Editorial in Tablet, UK,12 November 2015
(Note:The Tablet is the reputed international Catholic Weekly from UK published continually since 1840. People’s right to know is acknowledged universally and Catholics have a right to know about goings on in the Church, whether the Church likes it or not. How can church men who “live like pharaohs” in affluence speak of poverty or of a poor church of Pope Francis, editorial asks. Sometimes churchmen have to be shamed in public to give up their crooked ways, says the editorial. That is what we try to do sometimes in CCV. Even that do not seem to work. james kottoor)
Latest leaks from the Vatican regarding corruption and mismanagement can only strengthen Pope Francis’ hand in his drive for reform of the Roman curia. Though that may have been the motive of the leakers, he does not see that as sufficient justification for the breach of confidence that such leaks entail. Francis has described those breaches as a “crime”, and two of the alleged culprits were arrested. They worked on a commission the Pope set up to reform the Vatican’s financial management and have denied doing anything wrong, though it was from that commission that the leaked documents originated.
Once the leaks had happened, as the saying goes, spilt milk cannot be put back in the bottle. The Pope says he has already read them, but he is not the only person with a stake in these matters. The journalists who published the contents of the leaks acted as any secular journalists would have done when presented with such a story, telling themselves that people had a right to know. The Catholic Church does not usually acknowledge such a right concerning its own affairs, but it does insist that public authorities in general should be as open as possible. The 1971 pastoral instruction Communio et Progressio states: “If public opinion is to be formed in a proper manner, it is necessary that, right from the start, the public be given free access both to the sources and channels of information and be allowed freely to express its own views.” It defends journalists, explaining that “these persons vindicate and practise the right of finding out what is happening and of passing on this information to others.” Can the Church expect to be uniquely excluded from that?
Transparency is also the primary antidote to corruption. Daylight is still the best disinfectant. Would the cardinals who have allotted themselves luxurious apartments in the Vatican, who travel first class without thinking, who misdirect charitable funds for their own purposes, who award contracts to favourites, who let properties to friends at rents far below market prices, and who turn a blind eye to money laundering and other illegal practices, behave in the scandalous manner that the leaked documents reveal, if they knew the facts were bound to come out?
So transparency and exposure are the Pope’s best allies as he follows the principle, as he said in a speech in Florence, of semper reformanda – significantly using the Lutheran version of the expression rather than the more traditionally Catholic phrase semper purificanda. He has attacked church leaders who “live like pharaohs” and who yet speak about poverty. He admitted in his remarks in Florence that structural change in the Church’s administration will not be enough – it will require personal conversion, which he described as “grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit”. That may not be gentle: sometimes the Spirit works through shame and scandal. That is surely what Martin Luther had in mind when, almost 500 years ago, he published his 95 theses demanding reform of corrupt practices in a Church that was losing its way.