalist.  When the theft was discovered, Gabriele was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Gabriele claimed that he acted “out of love for the Church of Christ and of its leader on Earth.”  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wanted to reveal what was going on behind the Vatican walls–and behind the Pope’s back.  After serving only a few months of his sentence, Gabriele was pardoned by Pope Benedict and released from jail. 

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the scandal, Pope Benedict XVI commissioned three trusted cardinals to investigate.  What they found must have been very damaging, for on the day the three cardinals laid the results of their investigation on his desk, the Pope decided to resign, citing his age as the reason.  Perhaps the octogenarian Pope was simply overwhelmed by what he read in the 700-page, 2-volume, red-bound dossier.  I suspect this is the real reason, because of what Pope Benedict subsequently did with the dossier:  He locked it up for the next Pope to deal with.

Pope Benedict’s successor admitted that a “gay lobby” is mentioned in the secret dossier.  What are we to make of the term “gay lobby”?  Does it refer to a cabal of gay priests, or does it refer to a group of clerics lobbying on behalf of gay priests?  According to information leaked to the Italian press by the butler, there was a network of gay priests inside the Vatican that was using blackmail to gain influence and trade in the state secrets of the Holy See.  There were lay people as well who were aware of gay clerics inside the Vatican and who were thus in a position to blackmail them.  At the time of the “leaks” by the Italian press, Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi called the reports “unverified, unverifiable, or completely false.”  

The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexual activity is clear:  homosexual acts are always violations of divine and natural law.  Moreover, all priests at ordination vow to live a celibate life and to conduct their lives in accordance with the Church’s moral teachings.  Any member of the Vatican administrative staff, the Roman Curia, who engages in gay sex puts himself at particular risk of blackmail.  

It appears there is substance to the claims made by the Italian press after all. What is Pope Benedict XVI’s successor going to do about it?  After revealing the existence of a “gay lobby,” Pope Francis reportedly said to the nuns and priests gathered there, “I cannot promote the reform myself–[on] 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.”  And indeed, the eight-member commission of cardinals appointed by Pope Francis is slated to meet October 1. The existence of this so-called “gay lobby” inside the Vatican is an administrative problem?  If I had been a Catholic present at the papal audience that day, I would have been disappointed with the Pope’s response.  Since assuming the papacy, Pope Francis has been a strong and very vocal advocate on behalf of the world’s poor.   Why not the same zeal when it comes to promoting reform in the Vatican?  True, as he said, he cannot deal with the corruption himself.  But for the Pope, whom Catholics regard as vicarius Christi, ‘Christ’s official representative on earth’, to remain disengaged because he is “disorganized” is not an option.

The task of reforming the Vatican must begin with the Pope, but it does not end with him or with his commissions.  Reform must start at the seminary level.  According to Michael S. Rose, author of Goodbye, Good Men:  How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church (2002),  liberals, intent on changing the Church from within, act as “gatekeepers” in many US seminaries, giving preference to those who share their views on things such as homosexuality, while rejecting those aspiring orthodox clerics who hold to the Church’s teachings.  Whatever reforms the Pope’s eight-man commission proposes, the Pope will have to be involved personally at some point.  For real reform to happen, mandatory celibacy has to be done away with, and married priests allowed into the priesthood.  Reform, ultimately, demands a reforming Pope.        














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