February 23, 2013

Pope's bureaucratic nightmare

Feuds, fiefdoms and betrayals await the next pontiff

By NICOLE WINFIELD The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Benedict XVI, Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone
click image to enlarge

This 2006 photo shows Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting with outgoing Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, left, and the current No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, right. Many think the next pontiff must have a solid track record managing a complicated bureaucracy.

AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano

He also insisted on a Vatican trial, open to journalists, for the butler who betrayed him. And as cardinal, after priestly sex abuse cases bounced for years among Vatican offices, the former Joseph Ratzinger took them over himself in 2001.

And very early on in his papacy, Benedict made it clear there was no place in the priesthood for men who sought out power. In a May 2006 homily to newly ordained priests, Benedict warned them against "careerism, the attempt to 'get ahead,' to gain a position through the church, to make use of and not to serve."


Some analysts speculate that the revelations from the leaks at the very least accelerated Benedict's decision to resign.

Benedict's biographer, Peter Seewald, asked Benedict in August how badly the scandal had affected him. He replied that he was not falling into "desperation or world-weariness," yet admitted the leaks scandal "is simply incomprehensible to me," according to a recent article Seewald penned for the German magazine Focus.

The Holy See's bureaucracy is organized as any government, though it most closely resembles a medieval court -- given that the pope is an absolute monarch, with full executive, legal and judicial powers.

There's a legal office, an economic affairs office and an office dedicated to the world's 400,000 priests. Three tribunals tend to ecclesiastical cases and a host of departments take up spiritual matters: making saints, keeping watch on doctrine and the newest office created by Benedict, spreading the faith.


In the end, though, the real power lies with two departments: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the secretariat of state, which can block virtually any initiative of another office.

"Who is influential isn't so much dependent on what your office is or your title but whether you have access to the king, or in this case the pope," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican," a bible of sorts for understanding the Vatican Curia.

The same could be said for any executive branch. But in the case of the Vatican, there's a difference.

"Obama can fire anybody he wants from his Cabinet," Reese said. "When you make someone a bishop, you make him a bishop for life. When you make him a cardinal you make him a prince of the church. What do you do with a cardinal (who doesn't work out)? He can't go to K Street and get a job as a lobbyist."

Bishop Charles Scicluna, who worked with the pope when he was at the doctrine office, said the problem with the Curia is that the power is so great -- and so close by.

"I think sacred power, with all its trappings, is probably one of the most seductive things in the world if you don't approach it with the right spirit," he said in an interview.


Though it's open to interpretation, Benedict's final homily as pope could be read as a clear message to the cardinals who will choose his successor.

Two days after announcing he would resign, a weary Benedict told his flock gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for Ash Wednesday Mass to live their lives as Christians in order to show the true face of the church -- a church, he said, which is often "defiled."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was wrong to interpret the pope's words as being directed at the Vatican Curia, saying the pope's message was intended as a call for unity among all Christians, a priority of his as pontiff.

"Differences and diversity of opinion are part of the normal dynamic of any institution or community," Lombardi said. He said the way the Vatican's governance problems are often described "do not correspond to reality."

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



The Golden Dish - Monday
Little Bigs--better than the best

More PPH Blogs