Rome in Eye of A Storm

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Is there a “Reign Of Terror” Inside the Vatican?

He is a veteran Vatican-watcher, the Rome reporter for the USA’s National Catholic Register. He’s also that rarity among journalists – a practicing Catholic.

He’s a real pro, too.  In 2014 Edward Pentin’s journalistic integrity came under fire from a Pope Francis favorite, German Cardinal Emeritus Walter Kasper. The liberal Cardinal’s disparaging comments about African prelates attending the Synod had been captured on Pentin’s Iphone recorder. Kasper publicly denied ever making such remarks – and then had to retract his denial when Pentin quietly published the audio. The resulting furore quickly derailed attempts to hijack the Synod by Kasper and his cronies.

Now it seems that once again, all eyes are on Rome. A group of high-ranking prelates have made public a ‘dubia’ they had sent to Pope Francis with questions on Amoris Laetitia. This, because the Pope ignored  the same dubia, sent privately two months before.

All quite proper under Canon Law. But the move has set off a firestorm of controversy, even involving the Pope himself, who this week made the astounding comparison of journalists covering Vatican scandals to people with a sexual interest in feces. Now, rumours are swirling that the Pope is unwell, and one British journalist has even called for his retirement. Most recently, 23 scholars have signed a public letter supporting the Cardinals, warning of a ‘metastasizing crisis’ in the Church.

What is going on in the Vatican? In an attempt to get some clarity amidst a storm of spin, REGINA asked Edward Pentin to report on what he’s seeing, from his vantage point in Rome.

REGINA: What reaction to the dubia do you see, on the ground in Rome, from your Vatican contacts?

Edward Pentin: The reaction has been interesting so far: almost all the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia have remained silent, neither supporting the cardinals, nor, more importantly, coming out in support of the Pope and his decision not to respond. If silence is taken to mean consent for the dubia, then one could therefore argue that the vast majority are in favor of the four cardinals. That can only be speculative of course, but it could conceivably be true as for months one has heard from one significant part of the Curia that they feel great unease about what is happening. The phrases “reign of terror” and “Vatican martial law” are frequently bandied around.

REGINA: ‘Reign of terror’. Wow.

Edward Pentin: Not an insignificant number of officials are opposed to what the Pope is doing, but are keeping quiet having convinced themselves there is nothing they can do and instead are preferring to “save their ammunition” until the next conclave. It should be said that that was before the dubia were published, so things might have changed, but I think if the Pope continues not to respond and demand persists for an answer, a growing number of the College will move towards favoring the four cardinals, and probably publicly so. We are then likely to see a fairly rapid unraveling of this pontificate towards an unknown conclusion.

It must be said that another part of the Curia and the College exists which is fully on board with the Pope’s agenda and certainly, until now, they have been in the ascendant. There are, therefore, two parallel curias: one fully behind the Pope or ambivalent towards him, and the other who find his pontificate deeply regrettable and which they hope will soon end. It’s not a situation that augurs well, whichever way one looks at it. 

REGINA: And their public statements?

Edward Pentin:  Yes, well another interesting factor to note is that almost all of the cardinals’ critics have yet to tackle the substance of their concerns, or if they have, they have found it difficult to explain their position without tying themselves in knots or making claims that some argue are simply erroneous. None has issued any kind of statement dealing with the issues in question. Instead, they have generally resorted to name-calling, insults, or claims that the whole of the College of Cardinals is behind the Pope which is demonstrably untrue. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has compared their treatment to his experience of living under the Soviets.  

REGINA: And the Pope’s reaction?

Edward Pentin:  The Pope’s reaction, of going so far as to question the cardinals’ mental state, has been read as a manifestation of his own anger at having his agenda taken off course. And instead of taking the four cardinals at their word (they have said they are acting primarily out of charity towards the Holy Father, justice and deep pastoral concern), they are seen as adversaries. I understand he has also been working behind the scenes to ensure his agenda is not thwarted. From strategically placed articles in L’Osservatore Romano to equivocations from those who publicly criticized the Dubia when asked if the Pope had asked them to do so, Francis has been acting, as one observer put it, like a “behind-the-scenes political lobbyist.” In the three weeks after the dubia were published, the Pope gave three interviews to the world’s media, each of them aimed at legitimizing his position while denigrating his critics. 

Lastly, it’s important to point out that simply by matching facts with words coming from the Pope and his allies, it’s clear there is significant lying and deceit taking place, as well as calumnies and the besmirching of reputations of those labeled to be “on the right” just because they are publicly critical of Amoris Laetitia, or merely report on such criticism. It genuinely pains me to say all this, because as a Catholic journalist one doesn’t wish in any way to diminish the Petrine Office, but I feel I have an obligation to report the facts on what is happening. 

REGINA: And what of the recent purging of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the naming of a big group of different prelates. What will this mean for the liturgy?

Edward Pentin:  The replacement of almost all the members of the Congregation has been largely viewed as another example of Pope Francis’ wish to mold the Curia to suit his own vision — which every pope will do — but in his case,  some say it shows a revolution in full swing. I understand that since Francis was elected, a large number of so-called “sound”, orthodox clergy have either voluntarily left serving as curial officials or been forcibly removed. This was particularly true of the Congregation for Divine Worship which had had many Benedict appointees. As to what the changes to the Congregation mean for the liturgy, given that most of the new members, though not all, are in favor of innovative approaches to the Novus Ordo, it’s likely that that liturgical emphasis will be coming out of the Vatican in the months and years ahead. But these changes are just a small part of an acceleration in changes being enacted by Francis who has privately voiced his wish for his legacy of radical change to continue after he is no longer Pope.

REGINA: The Pope’s comments on ‘rigid’ young Catholics. What’s that all about?

Edward Pentin:  The common view in Rome is that his ‘rigid’ comments are simply aimed at wearing down so-called “conservative” or traditional Catholics so that orthodoxy gradually disappears, and he can push through his reforms. That’s not necessarily the case, of course, but that is how it is being perceived in some quarters. Of particular concern to some has been the Pope comments in this regard which he has made in reference to seminaries as they see it is as plot to weaken orthodox priests from the start, especially in the area of conscience and sexual morality. It’s just one of many other acts made during this pontificate which has led to the disaffection of a large number of practicing Catholics. But it seems that seminarians, especially in the UK and US, tend to understand what’s happening in today’s Vatican and are trying to uphold the Church’s teachings and Tradition. And in trying to make sense of it all, they see it in a positive sense: of clarifying and uncovering what has long been seen as a veiled schism that’s existed at least since the end of the Second Vatican Council.


See our other interview with Edward Pentin here from October 2015 (REGINA’s Exclusive Interview with Vatican Journalist Edward Pentin on the Rigging of the Synod)

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