Perhaps the real problem of the Church after Pope Francis will not be the doctrine, the loss of a charismatic figure like the Pope, or the governance of the Church. Perhaps the real problem will be the weakening of the Holy See, the institution called upon to guarantee freedom for the faithful all over the world and the international standing of the Pope, and which has never been as damaged and at risk as it is now.
In particular, two situations highlight this danger. The first, most evident, is represented by the judicial process taking place in the Vatican. The trial revolves around three strands of investigation, the main one being the investment by the Secretariat of State in a luxury building in London. According to the charges, the investment was made fraudulently and against the interest of the Secretariat of State. Connected to this trend, another that concerns the destination of some funds of the Secretariat of State in Sardinia when the substitute of the Secretariat of State was the current Cardinal Angelo Becciu, and the engagement by the Secretariat of State of a self-styled intelligence expert, Cecilia Marogna, who would have misappropriated to herself money intended for mediation initiatives.
The trial has reached the time for an indictment decision, scheduled to take place in six days. But already in the first three days of the indictment process, under the promoter of Justice Alessandro Diddi, the Vatican prosecutor, all the structural problems of the process became evident.
Diddi wanted to underline from the outset that this is not a trial against the Secretariat of State but against officials who would have acted badly. But every stage of the presentation is an indictment of the system headed by the Secretariat of State. Indirectly, the Secretariat of State’s independence, which has been weakened in recent years, is also denied. Financial structures which, despite their limitations, had allowed the Holy See to survive, are called into question.
In practice, some alleged corrupt behavior becomes the excuse for questioning an entire Vatican system, which has always stood out, among other things, for maintaining two distinct spheres. On the one hand, the Holy See; on the other, the Vatican City State. And, on the one hand, canon law, which is, in any case, a point of reference; and on the other, the direction of the State, which is not moralistic but instead works on the facts.
This process has mixed everything up. The Pope intervened on it with four rescripts, fully exercising the prerogatives of a Pope-King, which, over the years, had been somewhat dormant – so much so that John Paul II entrusted the government of Vatican City State to a commission of cardinals. The promoter of Justice has defined crimes on the basis of canon law, surreptitiously introducing canon law into a Vatican criminal proceeding. The crime becomes a moral problem rather than a criminal one. There is the risk of a drift to ethics in dealing with the State, which, among other things, the Holy See has always tried to avoid.
Reliance on canon law gives substance to accusations that could not exist otherwise. The interrogations of recent months have shown that many procedures were legitimate, many decisions were part of the rules of the time, and many choices were dictated by needs that depended on the legal framework, the contracts signed, and the risk of becoming entangled in the international arena. However, if everything refers to the moral obligation of a good father of a family, everything can possibly become a crime. And this is probably how the prosecutor’s case is built.
Beyond the international problems that this has already brought to the level of the credibility of the Holy See, how will a process managed this way impact the influence of the Holy See? How will the Pope be able to speak of due process in the face of such a situation? And how can the Holy See be a reliable body if institutional monocracy exists in its State?
These questions arise precisely from the arguments at the trial and give us food for thought. What does the Pope think of the Holy See and Vatican City State? Are they just personal tools to be used according to need, or do they have an institutional value that transcends the figure of the Pope?
If these questions arise, it is because some of the Pope’s other decisions show that, deep down, Pope Francis prefers personal initiatives to institutional ones. And the recent missions of Cardinal Matteo Zuppi as a papal envoy demonstrate this.
Cardinal Zuppi was first in Ukraine, then in Russia, then in the United States, and he is thought that he will also go to Bejing. An official of the Secretariat of State has always been with him, but the initiative originates from the Pope and is not coordinated with the Secretariat of State. And Zuppi did not fail to bring experts from Sant’Egidio into his delegations, the ecclesial movement from which he comes and that has long been known for its “parallel diplomacy” initiatives.
Pope Francis has accepted this parallel diplomacy and given it dignity. In this way, however, real diplomay, the one that belongs to the Pope and officially represents the Pope worldwide, is deligitimized. The nuncios are the Pope’s ambassadors and represent the Holy See worldwide, bringing the Pope’s voice and engaging in dialogue and listening. But who is the Pope’s ambassador today? Who needs to be listened to?
Pope Francis winked at the diplomatic world by announcing the creation as cardinals of two nuncios, Archbishop Christophe Pierre and Archbishop Emil Tscherrig. But their red hats reward the work done in their selection of bishops more than diplomatic initiatives, and it seems to be a clear sign of what the Pope thinks the first task of a nuncio should be. Thus, the nuncio must, above all, be called to a pastoral duty. At the same time, critical diplomatic initiatives are not entrusted to the Holy See institution and the network of nuncios but to special envoys. These may also be nuncios – Gugerotti was when he went as the Pope’s envoy to Belarus to resolve the impasse over the exile of Archbishop Kondrusiewicz – but this is not the main consideration.
In both of these cases, notwithstanding their different scope, the role of the Holy See seems blurred. In recent years we have witnessed a sort of “Vaticanization” of the Holy See carried out by the Pope, who governs his small territory and pays little attention to the international consequences of his choices. We are in the last chapter of an operation that aims to change the institution profoundly. But is it worth the price? Is this the end of the Holy See?