Vatican Intrigue: Imagine This In Paperback!

I suspect many of my readers would pick up a paperback if the back jacket had this as a plot. I need to state the following are the actual underpinnings of a Vatican trial starting this week.

A cardinal who allegedly induced an underling to lie to prosecutors. Brokers and lawyers who pulled a fast one over the Vatican No. 2 to get him to approve a disastrous real estate deal. A self-styled intelligence analyst who bought Prada and Louis Vuitton items with the Vatican money that she was supposed to send to rebels holding a Catholic nun hostage.

Vatican prosecutors have alleged a jaw-dropping series of scandals in the biggest criminal trial in the Vatican’s modern history. The once-powerful cardinal and nine other people are accused of bleeding the Holy See of tens of millions of dollars in donations through bad investments, deals with shady money managers and apparent favors to friends and family.

But the prosecutors’ case also suggests that Pope Francis and his top lieutenants were not only aware of some of the key transactions, but in some cases explicitly authorized them, even without full documentation or understanding the details.

When it comes to intrigue and crimes the Vatican has always been a source of plots and strange characters making deals and mayhem. This trial is but the latest public example of that fact.

Pope Francis Takes Step With Gay Rights, Akin To Bill Clinton

It is clearly a sign of either how much weighty news or bombastic rhetoric is created each day when the words of Pope Francis expressing support for same-sex civil unions is not the event that would create continuing top-of-the-fold conversations. While following the news of a pope creating a major and truly significant break from his predecessors regarding gay people, a correct position for religion, and all of society, I was aware of just how hard it is to steer headlines away from the chaos of this year. That, in and of itself, is a story we need to ponder.

But the words from Francis are powerful and very important. He made a public statement that the world-wide church needed to hear. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Francis said in the documentary, “Francesco”.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

As a gay man, but not a Catholic, I have a range of feelings about the pope’s words. While many in the world have moved far beyond civil unions for gay people to the socially responsible and correct legal construction of gay marriage there is still much work to be done for allowing freedoms with sexual identity. In regions of the world where bigotry still has a grip and the Catholic hierarchy is less tolerant of homosexuality, this message was most important to be planted by a pope.

Words matter, as I often note on this blog when talking about leadership. I have long approved of the tone and focus of Francis, knowing the Vatican requires more light and less dogma. But it also needs to be stated that until church doctrine is changed the words of a pope will not alter the harm that is done to gay members of that faith.

Traditional Catholics are wedded to the idea a smaller church that holds to never-changing doctrine is better than a larger church that wishes to adapt to a modern world. As a person of faith, I can grasp the over-arching argument traditionalists hold, but know the best path taken comes down to applying Jesus’ teachings in our lives.

I view the opposition to bigotry as more powerful and uplifting than the harsh restraints and words of damnation. I am inspired by those in religious callings who speak about income disparity, racism, or poverty, as this pope has done continuously. The old and worn-out tropes about contraceptives, abortion (and gasp!) homosexuality are not connecting to younger people who do not live in the cloistered world–and have no desire to do so.

I thought of President Bill Clinton this week when this news of Pope Francis was reported. In the 1992 presidential campaign, he spoke about the need to not dismiss or undermine gay people in our military. From his promise the Clinton administration moved to enact ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. It was not a President Truman type moment regarding the military, but it was a start. From there larger steps were taken as the years progressed. That is how governments and large institutional changes begin and evolve.

With a first step.

When tolerance is too often threatened and marginalized in the world there is really only one way to greet the words of Pope Francis. With a smile and two-thumbs up.

Now step two……

Here We Go Again, Vatican Spits In Face Of Science

Here we go again.  The Vatican and science are at odds – this time over gender.

The Vatican office that lays down the official line for Roman Catholic educational institutions released a new document Monday that dismisses the scientifically accepted idea that gender identity is fluid as “nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants.”

Calling the current thinking an attempt to “annihilate the concept of ‘nature,’” the Congregation for Catholic Education insisted that biology decides what is “constitutive of human identity” and called for the reaffirming of “the metaphysical roots of sexual difference.” The 31-page document was released as LGBTQ people around the world are celebrating pride month.

The Vatican has not lost its zeal to fly in the face of science.   Let us recall another bruising example of how afar adrift from logic the Catholic Church has been.

The Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei was trialed and convicted in 1633 for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Oh NO!!

His research was instantly criticized by the Catholic Church for going against the established scripture that places Earth and not the Sun at the center of the universe. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his heliocentric views and was required to “abjure, curse and detest” his opinions. He was sentenced to house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life and his offending texts were banned.


Do Catholic Parishioners Ever Ask For A Refund? (And Why The Hell Not?)

This is rich.


It was reported today that a West Virginia bishop spent millions on himself and sent cash to cardinals and young priests before his ouster.  This comes from a Vatican report…can you image how bad it really was to warrant the truth?

In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, Bishop Michael Bransfield gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating, and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.

During his 13 years in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, that included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to a report prepared for the Vatican. Bransfield or his subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, the report said.

“Bishop Bransfield adopted an extravagant and lavish lifestyle that was in stark contrast to the faithful he served and was for his own personal benefit,” they wrote in the final report.

McDonalds May Sell Burgers Next To The Vatican

Plans to open a McDonald’s next to the Vatican has caused outrage among cardinals–several of the Princes of the Church- reside above the 6,000 square foot site owned by the church.

The fast-food chain wants to open a restaurant in a piazza to the right of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome which based on news reports would bring in 30,000 Euros (£27,000) a month in the proposed deal.  That would help settle some of the outstanding legal bills owed by the church for pedophile priests.

But the Princes are not going quietly into the night about this matter.  One angry cardinal has reportedly written a letter to Pope Francis urging him to intervene.

Being one always interested in compromise I suggest placing a finger of a saint on the wall of the fast-food business with a plaque reading ‘Just be thankful this was not found in your fries.”

By adding some humor and a few new items like deep-fried wafers I see this being a win-win for all parties involved.

Pope Francis Makes Progressive Choices For New Cardinals

Modernity is a good thing.  Especially in the Vatican.

Pope Francis has put his progressive stamp on the American Catholic church with the selection of three new like-minded cardinals – including one who has sparred with the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Mike Pence – in a clear rejection of bishops who have advocated for the church’s exclusion of divorced and LGBT Catholics.

The American choices were among 17 new cardinals named by Francis. He has chosen more from the developing world and only one from Italy, reflecting his desire to decentralise power away from the Vatican in Rome.

In choosing these new cardinals – the “princes of the church” who serve as the pope’s primary advisers – Francis has made it more likely that his successor will be a moderate or progressive. It also partially balances out the influence of the cardinals chosen by his far more conservative predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“The picks show Francis wants the church in America to be more focused on issues like immigration, the role of women in the church and the need to bypass traditional centres of power in order to find leaders who smell of the sheep, as the pope has put it,” wrote Michael O’Loughlin, a journalist for America Magazine, a Catholic publication.


Talking With Frank Shakespeare, Former Head Of CBS

I had another wonderful talk today with Frank Shakespeare, the former head of CBS and former Vatican Ambassador under President Reagan.  (With all humility I swear to God our front lawn has the best conversations in this neighborhood.)  Anyone who once knew Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Richard Nixon is always welcome at our home! My James and Fredricka, Frank’s daughter, created lots of smiles and laugher to add to the wonderful afternoon.

Frank’s deep and abiding love for our nation, his wonderment over how the television era–in which he played a large part–changed and shaped politics and the flow of information is ever present in his conversations. His sincerely held religious foundation along with the joy of living each day makes him the perfect person to enjoy a summer afternoon with in Madison.

Frank enjoys coffee and it was a hoot when I brought out a mug (today it was Blueberry Crumble) with some milk and sugar in it per the request, and he raised his cup and clinked with my mug.   His mild manner contrasts sharply to the larger-than-life personalities he interacted with.  “They did not awe me, they put their pants on like any other man.”

May there be many more such encounters with Frank as we sit in the Blue Adirondack chairs overlooking Lake Monona.


Vatican Conspiracy Over Third Secret Of Fatima, Papal Mystery Over Dual Popes

What better way to start blogging on a Sunday than to offer up a modern-day Vatican conspiracy.  When it comes to political intrigue the secrets within the Vatican can not be out done.

So far, most of the media attention has been focused on the three Fatima “secrets” that the Catholic Church believes were vouchsafed by the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in Portuguese town of Fatima in 1917.

Two of the prophecies were published back in the in the 1940s but the Third Secret – supposedly too dangerous to reveal – remained sealed in the Vatican archives.

That silence naturally inflamed the religious imaginations of true believers in the secret prophecy.

So to calm the fevers, Saint John Paul II ordered the Third Secret published in full in 2000. He also had his top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issue an accompanying explanation of the prophecy’s graphic descriptions of persecution and murdered popes and bishops.

But conspiracy theories die hard. And this year, shortly after the May 13 feast of Our Lady of Fatima, a traditionalist blog published claims that Ratzinger – who was elected Benedict XVI after John Paul died in 2005 – told a friend that there was more in the secret than had been published.

The blog also suggested that the hidden bits were dark predictions about the current papacy of Pope Francis and the turmoil, and even heresies, that some conservatives believe Francis has encouraged.

The charges were so explosive that the Vatican press office on May 21 issued a forceful denial directly quoting the frail, 89-year-old former pope. Benedict called the reports “pure inventions, absolutely untrue” and confirmed that “the publication of the Third Secret of Fatima is complete.”

Of course, not all Fatima devotees were convinced, and some argued that the denial was just part of the conspiracy – and so it goes.

And then there is this nugget.

But just as the Fatima story was making headlines, Benedict’s longtime personal aide, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, delivered a surprisingly candid speech that reignited the equally potent issue of whether there are two popes or one, or whether the papacy itself has been redefined.