The current Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, has certainly set the Curia (government of the Holy See) on its head. His announcement that he would create new Cardinals from mostly areas of the world where no Cardinals were named before, like Tonga, Panama, Cape Verde, Myanmar (Burma) or to Diocese like Ancona on the Adriatic and Agrigento in Sicily which had been left to bishops for a century surprised many in the Curia and among Vatican watchers. It was noted that this is the second time around where Pope Francis has not appointed any new Cardinals from the USA. There are reasons for that state of affair and the Church hierarchy in the USA is seen as too conservative and unwilling to follow any new direction as presented by Pope Francis, Cardinal Bernard Law is one,Cardinal Raymond Burke who was recently demoted is another example, conservative, narrow-minded and unwilling to follow direction from the boss, unable to understand that a new wind is blowing. In these new appointments Pope Francis is signalling that those who were on the fringe are being brought into the circle. This will no doubt help him with getting the support he needs in the 238 member College of Cardinals for his reform projects.
We have a friend Robert M. who has been a Vatican insider for years and worked for some years at Vatican Radio. He originally had gone to Rome to study theology and become a priest. Then he had a change of heart but decided to stay nonetheless and work as a civilian at the Vatican and later became a journalist and is currently the Editor and contributor to the National Catholic Reporter. His knowledge of the actors and the different Offices and who is in charge of this or that Office or precedent such as who is likely to become a Bishop, Archbishop or Cardinal, the whole political scene at the Vatican etc…He knows it inside out and it is fascinating to hear him talk about a current situation or a past one.
The Holy See (Vatican) is a far more complex affair than most people know. It is a country, albeit a small one, surrounded by Italy and has diplomatic relations with 120 countries with accredited Ambassadors to the Holy See. So there is the political,economic, cultural and diplomatic side of the Holy See and then there is the religious side of it which most people know at the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis is trying to reform the political side of the Curia at the Vatican and at the same time presenting a new Pastoral message. A commission of advisors (Cardinals), he chose to advise him on reforms was formed one year ago. He is likely to listen to the like minded Cardinals and sideline the recalcitrant.
I know that some people may think that some in the Curia might try to bump him off to protect themselves and their privileges. This notion comes from the fact the Jean Paul I (Albino Luciani) died in September 1978 after only 33 days in Office, it was said that he wanted to reform the Vatican, no proof was ever presented to these stories of murder plots, Hollywood once again spins a good story. There is also the notion in the publics mind that the Church cannot change or be reformed, many would like to believe the Church is evil, painting a dire picture of corrupt old men. Maybe this is a factor of the age in which we live, everything is seen with a cynical, jaundice eye. This is not to say that there is not intrigue at the Vatican and political games and Pope Francis has called out those practices. What had been tolerated under Jean-Paul II is no longer acceptable.
Pope Francis is proceeding carefully and step by step has introduced new pastoral thinking and guidelines, the Vatican is a huge ship of State which cannot be turned around on a whim. He is also surrounded by Jesuits who are a powerful group within the Church. What is certain is that we are leaving behind the conservative often unbending dogmas of Jean-Paul II, a man who was more of a Public Relations figure too involved in Cold War Politics and that of his successor Benedict XVI who was more about administration and academe than anything else.
During my time in Rome, I was accredited to the Italian Republic and not to the Vatican but I would go from time to time visit our Ambassador to the Holy See whose Office is on Via della Conciliazione, the great street that leads up to St-Peter’s Basilica. We were also invited via the Canadian Embassy to the Holy See to State functions at the Vatican like the Christmas Mass or Easter Mass or for special private visits like at the Apostolic Palace where the Pope works to see art collections or rooms not open to the public. It was a great learning experience to see up close how the Vatican operated.
The world of the Vatican was and is a very special place unlike anything the common mortal might encounter but it is not the world described by the popular press or in movies, that is far too inaccurate.
Georg Philipp Telemann, overture for trumpet and Oboe.