As the tenth anniversary of his pontificate approaches, Pope Francis has executed another crackdown on what he deems a Vatican “system.” With a rescript, a document written after an audience with the Pope, he blocked both the free apartments for office use and the flats at subsidized prices for the department heads. In short, no more privileges, or at least an end to what Pope Francis considers privileges.
Initially not even disseminated through the media but only posted inside the Vatican, the provision is only the latest in a series of sudden measures, according to the shock and awe technique that characterizes Pope Francis. Shortly before, another rescript had come, further restricting the concessions on the traditional Mass, although the rescript contained contradictions that opened up new conditions not foreseen before.
And even before that, the sudden appointment of the new prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Bishop Prevost, which had been widely expected yet kept on standby for almost two years. And the decision to reiterate that the assets of the Holy See belong only to the Holy See, securing its reforms from any possible exception given by the fact that some of the Vatican administration had an autonomy in managing their own assets.
In this tenth year of his pontificate, Pope Francis is giving the Vatican system the last turn of the screw. He waited patiently, putting some department heads on deadlines, removing others when he saw fit, and cutting people off whenever he lost confidence. Now the Pope has begun to make sudden decisions, avoiding any internal dispute and instead relying on his being Pope.
Pope Francis is a Pope who reigns. But he almost seems like he doesn’t want it to be said. While his government activity becomes increasingly unstoppable, Pope Francis indulges in interviews and interview-books. He builds the narrative on himself, trying to set aside some criticisms. As a result, all complaints of Pope Francis become ideological. It has never happened that the Pope admitted an error in evaluation. Instead, it is the others who are wrong.
To the countless interviews of recent times has been added a new biography, “The Shepherd,” by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, in which Pope Francis talks about his years of pontificate, his way of reading what has happened in recent years, his view of the world.
The previews tell of a Pope who speaks of the need for a political commitment because that is Christian. Yet strikingly, there is no mention of inspiring politics while considering the more purely secular part of the story.
The previews add that the Pope spoke of the financial scandals, saying that there are lay people who have taken advantage of them and that he immediately had them blocked when he learned that the investment by the Secretariat of State in a luxury property in London was something opaque. The Pope, however, fails to say that he had been in the negotiating room and that, therefore, he was personally informed. And he fails to say that it is true that everything stems from an internal action. The denunciation originally arises from the refusal of a state body, i.e., the IOR, to meet the request of a government body, i.e., the Vatican Secretariat of State.
And again, the previews say that the Pope says he refused the episcopal appointment twice and that the superior of the Jesuits, at the time Hans Kolvenbach, immediately endorsed his appointment as auxiliary of Buenos Aires. Yet, in any reconstruction, it has never appeared that the Pope had been offered the appointment repeatedly nor that Kolvenbach agreed.
Thus Pope Francis builds the narrative around himself while his way of governing takes on increasingly centralizing characteristics.
How should all these circumstances be read?
First of all, the easy way. Pope Francis cares about public opinion, he has built a pontificate on his public image, and therefore the construction of the narrative becomes crucial. Of course, it is a narrative constructed by denying responsibility – for example, he denied having ever heard of the allegations of abuse against Father Marko Rupnik, even though the latae sententiae ex-communication that had been imposed on the Jesuit required notification to the Pope. But it is, above all, a narrative that does not aim to define critical issues, does not address governance problems but instead bypasses them to the point that they seem to become secondary.
However, the governance problems are not secondary. In fact, Pope Francis quickly gets rid of the people he no longer trusts. It’s happened recently, even to prominent people, and it will happen again.
The second point is that Pope Francis is in a hurry to impose his vision of the world. It is as if the Pope had realized that he had reached an impasse, that his words are no longer listened to. So then, as soon as he sees someone taking some liberties, the Pope reaffirms his line, even brutally.
The February 13 rescript is one such example. It does not consider the other side of the story: controlled-rent flats were part of a Vatican system establihed to allow everyone to work in the Vatican. The salary is not high, though tax-free (from 1,300 to 2,400 euros, according to 10 levels of retribution, though sometimes they can get to 3,000 in case of a 10th level). Still, the Vatican employees have a no-tax gas station, a supermarket with convenient prices, and a State that helps them to live. Now, those who will be able to work in the Vatican, especially as heads of Vatican dicasteries, are those who are already wealthy to rent the flat or those who receive personal donations and will depend on them. Or, they will live outside the Vatican, and the Vatican flats will stay unrented. This is the downside that the Pope did not see.
The third point is that Pope Francis has reached a point in his pontificate where he feels he can keep everything under control. Therefore, the era of prudence is over, and that of action has begun. This a necessary step, considering that his health conditions are not excellent, and even the next trip to Hungary has been planned in such a way as to have as few movements as possible.
No one knows what the Pope thinks, but how he reacts to situations he doesn’t like is evident. Unfortunately, this situation also created a slight standstill in the Curia, uncertain about the Pope’s words and therefore suspended in his actions.
Pope Francis, however, continues undaunted. He wants to get to the bottom of his reforms, and he thinks the old Vatican was just a legacy of the Renaissance. It is only partially true, but this Pope Francis does not know it or pretends not to know it.