Posted on March 1, 2013 by Angel Wings and Unicorns
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The commentary on the Pope’s resignation seems to be largely
ill-informed, naive or perhaps both. One newspaper’s online cover story
even featured a 12-second video of lightning striking St Peter’s in Rome
shortly after the Pope’s announcement. The point being …?
As more than 1000 years of well-documented history shows, in the salons of the Vatican, it is always about their infamous libido dominandi, their insatiable lust for power. Think The West Wing meets The Da Vinci Code meets The Borgias.
Where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is
secrecy and blackmail, power and survival, sex and rape, bribery and
murder — contrasted with brilliance, virtuosity, bravery, humanity and
love. What a story!
This is high human Machiavellian drama played out by sophisticated
princes (there are no princesses), pampered and refined in sumptuous
Baroque gem-encrusted costumery, gold-plated chalices, priceless art
collections and all the trappings of fabulous wealth. Canberra politics
seems to lack a certain lustre by comparison.
In modern history, since Mussolini gave Pope Pius XII the Vatican
(some buildings and gardens and even a stunning marble-encrusted private
railway station), it has operated as a sovereign state with its own
elected sovereign, its government, its laws, its famous Swiss army, its
infamous bank and its international diplomatic corps with which
Australia swaps residential diplomats.
The key insight, that few commentators seem to understand, is that
there are two separate and historically rival entities in the Vatican:
The Holy See and The Roman Curia. The Holy See is the office of the
Pope. The Roman Curia is the government ministries and the bureaucracy
which also controls the cash. Think of the deep rivalry between the
White House and Capitol Hill in The West Wing and you begin to get the idea.
If you connect the recent dots, there’s a power struggle going on (as
usual) between the Roman Curia and the Holy See. The Curia is led by
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who is backed by the Salesians (the fastest
growing order in the church and on an ascending path for consolidating
its power). Bertone is Secretary of State and also the Camerlengo which
means he controls the Curia and will run the church when the Pope
becomes too old or too ill to do his job. He would then, in effect, be
the de facto pope. Papal doctors could keep an ailing pope alive for ten
years which means that Bertone could run the church for a decade before
the pope finally dies and there is an election. This is a very tempting
and powerful proposition to an ambitious Roman prince. Bertone is the
Pope’s nemesis in the Vatican.
Pope Benedict (who as Cardinal Ratzinger himself ran the church when
pope John Paul II was too old) knows exactly what this means and has
been trying to thwart Bertone’s stalking grab for power. The recent Vatileaks episode was
evidence of all this. It was all about the Pope’s loyal butler trying
to stave off Bertone and trying to protect his master, but Bertone got
So we are left with an aging Pope, a virtual prisoner of The Holy
See, running out of personal protectors, who has only one move left to
keep The Holy See from the hands of Bertone and the Roman Curia. He can
put the future of the church back into the hands of the College of
Cardinals … by resigning! Checkmate.
“A clever, courageous, strategic and game-changing move from an old
and embattled man to protect his Chair of Peter from those who would
covet its power.”
Benedict has warned his Vatican nemesis of this for at least a couple
of years. Rome’s diplomatic corps was abuzz with this in 2010. Former
Australian ambassador to The Holy See, Tim Fischer, has referred to the
fact of rumours of resignation in his own recent commentaries.
Maybe Bertone and co thought the Pontiff was bluffing. Anyway, he’s
made his move. A clever, courageous, strategic and game-changing move
from an old and embattled man to protect his Chair of Peter from those
who would covet its power.
Everything now depends on the new pope. Bertone won’t get it but will
be trying to get “his man” elected. We can assume that Ratzinger will
be trying to get one of his men to succeed him. That’s where George Pell
of Australia might have a chance as he is one of the Pope’s loyal men.
But there are other powerful factions who now have a chance, too. Brazil
is one of the biggest Catholic countries, a rich and powerful country
with a growing economy and the site of the next Olympic Games. Africa or
Asia are also growth areas for the church. The Italians haven’t had a
pope for a while and Berlusconi can not only buy an election but he can
probably buy a papacy. It wouldn’t be the first time The Holy See has
been bought by a political leader.
Or, even an outlier. A “good” pope; in the tradition of a John XXIII.
Imagine if the cardinals elected a pope with an impeccable scandal-free
record in the handling of child r-pe. One who had the gravitas and the
vision to heal the church of its current crimes. This could capture the
imagination, not only of the “people of God”, but also of the entire
world which has watched this sordid episode in long-suffering dismay.
In this new game-change there will be lots of potential opportunities
and unexpected consequences. For example, after the election there will
be a big new problem: two popes.
This means the church is vulnerable to a split. For example, if
ultra-conservatives don’t like the new man (especially a “good pope”)
they can refuse to recognise him and say they still believe Benedict is
the real pope. And vice versa. This has happened many times before in
Forget The Bold and the Beautiful and stay tuned. It’s a fascinating and unfolding story urbi et orbi with something for everyone.
*Michael Hewitt-Gleeson is the founder and principal of the School of Thinking and has studied theology and Vatican affairs for 30 years
Thanks to: http://valerielenton.wordpress.com