Thanks to Pope Francis, the Vatican now joins the growing list of the world’s sanctuary cities. If you’re a clergyman wanted by civil authorities or Church authorities in your native land, the Vatican will offer you a safe haven and, quite possibly, a cushy job.
When Monsignor Battista Ricca got in trouble over a string of sex scandals, he was rewarded with a prominent position in the Vatican Bank. And when Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta of Oran, Argentina, was credibly accused of abusing seminarians, he was whisked off to Rome and ensconced in a position specially created for him in the Vatican’s other major financial institution, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
Now comes news that Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra of Maracaibo, Venezuela was installed in October as the Substitute of the Vatican Secretariat of State, making him the Vatican’s third most powerful prelate. This despite numerous accusations of serial sex abuse, possibly including a “sex game” that led to the deaths of two men.
The information is contained in an unpublished section of a Washington Post interview with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States. The interview excerpt was subsequently obtained and published by Life Site News. Viganò is also the author of the bombshell testimony published a year ago which accused Pope Francis of involvement in numerous cover-ups of sexual abuse.
Considering the large number of scandals and cover-ups touching the pope and his circle, one would think that by now they all would have resigned their offices and hid themselves away in secluded monasteries. Ironically, however, it is Viganò who has chosen to go into hiding. He refuses to disclose his location and has reportedly turned off his phone.
What is he worried about? An “accident”? Commitment to a mental institution for treatment of “paranoid delusions”? Since the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, there have been a number of mysterious deaths of people connected to the Vatican. For someone like Viganò, who knows where the “bodies” (i.e., incriminating documents) are hidden, it might not be prudent to discount all of the many rumors that swirl around the Vatican.
Archbishop Viganò has alluded several times to a “gay mafia” which wields an outsize influence in the Church, and which, he claims, is “sabotaging all efforts at reform.” Members of the “mafia” seem to be able to defy Church teachings with impunity. For example, the American branch of the “mafia”—Cardinals Cupich, Tobin, Farrell, and Gregory—are known to be strong supporters of the LGBT agenda, yet they have been consistently promoted by Francis to powerful positions in the hierarchy. When, during last October’s meeting, Cardinal Cupich more or less ordered his fellow bishops in the USCCB to table the agenda they had been diligently working on, they meekly complied.
Given the fear that they inspire among other prelates, it might well be that the gay mafia employs tactics not unlike those used by the real Mafia. This may help to explain why so many bishops act as though they live in Mafia-controlled neighborhoods. They’ve known about the scandals and cover-ups for a long time, yet, except for a few courageous souls like Viganò, they’ve remained silent, as though they had no choice other than to obey the code of omertà.
Why have they been so silent? Or so reluctant to take decisive action against those bishops who seem intent on wrecking the Church? One increasingly plausible answer to that question is the threat of blackmail. As the incidence of homosexual involvement among clergy grows, so, too, does the likelihood that blackmail will be used as an instrument of coercion. In his book, Inside the Closet of the Vatican, gay journalist Frédéric Martel estimates that 80 percent of the Church’s most senior figures are homosexual. That is probably a huge exaggeration, but if only half that number are so inclined, it means that not a few of their eminences may be eminently blackmailable.
Even among those bishops who are not homosexually inclined, there will be a fair number who have other things to worry about: the possible exposure of youthful indiscretions, heterosexual affairs, DUI convictions, financial improprieties, and so forth. The possibility also exists that bishops who oppose the “mafia’s” agenda may be falsely accused of sexual abuse. Some have suggested that the accusations against Cardinal Pell were manufactured in order to prevent him from looking any further into the mishandling of Vatican finances.
There are still other disincentives for bishops who might be tempted to blow the whistle on corruption in the hierarchy. Bishops who don’t play along won’t get promoted. Or worse, they might be demoted. The possibility that one’s next assignment could be to the diocese of Tierra del Fuego is a strong incentive to mind one’s own business.
The immediate future of the Church looks precarious. However, there is always reason to hope.
One possible bright spot in all this is that a growing number of bishops already live in “Tierra del Fuego” or, at any rate, in places which Westerners would consider the equivalent of Tierra del Fuego. Many Third World bishops and cardinals don’t worry too much about being exiled to remote, dangerous, or poverty-stricken regions of the world because those are the places they call home.
One of the advantages of living in the Third World is that one develops a certain realism about life. If you live in Northern Nigeria surrounded by hostile Fulani herdsmen, you can’t afford to indulge in fantasies about Noble Savages as a German bishop might. Or if you’re a Catholic living in Uganda where there is a powerful social stigma attached to homosexuality, you will find it difficult to understand why European bishops are so keen on celebrating the LGBT lifestyle. Being relatively new to the game, bishops from developing nations have up until recently been willing to take their cues from European and North American bishops, but that may change as it becomes more apparent that Northern bishops often entertain very strange ideas.
There is considerable worry among orthodox Catholics that when the next conclave gathers to elect the next pope, the College of Cardinals will be so tightly packed with Francis appointees that Pope Francis II will be indistinguishable from Francis I. But it may not turn out that way. Like Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, many (though certainly not all) of the Third World cardinals are as committed to the Gospel of Christ as their European counterparts are committed to the gospel of what’s happening now. Now that they can more clearly see the destruction Francis has wrought, they are unlikely to vote for his twin.
So, too, it’s likely that a goodly number of Western cardinals who thought in 2013 that Jorge Bergoglio would lead the Church in refreshing new directions can now see that he has led it to the brink of a precipice. They may be silent now out of fear or simply because they are at a loss to know what to do, but in a secret ballot they will be free to vote their conscience rather than the party line.
There are bad cardinals, and good cardinals, and in-between cardinals. And one must suppose that even the bad cardinals have consciences. One must further suppose that as layer upon layer of corruption is uncovered in the Francis Church, their consciences will begin to bother them. None of them are getting any younger, and those of them who still believe know that they will have to answer for their vote before God.
On the surface, the future of the Church looks bleak, but it may be that the excesses of the Francis papacy will generate their own antidote. There is a good chance that next time around the voting cardinals will be paying more attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit than to the spirit of the times.
Editor’s note: Pope Francis greets Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, former Bishop of Oran, Argentina, at the Vatican. (Photo credit: Vatican Media/CNA)