A Jubilee By Popular Acclaim
[SuperPope Francis: The image]
[The reality: Opening the Holy Doors of the Bangui Cathedral for the Jubilee Year of Mercy]
Mercy for all except the hierarchical Church, too closed-off and backward to deserve the pope’s forgiveness. But in the meantime two cases with uncertain outcomes have exploded: the trial of Balda and Chaouqui and the clash with the supreme court of Chile
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 4, 2015 – With the jubilee inaugurated last Sunday in the heart of deepest Africa, Pope Francis has bent an instrument of ancient devotion to a new purpose entirely his own.
The jubilees do not have a good reputation – it was precisely the selling of indulgences that scandalized Luther – and yet the pope has brought them back into vogue for the living and for the deceased, in remission of the pains of purgatory. No one can therefore accuse him of abandoning tradition.
But the form is one thing, the substance is another. Because Francis is keeping only one part of that tradition alive: forgiveness. A forgiveness that is for all those who step through the holy door, go to confession, and receive communion. Only that the holy doors are everywhere. Even the door of a prison cell can become one, the pope has said, if only one asks God for mercy.
And therefore the jubilee is the feast of the immense people of forgiven sinners. This people is the true protagonist of the holy year of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, no longer the hierarchy that administers and dispenses indulgences from on high.
Even more, it is the hierarchy that is the first to end up in the dock with this pope. A hierarchy packed with hardened hearts, without mercy, incapable of making room at the table for the divorced and remarried. This is what Francis used to reprove the bishops before him when he closed the synod on the family last October:
As pope he is the head of this hierarchy, but when he appeals to the people in order to berate bishops and cardinals, he sets aside his institutional role and puts on the robe of the charismatic and purifying leader.
That innocence is ingrained in the people is the dogma of populism, to which the Argentine Bergoglio is highly attuned. He has also preached in Nairobi that within the people of the peripheries dwells a higher wisdom:
This is the secret of his popularity, which the unpopularity of the hierarchical Church does not diminish but increases.
Francis also appealed to the crowds, prompting applause in Saint Peter’s Square, to lash out against the “theft,” in his words, of secret documents on misconduct in the Vatican curia. Because of which he put together, on the verge of the jubilee, a trial that however does not sparkle with contrition, not with prudence, nor with mercy.
Not with contrition, given that it was none other than he, the pope, who promoted as inspectors and therapists of the curial finances the two main suspects of the larceny, Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, in spite of the fact that the secretariat of state had warned him about the clear untrustworthiness of both:
Not with prudence, for having wanted to haul into the dock even the two Italian journalists who wrote about it, in a bizarre revival of the index of prohibited books.
And even less with mercy, seeing the salacious pages that have been leaked from the court documents and have exposed to public ridicule not only the monsignor and the lady, already highly active in inflicting damage on themselves, but also her unfortunate relatives, completely uninvolved in the matter.
Bergoglio appeals to the people of the jubilee against the hierarchy for his other purifying enterprise as well, against clerical sex abuse of minors.
He says that he is unyielding with the bishops who cover up such misconduct and he has in fact removed some of them. But at the same time he shows himself merciful to excess with one cardinal who was one of his main electors in conclave, the Belgian Godfried Danneels, who in 2010 tried to conceal the sexual misconduct of the bishop of Bruges at the time, Roger Wangheluwe, with the victim being his young nephew. The scandal became public, but it does not appear to have bothered Pope Francis, who twice even put Danneels at the top of the list of synod fathers personally appointed by him, in a sign of great esteem, and promoted the cardinal’s protege as the new archbishop of Brussels:
And even more sensational is the case of the Chilean bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, whom Francis promoted to the diocese of Osorno, in spite of the fact that three victims have accused him in court of complicity with their predator, the priest Fernando Karadima, for many years a revered celebrity of the Chilean Church but ultimately sentenced to “prayer and penance” by the Holy See for substantiated sexual abuse.
In an outburst that became public, Bergoglio said he was absolutely sure of the bishop’s innocence, and accused politicians on the left of having trumped up the charge:
With the result that on November 13 the Chilean supreme court, without any mercy whatsoever, officially asked the Holy See to submit its evidence:
* * *
After this commentary was already written, Pope Francis returned to the “Vatileaks” case during the press conference on the flight back from central Africa to Rome, on November 30.
In a first response he seemed to legitimize the work of the authors of the two books with the Vatican documents:
“The free press, secular and also confessional, but professional… for me is important, because exposing injustice, corruption, is a good thing to do… And then the authorities must do something, make a judgment, press charges. But the professional press must say everything: what happened is this, and this, and this. And on corruption, to really look at the facts and say: there is corruption here, because of this, this, and this…”
While in a second response he said for the first time that it was “a mistake” to appoint Monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui:
“I believe that a mistake was made. Monsignor Vallejo Balda came in through the position that he had up until now. He was secretary of the prefecture of economic affairs, and he came in. And then, how she came in, I’m not sure, but I believe I am not wrong if I say – but I’m not sure – that it was he who presented her as a woman who knew the world of business relationships… They went to work, and when the work was finished the members of that commission, which was called Cosea, remained in certain positions in the Vatican. Vallejo Balda, the same. And Miss Chaouqui did not remain at the Vatican because she came onto the commission and afterward did not remain. Some say that she was angry about this, but the judges will tell us the truth about the intentions, as they have done… For me [what came out] was not a surprise, it didn’t keep me awake, because they really showed the work that began with the commission of cardinals – the “C9” – of looking for corruption and for things that are no good… On this judgment, I gave the judges the concrete accusations, because what matters for the defense is the formulation of the accusations. I did not read them, the concrete, technical accusations. I would have liked this [trial] to have ended before December 8, for the Year of Mercy, but I believe that this cannot be done, because I would like all the lawyers for the defense to have time to defend, that there be freedom of defense, entirely.”