Day Three: Time to make something happen

Remember the media frenzy over the report by three cardinals, which – allegedly – spoke of a gay “lobby” and of blackmail inside the Curia? Very strong stuff. And all the subsequent speculation based on a document no one in the press has claimed to have seen? Have you wondered what happened to that? Well, it just disappeared. Even within the Italian paper La Repubblica, that initially broke this “news” story.

Today, that paper ran, instead, an interview with two lay people who were involved in the Vatileaks scandal and who vowed – anonymously – to get active again. Such statements, no doubt, scare some Curial souls and, also no doubt, are meant to. But you don’t have to be very media savvy to see through this threat. If the leakers had spectacular revelations to make, they would have already made them over the last eighteen or so months. It all looks more like a bid for publicity.

But you can see from this example how much news outlets are scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for something, anything to say about the transition to a new papacy. And that’s why it’s urgent for the cardinals to move forward, and the sooner the better.

Delay only begets further disorder and bad feeling. One of the oddities of papal politicking is that open statements by cardinals are discouraged. So, as La Stampa put it today, the usual suspects looked askance at the American cardinals for “being available and co-operative.” And all on harmless subjects not revealing anything spoken in the necessary secrecy of formal proceedings. Meanwhile, the Italian cardinals, as is there wont in all seasons, seem to say nothing publicly and to leak virtually everything going on.

Solution: ask everyone to stop speaking. The Americans agreed and will observe the request. As for the others. . .

There were late Wednesday reports, for example, almost simultaneous with the General Congregation as it unfolded (as if someone inside were, against all regulations, broadcasting the events).  A “foreign cardinal,” we hear, pressed about the identity of people involved in Vatileaks. Another wanted to discuss Vatican finances. Sixteen crucial issues in all were put on the table. And then there were the more typical – and more boring – reports from the several Roman dicasteries about their ordinary activities, which mostly look like just filling up precious time.

Under the circumstances, you can’t entirely blame the media. Gossip and leaks are far sexier than the reporting by press release often practice by the lazier members of the Fourth Estate. But what else is one to do in the absence of any real news? The only real question for now being when will the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel and get down to business?

The usual tactic in the meantime is to talk about the obvious.  La Repubblica itself the other day carried a plea by an alleged Catholic weeping over the fact that he wants the Church to assure him that it cares about everyone, especially the very poor. One gets the impression that people like this are like needy teenage girls: no amount of reassurance, no series of acts can fill the void, which is really about something else. Anyone who wants to see the Church in serious relief action doesn’t need to look very far.

But much to this reader’s surprise another writer took up a more serious – even crucial – theme: how do you defend a sacred hierarchy in a culture in which radical equality has become the goal, however self-destructive, even to secular order. Or a culture that believes modern science has abolished all hierarchies – even any sense of higher and lower – in nature. In that kind of world, the voice of a rock star, a tennis player, a movie actor, or a pope are all – just voices. And maybe the pontiff is lower on the totem pole for various reasons, and to hell with the principle of non-hierarchy.

A deep question, well worth pondering. But everyone in Rome wants the cardinals now to do something. Name a date days or weeks from now to begin the conclave, but for god’s sake make a decision. Benedict announced his resignation on February 11. In a few days, it will be a month since the cardinals learned they were going to have to choose a new pope.

Can it really be that the Catholic Church cannot organize an orderly transition in special, predictable circumstances within a month? And if so, what does that tell us about the simple practical questions facing the next pope?

[Note: this report may also be read in Italian and French.]


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