What a holy mess: the Vatican sinks into civil war
By Richard Cottrell
Contributing writer for End the Lie
There are many striking similarities between the former Soviet Kremlin and the Vatican (which has been besieged by even more scandalsthan usual as of late).
Consider, for example, the question of organizational bureaucracy. Commissars equal Cardinals. It is easy to swap democracy and freedom preached in the name of the people for everlasting life equally pledged to the devout and faithful by the Catholic Church.
Possession of a party card could be seen as the equivalent of obedient presence at Sunday Mass.
There are no popular elections in the Roman Church. The Pope is chosen by his own internal clique, just as Soviet leaders clambered over each other to the seat of power.
Joseph Ratzinger, alias Pope Benedict XVI, reminds me strongly of Brezhnev in his final decline. Then the corridors and chambers of the Kremlin hummed with plots, horrific acts of political treachery occurred behind closed doors as the general secretary quietly faded away, like the smile on the face of the Cheshire Cat.
The communist system effectively died with Brezhnev.
That story is being repeated right now within the sacred precincts of the Holy See.
One Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, was moved to describe the commotion inside the Vatican as the “penultimate act of a medieval battle moved to the 21st century.”
This is slightly an understatement. The Vatican is gripped by a civil war of such bitterness and furious intensity it may never fully recover.
The issue, as with Leonid Brezhnev, is largely but not fully connected to the toxic issue of the succession. Ratzinger is 85 years old, increasingly infirm, and wheeled to Mass on a kind of trolley pushed by Vatican staff. He mutters wearily, “We are an old Pope.”
Benedict’s lament echoes the Pandorian plague of crises sweeping the Roman Catholic Church.
Last week, the Pope’s formerly intimately trusted valet, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and thrown into a four by four meter cell in the Vatican’s tiny prison. He languishes there, charged with pilfering highly sensitive documents from the Pope’s personal apartments.
The whole of Italy is reeling from the ‘what the butler saw’ scandal. There is a natural prurient desire among the faithful to discover exactly what might have been so incriminating in these documents as to thrust the church bureaucracy into blind panic.
- The Vatican’s own piggy bank, the Institute of Religious Works, is back in the headlines yet again, on grounds of deep involvement in age-old money-laundering connected to narcotics and arms smuggling rings.
- The spreading global scandal over pedophilia practiced by the clergy. The US-based organization Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP, established in 1991) has tabled a case against the church at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The leading charge being crimes against humanity.
- From the strictly internal perspective, the struggle between rival factions to bag the highest office in the Vatican government: that of Secretary of State, whose occupant is effectively the Holy See’s prime minister.
In actuality, it is probably, all of the above. This is a cipher struggle for the papacy itself, the ignition factor in the raging civil war, even as Ratzinger sinks fast into the shades.
The present Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is an equivocal figure who has taken a leading line designing the strategy to fight off the sexual abuse claims. But he did not do himself or the Church any favors by shifting the great weight of blame to homosexuals in the ranks of the clergy.
He would not have said this without the benign consent of his patron, Ratzinger. Bertone is also responsible for the amazing statement that bishops are under no obligation to report abuse cases among the clergy “because it would infringe freedom of speech.”
Bertone is named alongside Ratzinger in the case standing before the International Court. But even so, as La Repubblica observed, “Those who live within the Walls know that the game is larger, has many more players, and has been especially hard for a long time.”
Summoned back from the everglades, the Borgias would instantly recognize the following stanza. La Repubblica does not directly attribute the quote but clearly it echoes Ratzinger directly.
“In here, as to who guides me, and helps me to understand – there’s a good amount of blackmailers, an equal amount of blackmail, a mass of employees and a small percentage of people of faith: among them the Saints, that keep the Church.”
Here is a gloomy painting of a largely secular political structure, all those jewel-encrusted gowns, bells and fancy smells amounting to little more than a deceptive pageant designed principally for entertainment. Truly, a Roman circus.
The fascinating thing about the Vatican Civil War is the fact that it is being fought between rival gangs of theological conservatives. The reformista are nowhere in the frame. Whenever they appear, they are promptly dealt with. Example:
The Secretary of the Governorate of Vatican City (mayor, if you like) Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, sent a letter to Ratzinger, personally denouncing the systematic embezzlement, trafficking and conspiracy raging inside the Vatican. For good measure he attacked the Vatican’s back-tracking on the introduction of new anti-money laundering laws to bring the Holy See in line with western banking norms.
For these sins he was promptly sacked by Bertone, and sent into exile as apostolic nuncio (ambassador) to Washington.
Last year a troika of three arch neo-theocon heavyweight cardinals, namely Camello Ruini, Angelo Bagnasco and Angelo Scola, met for a seminal private lunch with Ratzinger at the papal summer retreat at Castello Gondolfo, far from the prying eyes of Rome. Scola had been touted as a possible elevation to the papacy last time around.
The first course was Cardinal Bertone. All three demanded his head on the nearest plate.
Ratzinger dithered, the signal stripe of his papacy. But the tongs approached from another direction.
The Spanish cardinal Julian Herranz Casado hails from another wing of neo-theocon set. He was the nearest thing there is to a deputy Pope during John Paul II’s many illnesses, particularly after he was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt in on May 13, 1981.
At 82, Herranz Casado entertains no promotion hopes for himself. Rather, he intends that Rome should pass the throne of St. Peter to his photogenic “young” acolyte Cardinal Juan Thorne, whose seat is the Peruvian capital, Lima. He is, with Herranz Casado, one of only two Opus Dei initiates in the entire holy conclave.
Moreover at 68 he is still a “Giovanni” in his pontifical short pants and might reasonably anticipate a stabilizing reign of at least twenty years.
The problem is that the aforementioned Latin troika led by Ruini is determined to recapture St. Peter’s for the Romans. The very idea of a South American Pope is unmentionable heresy.
It was Herranz Casado, the so-called J. Edgar Hoover of the Vatican, who recently arrested the errant butler. This was seen as a warning shot to the Ruini Set of worse to come, if necessary. Yet Herranz Casado equally regards Bartone as a road block, in his case in passing the papal succession to his Opus Dei co-religionist Juan Thorne.
For the Ruini Set, an Opus Dei Pope is impossible to contemplate, quite apart from all the controversies that swirl around a sect seen by many detractors as a kind of Moonie-like organization inside the holy church.
Neither of these rival factions are remotely interested in cleaning up Vatican sleaze, especially those ill-gotten gains at the Sacred Bank which oil the Lateran State’s costly machinery.
Ratzinger’s single decision seems to be to cling to Bertone at any price, in which case the civil war is certain to intensify as the Pope’s reign drifts to an end. He says that he cannot contemplate changing horses now, dealing with a new prime minister at this late stage of his life.
But it is reasonable assumption – insofar as any assumption is reasonable in the dystopian environment of the Vatican – that he regards Bertone as the guarantor of a successor in his own image. Bertone is 77, roughly the same age as Ratzinger when he acceded as “humble laborer in the vineyard” as Vicar of Christ. But he is not the next Pope.
All Vatican watchers agree that the atmosphere inside the Holy See is thoroughly poisonous. The feuding and back-stabbing has reached an unprecedented pitch.
Effectively, except for ritual stage performances, Ratzinger seems to have given up on the job, except for the occasional Molotov cocktail.
Here’s one of them:
Corriere Della Sera, Milan, June 1st: “Pope Benedict XVI, accompanied by surprise by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has arrived in Milan for the pastoral and the VII World Meeting of Families. The presence of the Cardinal Bertone is an exceptional event, as the Secretary of State usually does not follow the Pope during travel in Italy.
The fact shows the intimacy of the Pope’s closest collaborator. Benedict XVI thus intends to confirm his faith and his closest collaborators and at the same time denouncing the many allegations that are raised against the Church.”
This amounts to a papal declaration of war on the Ruini crowd. It is also an extraordinary parallel with interpreting smoke signals from the old Kremlin of yore. In those days, who was in or out could be gauged from whether their images were photoshopped, as it were, from the podium atop Lenin’s tomb at the annual May Day parade.
We are also informed that Ratzinger sees the clergy abuse case placed before the International Court as sufficiently serious to confirm his co-defendant Bartone in the 2nd highest position in the Vatican state. To do otherwise might invite doubts when the church’s most urgent need is to stand firm.
He has not ended the civil war; rather he has prolonged it, albeit for pragmatic reasons of state.
Richard Cottrell is a writer, journalist and former European MP (Conservative). His new book Gladio: NATO’s Dagger At The Heart Of Europe is now available from Progressive Press. You may order it using the link below (or by clicking here – Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis):
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Edited by End the Lie