On the eve of the week in which the so-called “trial of the century” in the Vatican should end, Pope Francis receives Archbishop Michel Aupetit, emeritus of Paris, who was forced to resign two years ago. Pope Francis had accepted his resignation “on the altar of hypocrisy,” he explained to journalists on the papal flight sometime later.
Although the two cases do not have much to do with each other, the coincidence of these two facts has the power to give a general picture of the situation of justice in the pontificate of Pope Francis.
Here are the facts.
The archbishop of Paris was pilloried in the press over an improper relationship he allegedly had with one of his secretaries several years ago. The archbishop had decided to present his resignation, which the Pope had accepted “on the altar of hypocrisy,” without even waiting for the final judgment. The result of a French police investigation arrived some time ago, and it was dismissal for lack of evidence.
More technically, investigators determined that “the fact does not exist” – a continental finding of fact that means investigators did not discover evidence sufficient to suggest a crime had even been committed.
Aupetit had admitted “mistakes” in a relationship with a secretary some years before becoming a bishop, but has always denied the relationship was romantic and has always insisted it was never sexual. The woman involved herself told police Aupetit’s actions did not constitute a crime. The woman never filed a complaint.
In recent months, however, the archbishop emeritus of Paris has seen his reputation ruined. He was one of the most influential figures in the Church of France, among the few to have expressed criticism of the CIASE report on abuse – a report about which independent scholars and experts raised serious methodological doubts. Without Aupetit, a form of opposition to secularist and secular thought that had a particular impact was lost in France. Not that the bishops are silent – the declarations against the inclusion of abortion in the Constitution demonstrate this – but their disruptive force has been halved with the absence of the archbishop.
One wonders why the Pope accepted Aupetit’s resignation so quickly.
In other cases, the Pope did not act. This was the case of Cardinal Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, who was suspended for six months for miscommunication. He, too, criticized a report on abuse in his diocese. The Pope, however, did not want to accept his resignation after the six months of suspension. With what authority, however, can Cardinal Woelki continue to administer the archdiocese after the suspension that followed the media attacks?
What does all this have to do with the Vatican process? Even in that case, Pope Francis gave summary judgments, taking decisions that seemed to respond more to the “altar of hypocrisy” he evoked in the Aupetit case.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu was first asked to resign and relinquish all cardinal prerogatives and then ended up in a trial after the Pope changed the rule that a cardinal can only be tried by a tribunal of Cardinals. There was no possibility of appeal for Becciu; the investigation into him was not even completed, nor had the trial ended. The Pope decided clearly, without even giving a face-saving way out. The Pope no longer trusts a collaborator. The Pope has less reason to throw his collaborator to the media.
Even more so since the Pope also tried to show his mercy or openness, inviting Becciu to consistories and public demonstrations, visiting him at home, with the idea of demonstrating neutrality. That is, the Pope respects the work of judgments, but he’s not mad at the person. In the meantime, however, the cardinal has not been rehabilitated; he is no longer even a member of the Vatican dicasteries, and he would not have the opportunity to vote in a future conclave.
The Pope’s decision on Cardinal Becciu is even more incredible if we consider that the trial’s progress, in these two years, has witnessed a significant change in narrative. If, at the beginning of the trial, the media were convinced of the guilt of Becciu and the defendants, now, after the defense arguments, this judgment of guilt has weakened and has shown cracks.
The entire trial showed an incredible accusatory bias and seems to have wanted to question not people but the system itself. The Secretariat of State has been marginalized; the Vatican City State was weakened by the Pope’s decisions on the trial, which made the Pope himself the first judge and the image of all the defenders has been called into question.
In essence, what the Pope always invites us not to do was done, that is, to judge a system according to the new point of view without considering the hermeneutics of the time. And the judgment took place according to the convenience and conviction of the Pope, who intervened in the process with four different rescripts, changing the rules that regulated the investigations.
The Aupetit case and the trial of the so-called trial of the century are similar because both weakened the credibility of the people involved and the credibility of the Church itself. We don’t want to think that Pope Francis did it on purpose. However, the idea one has is that of impulsive reasoning, which does not take into consideration the possible consequences of choices. Justice, in short, is not fueled by the desire to do justice but rather by the urge to solve a problem.
The entire justice system now seems to have become ill. What is missing is a vision, a project, and a desire to create a credible and internationally robust system. The global Pope has thus given rise to a profoundly local and personalist system.
It is a step backward, the consequences of which will be complex, to say the least.