The media’s concern for “reform” in the Curia is heartwarming. And bogus.

First, from Vatican Information Service:

At the end of today’s general audience, the Holy Father made some remarks concerning recent developments in the Vatican.

“The events of recent days involving the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart. However, I have never lost my firm certainty that, despite the weakness of man, despite difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Lord will ensure she never lacks the help she needs to support her on her journey.

“Nonetheless there has been increasing conjecture, amplified by the communications media, which is entirely gratuitous, goes beyond the facts and presents a completely unrealistic image of the Holy See. Thus, I wish to reiterate my trust and encouragement to my closest collaborators and to all those people who every day, in silent faithlessness and with a spirit of sacrifice, help me carry out my ministry”.

In reading some of the media reports, one is reminded of Abp. Fulton Sheen’s statement: “There is unfortunately a far greater unity among the enemies of God than among His friends.” Even if we readily grant that the “Vatileaks” story is indeed significant, some of the reporting lacks a bit of sober perspective. A perfect example is a Reuters piece, “Vatican crisis highlights pope failure to reform Curia” (May 30, 2012), that begins with the same tired silliness about Cardinal Ratzinger being nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” and “Panzerkardinal” and then quickly stoops, in the second paragraph, to thinly veiled mockery:

Instead, as the “Vatileaks” scandal has revealed, the head of the Roman Catholic Church can’t even keep his own private mail secret. 

What a naive man, the Pope, trusting those closest to him when he should have been doubting and second-guessing them every hour on the hour! But who, in all honesty, can get through life without trusting at least a handful of people? And isn’t it strange that journalists, who so often depend on anonymous tips and sources, not to mention leaks, are suddenly stunned to discover that the temptation to steal sensitive information—whether for money or power or revenge—might be found among those closest to the pope? The piece then rehashes a couple of the usual, dutifully trotted out “controversies” that are really only controversial to those who clueless or cynical:

Benedict’s papacy has been marked until now by controversies over things he has said and done, such as his criticism of Islam at Regensburg in 2006 or his 2009 decision to readmit four excommunicated ultra-traditionalist bishops to the Church.

But the most priceless example of media snowblindness is found in this little history lesson:

The Curia, a centuries-old bureaucracy dominated by Italian clerics, is essential to the success or failure of a papacy because it can effectively cancel or water down papal decisions if they go against long-standing interests or traditions.

Its name comes from the Latin word for a royal court and its jumble of overlapping departments, commissions and tribunals seems more suited to an intrigue-filled Renaissance monarchy than a modern and transparent democratic government.

Keep in mind, it should go without saying, the Curia has developed and grown over many hundreds (hundreds!) of years; there is also the fact that the Catholic Church has some 1.3 billion members on earth at any given time. Yet the actual number of people who work in the Curia is just a few thousand (3,000 as of 1997). As complicated as the Curia’s bureaucracy might appear, it is the picture of simple, streamlined efficiency compared to, say, the U.S. Department of Education, which has been functioning just thirty-two years (est. 1980), yet has over 5,000 employees and a budget of over $70 billion. In comparison, in 2008 the Vatican “listed revenues of $371.97 million against expenses of $386.27 million.” In other words, the entire Vatican budget is roughly 1/200th of the budget of the U.S. Department of Education, the latter being just one of countless federal departments, agencies, bureaucracies, and so forth. (Granted, is took me a few minutes on the internet to track down the above information, so I don’t hold it against Reuters that it couldn’t present more context and comparison, especially since I know the agency is spending time and money covering the latest news about Michael Jackson memorabilia.)

And, speaking of a jumble of overlapping departments, commissions, and so forth, do we even need to do more than mention the unfathomably complex, money-chewing entity popularly known as “ObamaCare”? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Referring, in nearly glowing terms, to “a modern and transparent democratic government” is what real people in the real world call a “real howler”. And then there is this, also from the Reuters piece:

The institution that gave the world the word “nepotism” is not always a model meritocracy either. Some officials are talented and dynamic while others are bureaucrats who seem to owe their posts more to connections than capabilities.

Yet isn’t that statement true of just about every single bureaucracy known to mankind? Of course it is! And that goes for businesses as well. I once worked in an advertising department with about fifty employees, and I’d say that some were “talented and dynamic” while others were employees who seemed to owe their jobs more to connections than capabilities. Duh. However, if you want to delude yourself into thinking that all employees in “modern and transparent democratic governments” are “talented and dynamic”, you go right ahead—and then give me a call. I have four bridges, six hotels, and a healthcare system to sell to you. 

Frankly, the media obsession with this story—and the way that some reporters are covering it—is rather amusing to me. Am I really to believe that journalists are deeply concerned about lack of “reform” in the Curia? Is this up there with saving whales and stopping global warming? No, I think it’s readily apparent that not a few journalists and pundits are eager to smell any sort of papal blood in the water. And some of them are actually trying to spin it as though the pope—the victim, after all, of a serious act of thievery!—is somehow the bad guy, or at the least the pathetic loser, in all of this. The other strange thing is how Benedict XVI is criticized regularly for ruling with an iron fist and being a nasty hard-liner who needs to control everything, but then he is portrayed as a clueless softy who has no real control overshadowy, mysterious figures in the dread Vatican. And so forth.

Most funny (yes, funny) is how the drum beat goes on and on about the Catholic Church being “irrelevant” and “archaic” and “out of touch”—and yet any and every story involving the Church and the Vatican and the Pope is covered both widely and breathlessly (not to mention poorly) by the very folks who suggest (or announce outright) the demise, destruction, and death of Catholicism. Frankly, if the Catholic Church was ignored, I’d be worried. The very existence of the Church is a scandal, and it is a supernatural scandal that will continue long after the “Vatileaks” scandal has become yesterday’s news. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.