Friday, June 15, 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? The Vatican's Current Turmoil

In Der Spiegel, Fiona Ehlers, Alexander Smoltczyk, and Peter Wensierski chronicle the astonishing turmoil now taking place inside the inner power circles of the Vatican, where a deep-throat source yet to be identified and calling itself "Maria" keeps spilling bean after bean about what's going on inside:

The article begins on this chipper note: 

Finally, there is clarity. The Holy See has cleared things up and made the document accessible to all: a handout on checking whether apparitions of the Virgin Mary are authentic. 
Everything will be much easier from now on. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a step forward. 
This "breaking news" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reveals the kinds of issues the Vatican is concerned with -- and the kind of world in which some there live. It's a world in which the official Church investigation of Virgin Mary sightings is carefully regulated while cardinals in the Roman Curia, the Vatican's administrative and judicial apparatus, wield power with absolutely no checks and the pope's private correspondence turns up in the desk drawers of a butler.

However, as the authors also note, this world of absolute clarity about apparitions of the Virgin Mary is also a world where, 

It's as if someone had poked a stick into a beehive. Men wearing purple robes are rushing around, hectically monitoring correspondence. No one trusts anyone anymore, and some even hesitate to communicate by phone.

And where,

Priests still hold all key positions, including those on the Council for the Laity and the Council for the Family. The only woman in a senior position, Briton Lesley-Anne Knight, was driven out of office as secretary-general of the Catholic development agency Caritas Internationalis in 2011 for having openly opposed the Church's male-dominated hierarchy.

And where,

The Vatican is disintegrating into dozens of competing interest groups. In the past, it was the Jesuits, the Benedictines, the Franciscans and other orders that competed for respect and sway within the Vatican court. But their influence has waned, and they have now been replaced primarily by the so-called "new clerical communities" that bring the large, cheering crowds to Masses celebrated by the pope: the Neocatechumenate, the Legionaries of Christ and the traditionalists of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter -- not to mention the worldwide "santa mafia" of Opus Dei.

As always in tiny monarchical worlds full of intrigue, secrets, character assassination, free-flowing gossip, and jockeying for power, everything revolves--at one level--around money:

Observers believe that the banker's case is the real core of the scandal, a power struggle over control of the Vatican's finances. This most likely explains why Tedeschi was so vigorously ousted. The bank's board of directors issued absurd justifications for his expulsion, saying that Tedeschi, a professor of business ethics, was unpredictable and had drawn attention to himself through his absences.

But where people are stabbing each other in the back over issues of money, they're also--and this is always the case--stabbing each other in the back over issues of power and access to power:

It would be overly simplistic to interpret all of this as merely a conflict between reformers and traditionalists. In reality, it's about the Church's sclerosis, and a problem that has a name: Benedict XVI. 
The Vatican's old guard, made up of Italian cardinals and their backers, believed that they had found a transitional pope in Ratzinger. But now the transition is in its eighth year, and the Curia is roughly where it was near the end of the previous pope's life: There's no one in sight to firmly assume the helm.

And so how do you solve a problem like Maria?  Well, the Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics themselves suggest at least part of the answer:

I'd like to say a word in her behalf:
Maria makes me laugh.

Though I'm not entirely sure that's the only response many of us who are Catholic are inclined to muster these days as we look at the hot mess the leadership of our church has made of itself.  Laughing may well not be the entire response many of us feel inclined to give when confronted by that hot mess and the way it's currently trying desperately to determine the course of history by engineering the outcome of the 2012 U.S. elections . . . .

Thanks to Jim McCrea for bringing the Spiegel article to my attention.

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