Pope Francis, gestures as a response to the institutional crisis
Last Holy Thursday, they waited for Pope Francis in the Paul VI Hall. There, waiting for the Pope, were the children treated by the Dispensary of Santa Marta and some of the homeless who received the Vatican vaccine. The Pope went there on the Good Friday instead. Pope Francis, who always dedicated Holy Thursday to visiting an “existential periphery,” instead went to celebrate Mass at the home of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
For those who do not remember, Cardinal Becciu renounced, at the request of the Pope, his cardinalate prerogatives, so he cannot vote in any conclave, participate in consistories, or continue to serve as a member of the Congregations like all other cardinals. Furthermore, in just 20 minutes, Pope Francis had asked Cardinal Becciu to resign from his position as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Cardinal, in obedience, abided. The news about his resignation was included in a hasty bulletin of the Press Office of the Holy See issued while he was still on his way home, making the short journey from the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the Pope lives, to the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, where the Cardinal lives.
It was September 23rd. It has never been clarified what led the Pope to this sudden lack of trust in his close collaborator, who, among other things, had a continuous rapport with the Pope, both in his previous role as deputy of the Secretariat of State and in that of prefect of the “Factory of the saints.” In the days prior to his resignation, Cardinal Becciu had been the subject of a ferocious press campaign, which accused him of alleged favoritism and embezzlement in managing the funds of the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Then came the stories about Cecilia Marogna, the so-called “lady of Becciu”, arrested and the subject of a Vatican letter rogatory for improper use of the Secretariat of State funds, which she allegedly got for mediation work. Cecilia Marogna spent two weeks in prison before an Italian court declined the Vatican judges’ request and freed her.
It was the first in a series of symbolic “slaps” taken by the Vatican court, engaged in an investigation into the Secretariat of State’s funds, which then led straight to the story of the purchase of a luxury property in London. This investigation has led to the suspension of six Vatican officials (five of them pre-retired or not renewed in their office), but still no trial.
In practice, in three proceedings, the judges have criticized the Vatican for a “motivation vacuum” in the requests, even for gaps in the investigations, and even doubts about the Vatican prosecutors’ reconstruction. The latest of these sentences, which thawed the funds of the broker Gianluigi Torzi, highlighted all the limits of the Vatican judicial system.
The Vatican judicial system is the judicial system of an absolute monarchy, and this is undisputed. At the same time, it is supposed to be balanced and make the investigations in the fairest possible way so as not to affect the Holy See’s credibility. It is the Holy See that signs the international anti-corruption and human rights treaties. The Holy See guarantees that fair treatment is extended to all, even within the borders of the Vatican state.
The judges’ protagonism, especially recent times, has instead led to a “Vaticanization” of the Holy See. The situation has revealed the gaps in the Vatican judicial system, undermining the Holy See’s international credibility. Faced with a pontificate that makes transparency, honesty, and justice its keywords, we are faced with a Pope who authorizes summary trials, Vatican officials who lose their jobs without even knowing the charges, and searches of the houses of Vatican officials even when they were in Italian territory.
Some observers have even spoken of the “bad faith” of the Vatican investigators, and the issue is not new. It had also appeared in the comments to another process involving the IOR, the so-called Vatican Bank, and which concerns a possible purchase of the Stock Exchange Building in Hungary made with a Malta company.
Risking its international credibility puts the Holy See at the mercy of all hostile states. Pope Francis, for the second time, has chosen to start the Judicial Year with a speech in which he wished to reaffirm the importance of reforms.
To this, he added the gesture of going to Cardinal Becciu’s house. But in doing so, he has only dealt superficially with a situation that remains difficult. Cardinal Becciu was not rehabilitated. There was no transparency about pressure on the Pope to have Becciu resigned. There has been no due process, nor have any charges against him been proven. There is this visit by the Pope, which, however, has no official confirmation. Not even the official Vatican News confirmed it, but speaks of “sources of the Focolare Movement,” and stresses that “being a private event of the Pope, it cannot be confirmed.”
In practice, Pope Francis accepted that it would be known, but did not want the meeting to be made official. When the voice of the visit spread, anonymous sources clarified that the Pope in no way rehabilitated Becciu, but only wanted to show him mercy – and this clarified the meaning of the gesture. The Pope had called Becciu occasionally, when the accusatory picture became less clear, while it became clear that the defenestration was perhaps the result of an error in judgment. Now, the gesture of celebrating Mass in private seems to cover a situation that has become difficult.
Meanwhile, a reform of Vatican justice has not only increased the privileges of magistrates, who retain them even when they retire, but has diminished the role of the Court of Appeal. At the same time, everything seems to be centralized on the presidency of the Vatican court.
It is, in some ways, the end of an era. But the Pope does not go back, even when he realizes the apparent error. After all, the Mass with Becciu is only the latest in a series of blatant gestures that have papered over evaluation errors.
An example is the double convocation of the Chilean bishops for verification of responsibility on how the scourge of pedophilia was managed in the country and the Karadima case. The second meeting ended with the resignation of all the bishops of Chile. However, no one remembers that the Pope, before the trip to Chile and the public accusations received of having favored a cover up, had ever listened to anyone, and had even persevered in his decision to appoint bishop Madrid Barros in Osorno: a disciple of Karadima in the diocese of Karadima. In the end, rather than admitting a mistake, Pope Francis started everything from scratch.
Another example is how the Pope handled the famous Lettergate case – the letter from Benedict XVI edited and made public by the then prefect of the communications department, Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò. Viganò left the post of prefect for two ad hoc posts, while Archbishop Gaenswein was asked not to go to work while remaining the prefect of the Pontifical Household. Two culprits, no one held responsible, a case not clear, not even in the subsequent communication strategy.
Will Pope Francis proceed likewise with Archbishop Gustavo Zanchetta also, whom the Pope called to the Vatican despite serious accusations against him? Zanchetta now continues to work in the Vatican in an ad hoc position despite a trial against him.
In the end, the Pope uses grand gestures to cover up institutional problems, which are very strong. The Holy See is increasingly in danger. The Vatican judicial system is increasingly similar to an Italian prosecutor’s office – and the judges are all Italian and hold positions in Italy. Visiting Becciu does not heal a wound. If anything, it hides it. But this wound is open, and sooner or later, it risks coming out dramatically.
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Il Papa dimostra la saggia disposizione interiore che sa distinguere il peccato dal peccatore. La giustizia procede per una via di fatti e decisioni conseguenti, ma il suo ánimo da pastore non abbandona chi ha sbagliato.
Great article Andrea, thank you for your insights.
English civil law, as distinct from the criminal law, developed a court-originated order, in equity, for freezing assets during litigation procedures, that historically is called the Mareva injunction. There are a core of commercial cases dealing with these questions from which the name is drawn. With the association with the EU the UK codified the practice, see the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982. Civil freezing orders are almost routinely won. In fact the civil freezing order has almost become a commonplace. It is possible to apply and get the order from the English courts without submitting the actual case to the English jurisdiction. The freezing order is an interim intervention and the parties that become bound can apply in their turn to be able to have reasonable access to some of the frozen assets in a way that does not undermine the injunction while it is in effect. A civil action means that the heavy burdens of proof and presumptions and high quality of evidences and justifications, that have to be satisfied in criminal proceedings, do not weigh. But in the Torzi matter they did not apply for the freezing order against Torzi, using Mareva-CJJA civil law. They went via the criminal jurisdiction, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; where the likelihood was failure. The court was bound to apply and follow criminal standards of analysis/jurisprudence. The Vatican criminal charges on Torzi et al are only pending. Was it possible to use the Mareva-CJJA option, in such situation? Or not? If it was never done before, for pending criminal charges in another jurisdiction, surely it would have made a wholesome precedent.
For your reference, I have managed to find on the internet a copy of the Torzi discharge judgment, see in the JUDICIARY UK link below here. This has 2 parts, the second part is the Torzi discharge. In the first part you will find discussion about “open justice”. If they were able to bring the freezing application in civil court and had actually done so, it is very likely that the court would have assented to the privacy; where the “open justice” affair would have been a non-issue. Recall that Pope Francis had indicated he wanted a settlement. Wouldn’t it have been easier to arrive at settlement, using civil liability claims in Italy and Vatican jurisdictions, instead of criminal prosecution threats, in the first place? Which has the further advantage of lesser burdens of proof and evidence. In which event also there would be no ambiguity arising about pairing the UK Mareva-CJJA injunction and enjoying its imminent relevance.
[...] italiana dall’inglese (Le gesta di Papa Francesco in risposta alla crisi istituzionale) [QUI], che offre alcuni punti di riflessione, a seguito della visita di Papa Francesco al Cardinal [...]