By now, you’ve surely heard what happened. “How do you deal with people,” a Slovak Jesuit asked Pope Francis during the now standard Q&A with local Jesuits during papal trips, “who look at you with suspicion?”
“There is, for example,” Pope Francis responded, “a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”
“I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner,” Pope Francis continued, “but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
There’s a lot of dry tea spilled in those few short lines of answer, but I’ll skip the reading. Suffice it to say that the reports of these conversations with Jesuits are highly curated affairs. They usually appear in La Civiltà Cattolica. They are what they are. He is who he is. It is what it is.
Aquila non captat muscas, the old Roman saying goes. “The eagle does not hawk for flies.” The expression conveys the sense that lofty and powerful men – or men in lofty and powerful office – ought not let themselves be tempted to waste time swatting at nuisances. Apparently, Pope Francis has let Raymond Arroyo’s – or someone’s – buzzing and biting get to him. Oh, well.
There is, by the way, a pat answer to the question the Slovak Jesuit asked. It basically says: Yeah, people are going to talk. If I spent my time considering even a small fraction of the criticism for which I come in from the commentariat, I’d have no time for real work. Yeah, my guys let me know how I’m doing in the press. I’ve got guys for that. I take what they say about what they’re saying with a grain of salt, and I’m sure there’s plenty of legit criticism out there, but I try to keep my eye on the ball.
Instead, we got a vaguebooking reference to Arroyo (or whomever) and EWTN (or whatever).
So, Pope Francis doesn’t like EWTN. Maybe. Probably. Who cares? Seriously, why does it matter?
Pope Francis is the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles and Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province and Primate of Italy. He is Patriarch of the West (yes, he is still what he is even if he doesn’t like to advertise it), Sovereign of Vatican City, Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth. He is the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, whose person in his see is judged by no man.
Raymond Arroyo is a news anchor, a talking head.
If Pope Francis’s purpose in placing the remark about the “large Catholic television station” was to distract folks, then he accomplished it.
This past week, Pope Francis announced his intention to keep the embattled Cardinal Ranier Maria Woelki in place (and also not keep him in place) despite thoroughly documented failures to oversee and properly address dozens of sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Many of those cases stopped at the doorstep of Woelki’s predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner.
Cardinal Woelki had commissioned and eventually published a report, which absolved Woelki of personal wrongdoing but detailed “systematic coverup” of abuse in Cologne between 1975 and 2018. Woelki became Archbishop of Cologne in 2014. Woelki also decided not to publish an earlier report after lawyers for the Archdiocese of Cologne found “methodological deficiencies” in that earlier review. The chief architect of the report that Woelki did eventually publish, criminal law professor Björn Gercke, said the unpublished original report also cleared Woelki of personal wrongdoing.
A statement from the Apostolic Nunciature heading into the weekend said Pope Francis is “counting on” Cardinal Woelki. “At the same time,” the statement also said, “it is clear that the archbishop and the archdiocese need a time for a pause, renewal and reconciliation.”
While an Apostolic Visitation conducted over a couple of weeks in June by Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm and Bishop Johannes van den Hende of Rotterdam “did not find that [Cardinal Woelki] acted against the law in handling abuse cases,” the Visitors nevertheless found that Woelki’s overall general handling of the business “especially at the communication level,” was wanting.
“Cardinal Woelki committed great errors,” the statement from the nunciature said. “This essentially contributed to the crisis of trust in the archdiocese.”
Earlier this month, Pope Francis rejected the resignation of Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, also named in the Cologne report as responsible for eleven specific failures when he was a priest and official of the Cologne archdiocese.
The Vatican said Archbishop Hesse had been guilty of “personal procedural errors” but didn’t commit them with the specific intention of covering up abuse. The statement also said that Hesse was really, really sorry.
“After carefully examining the documents received,” a statement from the Apostolic Nunciature to Germany said on September 15th, “the Holy See found deficiencies in the organization and functioning of the Archbishop [of Cologne]’s General Vicariate and personal procedural errors [committed by now-Archbishop Stefan Hesse] for the period in question.”
“However,” the statement continued, “the investigation has not shown that these were committed with the intent to cover up cases of sexual abuse.”
“The basic problem,” according to the Nunciature, “in the larger context of the administration of the archdiocese, was the lack of attention and sensitivity to those affected by abuse.”
The response of German Catholics to Pope Francis’s decisions in both cases – Hesse’s and Woelki’s – has toggled between befuddlement and incredulity.
“The pope declares that [Bishop Hesse] should stay,” noted the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung, “with the bizarre justification that he did not commit the errors proven against him with the intention of covering up abuse.”
“This is crazy,” the Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung’s editors opined.
Regarding Cardinal Woelki, the Washington Post quoted the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, as saying “A timeout is not enough.” Sterberg also said, “It is completely unclear what could stand at the end of such a timeout and it is not suited to restoring lost confidence.”
Now, the ZdK’s willingness to countenance all sorts of doctrinally dubious “reform” projects is as well known as the group’s willingness to make hay while the sun shines, but it’s tough to say they don’t have their finger on the pulse of German Catholics or are out of touch with Catholic opinion. If Pope Francis wants to win the battle for hearts and minds in Germany, he is going to have to do a whole lot more – and a whole lot better – to show the faithful that he’s on their side in the fights that matter.
On Friday of this week, Pope Francis announced he had relieved the leadership of the Memores Domini lay association affiliated with the global Communion & Liberation movement founded by the Servant of God, Luigi Giussani.
The Memores now have a special papal delegate for their leader in Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto. In late summer of 2020, the Memores got a canonical advisor in Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ – a world-renowned canonist and former Magnificent Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, who also previously served as canonical assistant to the Legionaries of Christ during their late reform effort.
If you take a beat and look around, there’s more than enough doing in the Church and out of the Vatican to make you ask: “What gives?”
One way to understand where a leader’s true priorities and concerns lie, is to look at who comes in for rough treatment and why, and who doesn’t, and why not. The pope is a leader.
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