Nothing so excites the press than does a Vatican scandal. The recent firing of the head of the Vatican’s Bank, amidst charges of wrongdoing, and the arrest of the pope’s private butler, accused of leaking papal documents, have provoked an international media frenzy. For all the media’s demands for Church “reform,” however, one wonders whether they would welcome it, if it actually led to an increase in holiness, and offered much less material for them to write lurid headlines about.
None of which is to excuse the Vatican. If it turns out that better oversight, organization and background checks could have prevented these scandals, Catholics should be the first to broadcast that finding, and hold those responsible accountable. Self-examination and moral purity should be constant demands for any believing Catholic. The faithful do the Holy See no favors when they remain silent about suspected corruption, or prudential errors from the highest quarters of the Church. Of course, even if the Vatican overhauls its entire system, with exacting and efficient standards, that won’t guarantee against additional scandals, since temptation and sin can never be eradicated from the human heart.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has acknowledged the need “for truth and clarity, for transparency” in investigating what happened. In his first public comments on the scandals, Pope Benedict was both humble and sensible, saying they “brought sadness” to his heart, while affirming his faith they would be overcome, and rebuking the “entirely gratuitous” speculation of the media which was presenting a “completely unrealistic image of the Holy See.”
Among those images is the idea that the Vatican is a nest of self-centered prelates, constantly bickering with one another, careening from one crisis to the next, as Pope Benedict–supposedly unable or unwilling to end the chaos—locks himself away in his private study, trying to escape from it all by writing books. “Never has the sense of disorientation in the Catholic Church reached these levels,” wrote one Italian academic dramatically in the Corriere della Sera, evidently unaware of far worse scandals in the history of the Church. Another professor, from Georgetown University, said of Benedict: “He’s a solitary scholar and he’s not interested in the bureaucracy. His real ambition seems to be to finish the third volume of his book” on Christ.
In the same story in which this comment appeared, the Reuters correspondent felt compelled to add that Benedict “has devoted considerable time in office to writing a major study entitled, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ rather than administering the Church.” (emphasis added).
Benedict, of course, is hardly incapable of multitasking, and has appointed a host of very impressive bishops (particularly in the U.S.), while also writing brilliant books for the faithful. His writings and speeches reveal him to be a deeply pastoral pope, not the remote and reactionary pontiff his detractors depict him as.
Fairness toward Benedict, however, is in short supply these days. Reuters ended its story with another hostile quote from a critic who called Benedict’s pontificate a “tin ear papacy,” adding. “This all seems to be a power game that matters only to the power players. It seems to be a Church hierarchy further distancing itself from people in the pews.”
That would come as surprising news to the one million strong believers who came to celebrate their faith with Benedict in Milan recently, in the immediate aftermath of the scandals, in a dynamic expression of solidarity.
Many believe Benedict’s papacy is going to have long-term and very positive consequences for the Church and our culture. Can one say the same about today’s mainstream media?