LAST week’s discussion of the pecuniary scandals in the Vatican (Press, 2 October) turned out to be merely an appetiser, although it wasn’t planned that way. After the news that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu had been abruptly sacked and deprived of his voting rights at the next conclave by Pope Francis, apparently as a result of his involvement in some extremely mysterious ventures into the London luxury property market, the Italian papers provided a sensational twist.
In his time at the Vatican, Cardinal Becciu had clashed with Cardinal George Pell, the Australian brought in by Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Pell’s job ended in chaotic and scandalous circumstances when he was recalled to Australia to face charges of historic child sexual abuse. He was convicted and then acquitted on appeal (News, 9 April).
The Times, which had carried a long report on the financial struggle the previous day, broke the big news for an English audience on Monday morning: “A senior Catholic cardinal has been accused of using €700,000 of Vatican funds to bribe witnesses to secure a sex abuse conviction against a rival.
“Italian media have reported that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, 72, is suspected of wiring the cash to recipients in Australia who helped to ensure hostile testimony in the abuse trial of Cardinal George Pell, who was accused of molesting choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.
“Quoting leaked documents, the Italian newspapers La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera reported at the weekend that Vatican investigators suspect that Cardinal Becciu hoped to use the money to definitively derail Cardinal Pell’s transparency programme, which threatened to expose Cardinal Becciu’s allegedly corrupt management of Vatican cash.”
Buried in the report was a rather pathetic paragraph — “The scandal cast a shadow yesterday over the publication of a key Vatican document calling for a more caring and sharing society and denouncing the evils of war” — but, honestly, which is news: what the Pope thinks, or what the Cardinals have been up to? Cardinal Pell has now returned to Rome for the first time since his acquittal.
The Guardian reports that Cardinal Pell’s Australian lawyer is demanding a full inquiry into the allegations, which Cardinal Becciu most vehemently denies. The case makes difficulties for both sides in the Pell case, which divided opinion sharply inside the RC Church: outside it, most people seem to have assumed his guilt. Conservatives, broadly speaking, defended Cardinal Pell, on the grounds that he was maligned by anti-Catholic agitators.
If it turns out that the main agent of malignity was another Cardinal, this is not the exoneration that they wanted. Enemies of the Church have it easier: they can simply believe that both Cardinals were guilty as charged, and that Cardinal Becciu was simply acting like a policeman and framing a guilty man.
I AM writing too early for the secular papers to have covered the IICSA report (although the Church Times website had it nailed within an hour of publication).
IN THE mean time, there are some astonishing statistics in the Financial Times, which was describing the French government’s attempts at forcible assimilation of its Muslim minorities.
“President Emmanuel Macron has launched a crackdown on radical Islamist ‘separatism’ in France, announcing plans for strict new controls on religious, cultural and sporting associations and a ban on home schooling.
“His advisers say the president’s policy of targeting even small infractions of French values of liberty and equality — such as the refusal to shake the hand of a female official or the introduction of separate hours for men and women in municipal swimming pools — had succeeded in sidelining Islamist leaders.
“The government has since 2018 designated some districts as ‘areas of republican reconquest’, to which it has sent extra police and invested in schools. In 15 districts where Islamist separatism was most evident, the Elysée said the authorities had closed 212 food and drink outlets, four schools, 15 prayer halls and 13 associations, and ended widespread social security fraud in which millions of euros had been used to finance Islamist activities.”
It is perfectly extraordinary to think that the French government can simply shut down cafés for ideological impropriety and no one bats an eye. Apparently, all these powers stem from the expulsion of the Catholic monks and nuns in 1905. That kind of persecution did very little to weaken Catholicism in France. It will be interesting to see whether these measures have a similar effect.
YOU will learn a great deal about American politics and society by reading about President Trump’s illness, but practically nothing reliable about his health. No one, it seems, was treating it as a religious story, which is a shame. So many of his and his followers’ actions make sense only in the light of the New Thought movement and its descendant, with their consistent teaching that matter can be bent into shape by strong-enough minds, and that nothing is real that has not been summoned into being by the will. This is the heart not just of the prosperity gospel, but of all American popular religion now.