There being a media papacy and an actual papacy applies to any pontificate. The media does not know the profound reasons for a pope’s decisions or why he chooses some collaborators over others. They simply observe and then report what they observe. Sometimes, it is accurate; other times they can be misled in their observations by ideological considerations or personal sympathy. In any case, however, it is always worth considering all points of view, even the most critical ones.
The pontificate of Pope Francis is not exempt from this problem. There is a media pontificate and a real pontificate. And the pontificate of the media has different faces: the faces of those who look at the Pope with suspicion and the faces of those who accept and slavishly support every decision he takes. Perhaps the difference in this pontificate is that there is no middle ground. If you criticize the Pope, you are automatically against the Papacy and the Pope himself. It is a climate not different from that of the past, yet more heated, more polarized.
However, last week, two particular events allowed us to see the other side of the coin of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Events that demonstrate how several underreported stories must be understood to ponder about the pontificate.
The first event is the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis. Pope Francis had brutally taken over Caritas Internationalis after an inspection requested by the person the Pope ousted and replaced.There have been no financial problems, mismanagement or abuses; only what is vaguely defined as a tense atmosphere that led to the Pope’s decision.
Of this decision, we know only the official narrative. The biography of the commissioner, Pier Francesco Pinelli, has been highlighted to show his activities in the Catholic sphere and his fidelity to doctrine. In his biography we see that he worked with Bain Capital, the same company that took over, at an advantageous price because the Holy See wanted/had to sell at any cost, the London building at the center of an intricate process in the Vatican. But that’s not the point of the story.
Two open letters allow us to see the other side of the story. They come from the last two secretaries general, Aloysius John, who was suddenly ousted with all the leaders of Caritas Internationalis last November 22, and Michel Roy, who was called to steer the confederation towards the new statutes and served as general secretary from 2011 to 2019.
The widely disseminated contents of the two letters highlight the centralization implemented by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a “power grab” in the words of Aloysius John, which was perhaps allowed by the rules, but which went well beyond the spirit of the rules.
But the most interesting part of Aloysius John’s letter lies in what the media has given less attention to, and which instead is fundamental for understanding the future of Caritas Internationalis.
John highlights three problems: that the commissioner failed to give a voice to the representatives, a sort of “colonialist attitude” of some members with financial power who want to impose their development model, and the dicastery’s desire to control Caritas Internationalis. This last point could be within the prerogatives of the dicastery, but at the same time, it would take away the confederation’s necessary independence to act in the world.
The primordial issue, however, should be the Catholic identity of Caritas Internationalis, which seems to be treated as a welfare service, and not as part of the Church’s mission. That risk existed in 2012 when Benedict XVI established new statutes to avoid preexisting problems that surfaced when previous secretary Lesley Ann Knight had allowed and vigorously defended the inclusion of at least one pro-abortion group in the confederation of Caritas.
In short, the situation in Caritas Internationalis would represent the world situation, with the rich wanting to control the poor, some imposed models, and a governance that works more on concrete issues than on identity. More pragmatism, less idealism, seems to be the slogan.
If the Pope speaks, and rightly so, of pastoral conversion, then how does this square with situations such as that of Caritas Internationalis, where the reforms made precisely to favor a conversion and a new self-perception are canceled by decisions made rapidly, without warning and from a central power?
The second event is the publication of the annual report of the Vatican Supervisory and Information Authority, the so-called “Vatican Financial Watchdog.” Until 2019, the report was presented at a press conference, and management went through a Q&A. Now, the report is delivered together with an institutional interview which leaves only the point of view of the Authority, with no possibility of interlocution.
Thus a one-way narrative is created, which has, among other things, the only effect of spreading biased points of view. For example, President Carmelo Barbagallo claims that the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee has full confidence in the Authority. Still, the latest progress report, in reality, shows various pluses and minuses and not a fully positive assessment.
Thus a narrative is created which aims to show a discontinuity with whatever has happened previously, according to a hermeneutic of rupture, which certainly does not help the world’s opinion of the pontificate.
There is also the opposite risk, that is, of reporting what has been done in an excessively critical way to the point of appearing prejudicial. But, even in that case, it is a question of a media papacy, which does not reveal the true pontificate because it leans to one side.
But then, what is the Papacy of Pope Francis really like and about? It can be understood in his decisions and in his way of doing things, which at least gives an idea of the method of government. Pope Francis is formally in favor of decentralization, but at the same time, he does not hesitate to make brutal decisions, even commandeering them or making sudden changes of the guard.
Like what it could happen to APSA next Monday, when it is said that its President, Nunzio Galantino, and its Secretary, Fabio Gasperini, will be dismissed, and Monsignor Giordano Piccinotti, Salesian and undersecretary, will become its president.
It would be a decision in line with various other preferences of the pontificate of Pope Francis, who is accustomed to sudden reshuffles. Alos, it would be a way to comply to the sudden publication of the new Vatican City State Fundamental Law on March 13, which changed the so-called “Constitution” of the Vatican City State and seemingly changed the way the Vatican State thinks of itself.
It’s the Pope’s way of breaking what he sees as power networks. Understanding the Papacy means trying to understand these mechanisms as well. And, perhaps, to recognize that these mechanisms risk giving rise to very strong breaks, both in history and in relationships. The intense polarization, after all, becomes the most logical consequence.