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The Vatican's tragic farce

  • 11 March 2013

Governance has emerged as a key issue in the pre-conclave debate largely because of press reports about shenanigans in the Catholic Church's central administration, the Roman Curia. It is said that the only on who could solve the problem would be JC with an MBA.

Whether the cardinals choose a charismatic leader like John Paul II or someone keen to turn attention away from himself like Benedict XVI, if the new pope is non-Italian he will probably choose an Italian secretary of state. Both John Paul and Benedict did this, as seems wise when the bishop of Rome is Pope, and also when Italians should be best able to handle the largely Italian-influenced Curia.

The secretary of state, the Vatican No. 2, controls not only the Curia but also the Vatican diplomatic corps. Vatican diplomats are sometimes regarded as central office spies but the best bring a valuable experience of the Church in many countries to the top.

The secretary of state is such an important role that one wonders whether there is a ticket in the papal election: a pope is chosen who agrees on who will be his No. 2. There are suspicions that this has happened in the past. It is excluded by canon law in the conclave itself but could occur in the pre-conclave meetings if the needed two-thirds majority reached an agreement there on who should be pope.

If the recent precedent is followed, this would mean that a non-Italian pope would have an Italian secretary of state.

What has not been noticed is that the internationalisation of the papacy over the past 35 years has been accompanied by an Italianisation of the Vatican media coverage, particularly in Benedict's reign.

Vatican coverage reads like Italian political stories with smear campaigns, back-biting, wild accusations and turf wars. Across the darkling plain there are reports of bitter contests in which it is difficult to distinguish the contestants and who comprise the factions because many switch sides.

They are like the Guelph and Ghibelline battles in which Dante participated and later described: probably he decried Celestine V stepping down as a betrayal because it opened the way for Boniface VIII who was a personal