Pope Francis shakes up church establishment
It appears Pope Francis truly wants to change the Catholic Church. He’s reforming the Vatican Bank first, but he’s also circumventing the old guard wherever he can. The establishment is up in arms.
A cardinal in Rome earns about $3,888 a month, even less than a pastor in Germany. But a cardinal’s life in Rome is a lot more expensive — with visits to restaurants and shopping at boutiques for the upscale clothing men of the church are expected to wear, not to mention their jewelry and the antiques they display in their apartments. So it’s good to have friends who can treat you or otherwise provide support now and then.
Friends are also happy to give a cardinal a hand — and not just out of religious considerations. A cardinal can be helpful in both political and business terms. So it’s not surprising that a symbiotic relationship between parts of the Curia and the upper class around the world has formed — one that brings together the establishment, luxury and power. It’s a nice little tradition that new Pope Francis would like to put an end to. For the Catholic establishment, though, it is nothing less than a catastrophe.
Even before his enthronement as pope, when he was still a cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had spoken clearly about this. During his speech to the cardinal conclave, he warned that, “When the church does not emerge from itself to evangalize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick.” He warned of “self-referentiality” and “theological narcissism.” He also criticized a “mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself.” And it appears the Argentinian pope meant this criticism seriously. In fact, he demonstrates that every day.
Instead of wearing a gold cross, he has one of steel. And he lives in a sparsely furnished apartment in the Santa Marta guest house rather than in the Apostolic Palace. Instead of taking his seat in the Vatican concert hall to listen to classical music, he recently remained at his desk working on the final version of his decree for the church-state’s own Institute for Religious Works (IOR) bank. With his signature, he created a powerful special papal commission to review the bank’s activities. He also said the new commission must change everything at the Vatican Bank, as it is also known. He said the Vatican certainly needed a bank, but its areas of business should only reach a “certain point.”
A Papal Bank with Mafia Contacts
For decades now, the IOR has been in the headlines for one scandal after the other. At the beginning of the 1980s, it was at the center of one of the darkest crime thrillers in postwar Italian history. The scandal surrounded billions in business with the mafia, and a Vatican banker was hanged from a London bridge by a killer commando.
But the chain of scandals never let up. When, in autumn 2010, fresh suspicions of money laundering to the tune of triple-digit millions emerged, then Pope Benedict XVI promised stricter rules for his financial managers. In fact, though, nothing changed. In the so-called Vatileaks scandal, secret documents that had been smuggled out of the Vatican shed light on bizarre intrigues inside the papal state. Often, the Vatican Bank played a role in those intrigues. Benedict XVI was appalled, but also overwhelmed. He failed to prevail over the powerful cardinals who backed the IOR. His resignation was the logical outcome.