The August 2015 edition of National Geographic has a lengthy essay, “Will the Pope Change the Vatican? Or Will the Vatican Change the Pope?”, that has some of the usual stuff—Francis emphasizes the poor over doctrine, he has lots of Protestant/Pentecostal friends, he lives simply—but also a few things of interest.
For example, the author, Robert Draper, says this about why and how Francis was elected:
Moreover, his papacy was not a fluke. As the Roman author Massimo Franco would put it, “His election arose from a trauma”—from the sudden (and for nearly six centuries, unprecedented) resignation of the sitting pope, Benedict XVI, and from the mounting sentiment among more progressive cardinals that the hoary and Eurocentric mind-set of the Holy See was rotting the Catholic Church from within.
That’s a curious statement for many reasons, one of them being that the “progressives” and the “Eurocentric mind-set of the Holy See” are hardly incompatible or distinct from one another. It’s not as if the progressive stances taken by many prelates and other leaders in Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium have been a rousing success; quite the opposite (see “Germany, Catholic Church”, for Exhibit A).
But the most interesting section of the piece includes some frank comments from Fr. Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office since 2006:
When Federico Wals, who had spent several years as Bergoglio’s press aide, traveled from Buenos Aires to Rome last year to see the pope, he first paid a visit to Father Federico Lombardi, the longtime Vatican communications official whose job essentially mirrors Wals’s old one, albeit on a much larger scale. “So, Father,” the Argentine asked, “how do you feel about my former boss?” Managing a smile, Lombardi replied, “Confused.”
Lombardi had served as the spokesman for Benedict, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, a man of Germanic precision. After meeting with a world leader, the former pope would emerge and rattle off an incisive summation, Lombardi tells me, with palpable wistfulness: “It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, ‘We have spoken about these things, I agree with these points, I would argue against these other points, the objective of our next meeting will be this’—two minutes and I’m totally clear about what the contents were. With Francis—‘This is a wise man; he has had these interesting experiences.’”
Chuckling somewhat helplessly, Lombardi adds, “Diplomacy for Francis is not so much about strategy but instead, ‘I have met this person, we now have a personal relation, let us now do good for the people and for the church.’”
The pope’s spokesman elaborates on the Vatican’s new ethos while sitting in a small conference room in the Vatican Radio building, a stone’s throw from the Tiber River. Lombardi wears rumpled priest attire that matches his expression of weary bemusement. Just yesterday, he says, the pope hosted a gathering in Casa Santa Marta of 40 Jewish leaders—and the Vatican press office learned about it only after the fact. “No one knows all of what he’s doing,” Lombardi says. “His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.”
The Vatican’s communications chief shrugs and observes, “This is the life.” …
In attempting to divine the 78-year-old pope’s comings and goings, the closest Vatican officials have to an intermediary has been Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Francis’s secretary of state, a much respected veteran diplomat—and, importantly, trusted by his boss, according to Wals, “because he’s not too ambitious, and the pope knows that. That’s a fundamental quality for the pope.” At the same time, Francis has drastically reduced the secretary of state’s powers, particularly with respect to the Vatican’s finances. “The problem with this,” Lombardi says, “is that the structure of the curia is no longer clear. The process is ongoing, and what will be at the end, no one knows. The secretary of state is not as centralized, and the pope has many relations that are directed by him alone, without any mediation.”
Valiantly accentuating the upside, the Vatican spokesman adds, “In a sense, this is positive, because in the past there were criticisms that someone had too much power over the pope. They cannot say this is the case now.”
Here is the entire National Geographic article.
Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture writes:
By all accounts, the conclave that elected Pope Francis was looking for someone who could reform the Vatican, bringing accountability and efficiency to the Roman Curia. How can a leader harness a bureaucracy if he doesn’t give clear directives? How can he promote a culture of accountability if his own staff doesn’t know what he’s doing from day to day?
No one doubts the intelligence of Pope Francis. No one questions his work ethic. So what’s going on inside the Vatican? What do Father Lombardi’s revelations say about Pope Francis himself? Why would an intelligent, hard-working man, who is obviously determined to bring about change, adopt such an odd managerial style?
Read his entire post, “If the Vatican’s main spokesman doesn’t know what the Pope’s doing, who does?”
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