Once upon a time, there were three Popes. One was the White Pope, the Pontifex Maximus, the head of the Catholic Church and the Vicar of Christ above all. Then there was the Black Pope, the General of the Jesuits, who had among other things a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Finally, there was the Red Pope: the Prefect of Propaganda Fide, later styled the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Why were all “Popes”?

There is nothing to say about the White Pope, because everybody knows he is the Pope of Rome. The Black Pope got his nickname because his office was for life and his powers in the Order were absolute. The Red Pope was so called because Propaganda Fide was a sui generis dicastery with financial autonomy and mission lands in which it could appoint bishops – the only case in which it is not the Dicastery for Bishops that deals with the selection of candidates for the episcopate.

With Pope Francis, however, the three Popes became just one, the White Pope. That is, in simple terms, him. Pope Francis himself is a Jesuit and it is evident that he is a more significant point of reference for the Jesuits than the actual General, even if Francis is careful to avoid appearing directly to influence the Jesuit order from which he comes. Among other things, Pope Francis underlined his belonging by meeting the local Jesuits whenever there were any on every trip he took, behaving, after all, a bit like a superior of the Congregation.

As regards the Red Pope, the situation reflects a bit of what the reform of the Curia has been with Pope Francis up to today.

The prefect of Propaganda Fide has been demoted and is now called pro-prefect because the Pope is ideally at the head of the dicastery. The dicastery itself is the result of merging two different dicasteries, namely the old Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. This means there are other, more nuanced areas of competence because the section on the new evangelization certainly does not fit into the choices of episcopal appointments, for which the section on evangelizing peoples still has competence, at least in mission lands.

Above all, the reform of the Curia has stripped Propaganda Fide of its financial autonomy. Everything, now, is under the control of the auditors of the Secretariat for the Economy, and the new order of the day seems to be to rent out the properties, to professionalize everything, and thus to lose the most important customers, or rather the primary users of the dicastery: the poor and the religious.

The collapse of the Red Pope tells of a Vatican centralization that gallops relentlessly and which sees Francis engaged in a great struggle for a change of mentality, a renewal of the spirit which was then represented in the Synod of Bishops, which is being celebrated on communion, participation, and mission.

“Synod” now becomes an expression of renewal because the idea that a Synod could lead to controversial decisions frightened the Synod fathers of all sides quite a bit.

However, the change in mentality under Pope Francis seems to see the Holy See treated like any other company, of which the Pope is CEO. From the beginning, the pontificate was characterized by the advent of commissioners, commissions, and external consultants who, in addition to burdening the finances of the Holy See, had no other solution to propose than that of dealing with the Holy See and the City State of the Vatican as actual companies in the financial market.

Thus, in search of a renewal that should be spiritual, Pope Francis accepts the secularization of the Holy See, in a process that goes hand in hand with that of the Vaticanization of the Holy See.

Before the Holy See there is the Vatican City State, which seems to control everything, decide everything, and have practically unlimited power. Suffice it to note how Pope Francis granted special powers to Vatican magistrates with four rescripts during the investigations that led to the trial into managing the funds of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.

This Vaticanization is combined with another little-explored theme: the Italianization – or re-Italianization – of the Vatican and the Holy See under Francis. . This is a return to the past because all the work done previously had aimed precisely at disengaging the Holy See from the influence of its cumbersome Italian neighbor. For this reason, when the Financial Information Authority was established, former Bank of Italy officials were immediately entrusted. Still, then the direction changed, and a more international board was created, less dependent on the ideas that characterized the structure of the State.

If you think about it, all the recent Vatican financial scandals originate and move within the Italian context. Even the recent Vatican trial, which primarily concerned the investment in a building in London, involved mainly Italian intermediaries, saw investigations that highlighted connections with Italian politicians, managers or even secret services, and was managed by Italian magistrates who work in the Vatican only part-time – and this is a sign of weakness of the Vatican judicial system, among other things highlighted by the MONEYVAL committee of the Council of Europe.

The signs are many.

On February 15, Pope Francis appointed a retired general, Salvatore Farina, as head of the Infrastructure and Services directorate of Vatican City State. It is interesting how General Farina takes the place of a priest and how, in practice, a former top manager of the Italian army is called upon to manage the Infrastructure and Services directorate, which, among other things, has a role in controlling the tenders according to the latest Vatican law on procurement.

In 2020, Pope Francis appointed five gentlemen of His Holiness – those who participate in and manage visits by heads of State and personalities to Pope Francis – drawing them from the ranks of the Italian Ceremonial offices. In a certain sense, it is a sign of weakness because the Holy See has its own ceremonial language, which precedes the Italian one and is increasingly misunderstood.

The centralization of power in the Pope, with the end of the era of the three Popes and the pervasiveness of the Pope’s intervention in choices, paradoxically leads to an opposite vision to that brought forward by Pope Francis: the structure of the State prevails over the Holy See, and therefore the bureaucracy becomes more important than the mission – something which was also certified when the Pope transformed the Apostolic Charity into a Dicastery of Charity, eliminating a member of the pontifical family to bureaucratize and nationalize the Pope’s charity.

But if it is the State that is authentic, and if the State lives in a regulatory “field hospital” because there has been no real training on Vatican law, then points of reference must be taken. And the first point of reference has always been Italy.

Thus, a path of growth and independence was somehow stopped. In the name of necessary reforms, today, we find ourselves making a substantial break from the more recent past, aiming to change everything and show change. In many cases, listening to different requests fails. A vision is imposed, with the idea – cf. the debate over Fiducia Supplicans, the declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on blessings for irregular couples – that those who criticize the reform or highlight its sides critics simply aren’t understanding what’s happening. Ultimately, it can be read as a paradoxical and brutal ideological colonization carried out while the Pope denounces it.


One Response to Pope Francis and the end of the era of the three Popes

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