Vatican Mysteries. The Mutiny of the Chilean Bishops and the Pope's Self-censorship on Venezuela
The glitches, the silences, the inconsistencies of the Vatican communications media often reveal serious divisions at the highest levels of the hierarchy. This is what has happened in recent days, in at least two pressing cases.
One of these concerns Venezuela. Against the background of the disaster into which the country has plunged and in the run-up to the false elections for reconfirming in power the heir of Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, there erupted last week a revolt - which was harshly repressed - in the El Helicoide prison in Caracas, a place of detention and torture for political prisoners who crime is that of having opposed the regime.
At the news of the revolt the archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, and then the Venezuelan episcopal conference appealed “to the state, to its responsibility for the life and well-being of all persons imprisoned.” And at the Vatican, the secretariat of state judged it opportune for Pope Francis to speak out as well, at the end of the Regina Caeli on May 20, the Sunday of Pentecost.
In fact, here is the text of the appeal as provided for the journalists accredited to the Holy See one hour before the pope spoke, naturally under embargo until the moment when the text was spoken and with the obligation of comparing it with the words actually said:
“I would like to dedicate once again a special consideration to beloved Venezuela. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may all work to find just, effective, and peaceful solutions for the grave humanitarian, political, economic, and social crisis that is exhausting the population, and avoid the temptation of resorting to any kind of violence. I encourage the authorities of the country to guarantee respect for the life and well-being of every person, especially those who, like the imprisoned, are under their responsibility.”
But then, when he addressed the crowd present in Saint Peter’s Square, Francis did not read the text he was holding in his hands. He looked up and improvised these words:
“I would like to dedicate a special consideration to beloved Venezuela. I ask that the Holy Spirit give the whole Venezuelan people - all, leaders, people - the wisdom to find the path of peace and unity. I also pray for the prisoners who died yesterday.”
Very disappointing words for Venezuelans, precisely because they are so indulgent - like other times in the past - toward the regime of Maduro, for which the pope avoided any direct call to responsibility, which instead was explicit in the severe words that the secretariat of state provided and that he set aside.
The other case concerns Chile and the convocation in Rome of the 34 bishops of that country to answer before the pope for the sexual abuse committed for years by dozens of consecrated ministers against numerous victims, with the complicity of not a few bishops who in turn were publicly defended by other bishops, cardinals, and, until a few months ago, by Francis himself, before his U-turn, the in-depth investigation he had carried out in Chile, the 2400 pages of the accusatory report that came out of that investigation, his personal meeting in Rome to listen to three of the main victims, and, in short, his aligning himself with the “santo pueblo fiel de Dios” against the sins of the ecclesiastical apparatus.
The hearing in Rome, although it was carried out behind closed doors, was followed with dogged determination by the media all over the world and had its key moments in the 10-page “j’accuse” that Francis delivered to the Chilean bishops on May 15 and in the final decision of almost all of them to place their mandates back in the hands of the pope so that he could decide whether to confirm or remove each one.
There were 34 bishops in all, 3 of them emeritus, and 29 of them submitted a letter of resignation to the pope. Two of them thought they should not write, one because of his special ties to the armed forces of Chile, military ordinary and president of the episcopal conference Santiago Silva, and the other, Luigi Infanti della Mora, to Propaganda Fide, which is in charge of the apostolic vicariate of Aysén of which he is bishop. Among the three emeritus only one of them, Juan Luis Ysern, wrote a letter of resignation, for the sake of solidarity with his confreres, while the other two did not, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa.
So then, what is striking is that “L'Osservatore Romano” not only did not publish the text that Francis delivered to the Chilean bishops, nor the statement with which these virtually resigned, but it did not even provide news on the one or the other.
Over the span of seven days from May 12 to 19 the press office of the Holy See published, on the meetings between Francis and the Chilean bishops, only three meager bulletins.
The first and third were also reproduced - in shortened form - by “L'Osservatore Romano.” Not, however, the second, a very brief bulletin dated May 15 and the only one that gave news of “a text with a few issues on which to meditate” that Francis delivered to the bishops, without saying anything about the contents of that text.
As for the final statement with which the Chilean bishops surrendered their mandates to Francis, this was not covered by the press office and much less by “L'Osservatore Romano.”
Almost all of the worldwide media judged the “resignation” of the Chilean bishops as an act of pained but docile submission to the pope.
One exception to this, however, was a very special observer, Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who worked for years at Vatican Radio, has an excellent rapport with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and today is the director of a news and commentary website, “Il Sismografo,” which still gravitates in the Vatican orbit, in para-official guise.
After publishing in their entirety, on May 18, the ten pages of the “j’accuse” delivered three days earlier by the pope to the Chilean bishops, Badilla commented in no uncertain terms:
“This document blew apart a sort of nonsensical showdown that part of the Chilean episcopate, under the leadership of Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz and the Opus Dei bishop of San Bernardo, Juan Ignacio González [on the right in the photo by Daniel Ibañez/CNA, after the announcement of the resignations - editor’s note], were hoping for with an arrogant and aggressive attitude, as was seen in the various statements by the two prelates to the international media while they were in Rome.
“The majority of Chilean bishops arrived at the Vatican just as they had been behaving in Chile for a number of years: divided and organized into cliques, arrogant and puffed up with sentiments of superiority, convinced that they were more clever than everybody else, and above all convinced that they would get the better of the pope, whom they treated in public with great deference and respect but in private called an exaggerated and melodramatic person, like someone who is using this situation to blow it out of proportion and cover up other crises of his pontificate.”
The brief letter - made public by official Vatican sources - with which Francis took his leave of the Chilean bishops at the end of the encounter was instead judged by Badilla as resolute on the whole, but also “apparently” too “cautious and meek” and “according to some not up to the gravity of the question,” meaning “all the changes” that the pope himself says would have to be brought to completion “in the short, medium, and long term.”
They are comments and silences, these of Badilla and of “L'Osservatore Romano,” that lead one to think that Pope Francis was deeply dissatisfied with how the Chilean bishops concluded their stay in Rome, foisting onto him the burden of deciding about each one of them, in a sort of “mutiny.”
It is the word that only the vaticanista Franca Giansoldati set down in black and white, in the May 19 issue of the newspaper “Il Messaggero,” explaining it as follows:
“In a surprise move - for the first time in the history of the Church - an entire episcopate has announced its intention to resign en bloc, from the first bishop to the last, placing their mandates in the hands of the pontiff. It was in a certain way a slap in the face for Francis, almost as if it were a response to the unusual methods that he has used […] by convoking all of them in Rome, in a sort of lineup that risks delegitimizing, reflexively, the entire body of bishops, as if all 34 of them were conspirators, whitewashers, and liars. […] In the face of this the Chilean bishops stood up for themselves. Responsibilities are individual, not collective. So all of them gave up their positions ‘so that the pope may decide freely for each one.’ […] Certainly many Chilean bishops do not want to be taken as those who have covered up such grave crimes.”
On the evening of Tuesday, May 22, the Vatican press office gave word that Pope Francis will meet in Rome from June 1 to 3 with a new group of victims of sexual abuse in Chile, without ruling out other “similar initiatives in the future.”
In the ten pages of the “j’accuse” delivered on May 15 by Pope Francis to the bishops of Chile, two of the passages stand out.
The first is the one in which the pope states that he has set to work a “special commission” of investigation and analysis on the crisis of the Chilean Church:
“In this area, hearing the opinions of various persons and after noting the persistence of the wound, I have created a special commission so that, with freedom of spirit, in a juridical and technical way, it may offer a diagnosis as independent as possible, as well as a clear view on past events but above all on the state of the current situation.”
The second is in the 25th of the 27 notes that accompany the ten pages of the text.
In it, Francis cites three accusations from the final report of the “Misión especial” - made up of Maltese archbishop Charles Scicluna and Vatican official Jordi Bertomeu - that he sent to Chile in February to interview the victims of sexual abuse committed by consecrated ministers with the complicity and coverups of bishops and cardinals.
Here is the complete text of the note:
“Once again, in this sense, I would like to dwell on three situations that emerge from the report of the ‘Special Mission’:
“1. The investigation demonstrates that there are grave defects in the way of managing the cases of ‘delicta graviora’ that corroborate some disturbing information that began to become known in some Roman dicasteries. Above all in the way of receiving the complaints or ‘notitiae criminis,’ because in many cases they have been superficially classified as implausible, but were instead serious indications of an actual crime. In the course of the visit it was also noted that there were presumed crimes that had been investigated late or not at all, with the resulting scandal for the complainants and for all those who knew the presumed victims - families, friends, parish communities. In other cases, it was noted that there had been very grave negligence in the protection of vulnerable boys and girls, on the part of bishops and religious superiors, who have a special responsibility in the task of protecting the people of God.
“2. Other similar circumstances that caused perplexity and embarrassment for me was reading statements that attest to the pressure exerted on those who were supposed to carry out the evidentiary portion of the criminal proceeding, or the destruction of compromising documents by persons entrusted with the ecclesiastical archives, demonstrating in this way an absolute lack of respect for canonical procedure as well as the existence of reprehensible practices that should be avoided in the future.
“3. In the same direction and as confirmation that the problem does not belong to only one group of persons, in the case of many abusers it has been shown that there were already serious problems in the phase of their formation at the seminary or in the novitiate. In fact, the proceedings of the ‘Special Mission’ record serious accusations against some bishops or superiors who are believed to have entrusted these educational institutions to priests suspected of active homosexuality.”