“By most accounts, Pope Francis was elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia- the complex network of dicasteries, commissions, and councils charged with the central administrative work of the Catholic Church – a network that, even to insiders and experts, more often resembles a rabbit warren than a well-defined system of governable offices with clear responsibilities.
“From the beginning, there were high expectations for Francis, and widespread belief that he could succeed in reforming the Curia. His informality and disdain for protocol – his ability to think ‘outside the box’ – led many to believe that under his leadership, the Curial wilds could be tamed.
“One month after his election, he made his first major reform announcement: the creation of the Council of Cardinals, tasked with helping him review and reform the entire governing structure of both the Roman Curia and the universal Church.
“Cardinals Maradiaga, Bertello, Errázuriz, Gracias, Marx, Monsengo Pasinya, O’Malley and Pell were informally dubbed the C8, later the C9 (Cardinal Parolin was added to the council when he became Secretary of State). Many saw them, and the enormous task they were assigned, as the embodiment of the kind of global perspective the Church needed for Curial reform.
“Five years on, Curial dysfunction has been compounded by international crises, and several members of the C9 are themselves mired in controversy. Rather than bringing an end to scandals in the Curia, Rome’s ongoing problems seem – to some observers – to have gone global.
“Embroiled in sexual abuse scandals, shady financial dealings, Curial power-plays, and even full-blown doctrinal disputes – rather than becoming the engine of reform, the C9 has, to some, begun to look like a microcosm of everything going wrong in the Church. Critics have begun to ask if the Council of Cardinals, and the whole of Pope Francis’s reforming agenda, still has the credibility to effect any meaningful change.
“For example, clerical sexual abuse has reemerged as a major crisis in the Church, and three of C9 are connected directly to issues surrounding sexual abuse allegations.
“Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and a close confidant of the pope, is the C9’s official coordinator. For months, he has been dogged by allegations concerning his personal finances. At the same time, his auxiliary bishop and his frequent proxy in the governance of his archdiocese, Juan Pineda, was forced recently to resign, after allegations were made public that he sexually approached seminarians and maintained a string of male lovers – and allegations were also made that those behaviors were widely known in the diocese and by the cardinal.
“In response to that scandal, several seminarians from Tegucigalpa wrote an open letter to the bishops of Honduras, detailing a culture of open and active homosexuality in the seminary, with reprisals taken against those who spoke out. Cardinal Maradiaga reportedly denounced the letter’s authors and their motivations for writing it.
“Cardinal George Pell, another member of the C9, has had to return to Australia to defend himself against ‘historic’ allegations of sexual abuse…
“Furthermore, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, a C9 cardinal who was known to be a close friend of the pope before his election, has emerged as a central figure in the disastrous Chilean abuse scandal.
“Though he retired as Archbishop of Santiago in 2010, Errázuriz is alleged to have participated in cover-ups of clerical sexual abuse in Chile over a period of years, – including the abuse of notorious Fernando Karadima. It has also been reported that he tried to prevent Juan Carlos Cruz, the most visible and vocal of the Chilean abuse victims, from being appointed as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Young People.
“While five Chilean bishops have had their resignations accepted by Francis… Errázuriz remains both a cardinal and a member of the C9.
“Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, whose public intervention was credited with the pope’s change of heart toward Juan Carlos Cruz and the other Chilean victims, is widely considered to be the Church’s most credible voice in speaking out against sexual abuse. Yet the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he leads, has seen the resignation of two high-profile members, both survivors of sexual abuse. One of them, Marie Collins, has spoken often about her frustration that the Commission’s recommendations have not been adopted in the Curia or by national bishops’ conferences.
“And O’Malley has faced criticism over reports that in 2015 his office received a letter from a priest detailing allegations against McCarrick, but issued only a staff member’s response, saying that the allegation was not the cardinal’s responsibility to address.
“If the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a member of the C9, cannot advance binding reforms in the Curia, or even instill a culture of moral responsibility in his own staff, some working in [the] Vatican… are left wondering whether meaningful change can be expected to get beyond rhetoric.
“Meanwhile, the structural reform of the Curia rumbles on, with Vatican departments being newly created, combined and renamed. Initially, the most important of these new developments was the creation of the Prefecture for the Economy, led by Cardinal Pell. But even before Pell had to return to Australia, it became clear that bringing transparency and accountability to the Vatican finances was going to be an uphill slog.
“In 2016, the Secretariat of State cancelled an external audit of Curial finances that had been arranged by Pell’s department. The cancellation was ordered by then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Angelo Becciu. It was widely seen as an old-fashioned power-play – neither Becciu nor anyone else at the Secretariat of State technically had the authority to overrule Pell and the Prefecture for the Economy. That Francis was persuaded to back the move, granting it legal authority after-the-fact, was seen a serious blow to financial reform in the Curia.
“In June 2017, Pell’s departure for Australia coincided with the dismissal of the first Vatican auditor-general Libero Milone. Milone was fired in dramatic fashion by the Secretariat of State, once again through Angelo Becciu, while being accused of ‘spying’ on the finances of senior officials and facing the threat of prosecution.
“Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were a direct threat to the Curial old guard. In May of this year, the Vatican quietly announced it had dropped all charges against Milone, but the financial reforms he and Pell were working towards appear to have been effectively dropped as well.
“Despite expectations that the C9 would deliver a comprehensive reform of the Roman Curia, the results have been decidedly haphazard. New ‘super-dicasteries,’ like the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, were announced with much fanfare, but thus far, without clear mandates of responsibility and processes for oversight, changes to the names of departments appear to be about as tangible as the reforms have gotten.
“Meanwhile, as other departments like the Prefecture for the Economy have had their wings very publicly clipped, the Secretariat of State has seen its influence grow under Cardinal Parolin, to the point where virtually all Vatican business, either formally or informally, comes under its purview…
“A capable diplomat and politician, Parolin has managed to thrive in a Vatican where foundering structural reforms have disrupted traditional spheres of influence and centers of power, and the day-to-day authority he has centralized in his own department is considerable.
“In the meantime, Curial politicking and scandal continues to rumble on, and the global sexual abuse crisis shows no signs of meaningful resolution.
“Five years ago, the C9 was created to reassure the world that the best leaders from the global Church were hard at work to deliver on the Franciscan promise of reform. Today, with several of its members directly implicated in personal scandals and others publicly maneuvering for their own agendas, the Council of Cardinals seems every bit as tainted as the structures it was tasked to reform.
“Famously reliant on people he knows and trusts to work his will, Pope Francis may be fast running out of credible collaborators, and that is likely to create a whole new problem for the universal Church.”
How anyone can remain in the Church of Rome with these scandals and sins is astounding.
“And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Revelation 18:2-7.