I am re-blogging this article that appeared in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, English edition in its entirety. (see here)
Aside from the very good insights that it provides, less the subjective and highly suspect commentary of course, I would just like to highlight the individual data points contained herein.
If you recall, this blog uses these types of data points in the Peirce/Ockham pragmatic method to determine whether an assumption that is being made is plausible, i.e. accepted as being OBJECTIVELY TRUE. In the below article, I will add emphasis to the individual data points that I consider to be relevant.
Pope Seen as Too Strict
Has support of only 20% of bishops. Enthusiasts, enemies and silent dissenters colour Francis’s fraught relationship with Curia. Bond with ordinary people and harshness with Church hierarchy criticised
di Massimo Franco
“There’s depression. Heads are cowed. When he speaks about bishops, this Pope who shows great compassion to everyone else is inclined to use a stick”. On rereading it the following day, the Pope’s address to the opening of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI) left a deep impression, provoking some bitter reflections. The address was received as confirmation of severity that has been perceived with pained surprise over the past few months, severity seen almost as groundswell from the 2013 conclave that revealed a majority hostile to Italian papacies and curias. There is a risk of endorsing the idea of a Pope convinced that the Catholic Church can save itself by widening the gulf with a hierarchy suspected of collusions with the powerful.
Italian bishops’ unease is perceptible behind words of sincere devoted obedience to the Holy Father. The episcopate struggles to pinpoint Pope Francis’s cultural coordinates and believes that the final, troubled years of Benedict XVI, with their Roman scandals and power struggles, have left behind a prejudice against all things Italian that is very hard to shift. But the unease goes beyond the CEI and the Vatican. It extends beyond Italy to other Church hierarchies, as if Francis, the sea-change Pope, were struggling to gain a hold in the middle and upper ranks of the Church, despite his popular triumphs.
Three numbers sum up the unknown factors: 20, 70 and 10. They are the percentages of the Pope’s consensus in the Vatican with the men who are closest to him. According to the analysis, 20% are convinced supporters, 70% make up the silent, indifferent majority who are waiting for another pope and 10% are Francis’s enemies, whether or not they have actually come out against him. More or less the same numbers are bandied around Casa Santa Marta, where Francis resides, in Rome’s Latin American community and in Argentina. But a potential geographical and strategic split is palpable behind the anonymous sniping at Pope Francis.
True or not, the Pope appears to embody a Church “hostile to Italy, to Europe and to the West in the sense of the North of the world in general”, claims one Italian cardinal. The upshot is that opposition is growing among the 10-70-20 group. There is even a nascent refusal of the mainstays of Francis’s thinking, such as the famous 2007 Aparecida conference at which he asserted his leadership in Latin America, and to which the Pope often refers. Some high-ranking clerics never mention Aparecida, claiming they do not understand Francis’s reforms and pointing out that the Buenos Aires model cannot be applied to the whole Church. It’s one experience, they object, not the Church’s experience.
The resistance of certain European dioceses hints at “the habit of regarding themselves almost as princes”, notes another Latin American prelate. But these conflicts only lend credit to the idea of a silent conflict between two visions of the Church, or even of “two Churches” incapable of dialogue. Distances between the two look set to widen rather than shrink. It is now evident that after two years, the Pope relies on a sort of scaled-down Curia because he does not trust the existing one. He is looking to radically reform the careers of bishops and cardinals in Italy and elsewhere, as if all positions of advantage were to be swept away in the wake of Benedict XVI’s resignation.
Francis has not used the resources of the Curia to draft his upcoming encyclical on ecology. Instead, he consulted about 200 academics to avoid what he calls Vatican self-referentiality. He summoned to Rome from Buenos Aires for a week Mgr Victor Manuel Fernandez, a theologian and rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina, to assist him. In return, the Pope receives loyal but cautious, timid obedience. Behind the rumours of an isolated Francis lies a church structure irritated at the idea of a direct relationship between its leader and the world’s masses that effectively leapfrogs the traditional hierarchy. One worried European cardinal recently said: “I don’t know how far the Pope will be able to guide or steer the processes he has set in motion. We saw that at the Synod, where the situation almost got out of hand”.
It is feared that by bluntly pointing out the Church’s limits, Francis might reinforce his own position but in the end weaken the institution. Nevertheless, no one denies that in his two years as Pope, the image of Catholicism’s higher echelons has improved. Scandals like Vatileaks, the bickering at IOR and even paedophilia now have less traumatic dimensions. Internationally, activism is producing spectacular results and the Holy See plays a leading role it has not had for some time in Ukraine, the Middle East and Cuba. Those who know Francis add that claiming not to understand this is a response typical of those who want nothing to change, a simplification that is probably more indicative of frustration than of real life.
Yet the irritation should not be underestimated because it feeds on misunderstandings from which the Pope, for all his charisma, is unable to move on. When CEI president Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco criticised the way the media reported Francis’s address to the conference as mere reproof, he put his finger on a genuine problem. He highlighted how hard it is to present objectively a relationship marred by an inability to speak the same language and complicated by the dualism of the secretary general, Mgr Nunzio Galatino, seen by some as a sort of papal special commissioner. “The Italian Church is an open problem for Francis”, admits one of his friends from Latin America.
But this is not without consequences. The gap between the people’s pope and the Church as an institution remains. The bishops feel overshadowed and outclassed by Francis, pointing out a possible tendency to run the Church with a sort of shadow-government. Perhaps they ought to ask themselves whether the shadow-casting is not a consequence of failings by at least some of them. When they accuse Casa Santa Marta of being a shadow government, they reveal that they no longer consider it the symbolic location of Francis’s virtuous break with the Vatican’s plot-filled corridors of power. Today, the hotel behind the Vatican walls is starting to be seen as a bottleneck where news and rumour entangle inextricably. “Those who are in the vortex become its victim”, they say in the Vatican. But Francis is obviously relaxed in the vortex, even using it as a tool of government.
For now, the uncomfortable ones are his opponents.
English translation by Giles Watson