There’s an old saying I’ve heard on several occasions from friends in Europe that goes something like this: “Why is there so much faith to be found in Rome? Because everyone that goes to work there loses it.” Such a remark sums up a great fear that was doubtlessly on the minds of Church faithful everywhere during the conclave. Is the Roman Curia essentially a faithless place, driven solely by Vatican bureaucrats whose lives are no longer driven by a passion for the gospel and the work of the Church?
While Catholics and non-Catholics around the world spent countless hours staring at the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and then watching subsequent footage of our new Pope, I punctuated these actions by reading The Vatican Diaries, a recently released memoir by John Thavis, a longtime Vatican journalist for Catholic News Service. Thavis’ book isn’t so much a tell-all, as it is a series of personal reflections of his travels with John Paul II and Benedict XVI around the world and the characters he encountered along the way. The book, however, does provide some texture to the various scandals that have lingered in the media in recent years: the arrest of the Pope’s butler, the gay subculture that exists within the Vatican, the follies of Secretary of State Bertone, and a host of other very real problems that very need to be addressed.
There’s one name that is noticeably absent from the 300+ pages of Thavis’ book: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. We should be grateful that he’s absent from these accounts, as it confirms what we already know. He’s an outside man, not tied to the inner working of the Curia or any of its major players who at times seem more interested in sustaining an old boys network than in creating an environment of apostolic fraternity.
Francis offers us the hope of Church focused on the transformative power of the gospel message, as evidenced in his opening homily yesterday. In speaking to his brother bishops, he warned that “we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.” While these words serve as an indictment of the current state of affairs, it’s also a path forward for what ails the Curia and the Church, at large.