Mar 2, 2013

Bugging the Vatican

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

In the wake of an historic, papal resignation, much of the world's gaze is fixed on the Vatican these days. And the picture ain't pretty. The shroud of secrecy is slipping and exposing rifts, power-plays, mistrust, and even the possibility of wanton, homoerotic debauchery. But what is most surprising in all of it isn't the scandalous intrigue or distinct whiff of criminality. That much is hardly news. It's that they look like the bloody Keystone Cops! When it comes to  managing their internal crises and dealing with the media, they're just incompetent.

There were indications of that in all their buffoonish attempts to tamp down the furor surrounding the sex abuse crisis. As I wrote here, being a former publicist, I have found myself astonished at their ham-fisted ineptitude. They seem to spend a lot of time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and castigating the media for noting that they're taking on water.

As I wrote here, Pope Benedict is being subjected to scrutiny and criticism that most outgoing popes aren't... because they usually go out in a body bag and defaming the recently deceased is just bad form. But it's not just his liberal -- and moderate -- critics who are questioning his record. The knives are out in the very fractious Vatican and we're hearing the rumblings about what a poor administrator and ineffectual leader he was.

In the Vatican itself, there was always a subtle current that held that Benedict may be a world-class intellectual but he was out of his depth as a CEO, sometimes leaving the church rudderless. Even his resignation stirred sotto voce resentment, with Vatican insiders grumbling that plans for the timing of the conclave to elect his successor should have been worked out in advance rather than left hanging.

In fairness to Pope Benedict, I don't think the Vatican was made for the high tech era. I doubt Pope John Paul II would have been as popular had he been subjected to 24 hour media scrutiny, social media, bloggers, and everything else that has come with a burgeoning, global internet. The Vatican is a hidebound institution and has long been woefully out of step with the greater society. We shouldn't be shocked to find that it's not ready for prime time.

That said, some of this is just crazy.

Apart from the scandals, the Curia has been blamed for not protecting the pope from several mishaps and bad decisions, not foreseeing negative reaction to some of his pronouncements and not giving him enough information to make the right decision.

In 2006, it failed to predict the fallout from a papal speech in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor equating Islam with violence. That speech led to violent protests among Muslims around the world.

In 2009, the Curia failed to do its homework before the pope let an excommunicated traditionalist bishop, Richard Williamson, be re-admitted to the church. He was a known Holocaust denier and the episode badly damaged ties with Jews around the world.

In a letter to bishops on the fallout of the Williamson affair, the humiliated pope had to admit that his administration did not use the Internet as much as it should.

Let's unpack that, shall we? The Holocaust denier thing was a fiasco, and yes, it could be argued that the fact-checkers dropped the ball. Again, we've established that they're not the most tech savvy bunch. Mistakes were made.

But, the scholar -- the "teaching pope" -- needed to be advised that quoting a Byzantine emperor on the inherent violence of Islam might just be a problem? If he needed to be protected from himself to that degree, maybe he did need to retire.

Now we learn that his much criticized failure to reform the Curia and deal with the entrenched factions throughout the Vatican may have included a "gay lobby" that left the Vatican vulnerable to blackmail. And how does the Vatican deal with these revelations? No comment. And, having acknowledged the existence of the dossier, they announce that no one will ever see it. So if anyone thought it wasn't damning, they might want to reconsider that right about now.

And wiretaps in the Vatican?! No, no, no... Okay, well, yeah... a bit, a bit... But there were only a very few of them and that decision was made well below the Pope's pay-grade, thank you very much. So... ya know...

And anyone who wants to talk about the internal matters of the Vatican, that are nobody's business, is a slanderer, a gossip, and is really just trying to disrupt the very important work of electing a new pope. 

Boy. No one does victimhood like this bunch of stodgy, old, white men, in one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

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