A stormy Christmas, this year at the Vatican. Just when Pope Francis, in his Christmas greetings to the curia, was going after those he called “traitors” and “opportunists” - after having already “delicately” fired the former and threatened to fire the latter - he was hit with sensational new own goals. At least three of them.
The first own goal comes from Honduran cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, 75, archbishop of Tegucigalpa but much more famous abroad than at home, so highly favored by Francis that he made him coordinator of the “C9,” the council of nine cardinals who help the pope in the reform of the curia and in the governance of the universal Church.
The issue of “L'Espresso” that came out on newsstands Christmas Eve - but was posted online at the same time as the pope’s speech to the curia - has published under the byline of Emiliano Fittipaldi a very aggressive investigative report not only against the cardinal, accused of appropriating and squandering enormous sums, but also against his closest associate and friend, Tegucigalpa auxiliary bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, 57, a Claretian:
Maradiaga reacted by asserting that the sums indicated were available not to him personally but to the diocese, for the needs of the Honduran Church, and that the accusations now leveled against him are more than a year old and have already been contested in a legal action.
His reply appeared first on “Catholic New Agency” and then, in a more detailed form, in the Italian Catholic newspaper “Avvenire,” with the additional news - released by Vatican Radio - that “on December 26 the cardinal spoke by telephone with pope Francis, who expressed to him his displeasure ‘over all the evil they have done against you. But don’t you worry’”: > Rodríguez Maradiaga: "Falsità sui fondi". E il papa lo rincuora
In replying, however, the cardinal avoided coming to the defense of his auxiliary bishop, Pineda. On the contrary, he confirmed that an investigation on him was carried out by an apostolic visitor sent in by the pope, the Argentine Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto, 80, bishop emeritus of San Isidro.
The report of the apostolic visitor is now on the desk of Francis, who is believed to have commandeered all decisions for himself. The only measure taken so far has been that of sending Pineda to Madrid for a spiritual retreat with the Jesuits.
The investigation on the auxiliary and friend of Maradiaga concerned accusations both of embezzlement and unjustified use of huge sums, and of favors in money and kind for a circle of male friends of dubious morality, against a backdrop of corruption and sexual abuse, as brought to light by Edward Pentin in the "National Catholic Register": > Cardinal Maradiaga Denies Financial Allegations, But Questions Remain Unanswered
"I don't know the results of the apostolic visit," Maradiaga stated. "L'Espresso says half truths, that are in the end the worse lies."
“Half truths” that in any case cannot be reassuring for either the cardinal or the pope.
The second own goal has to do with Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta, appointed by Pope Francis on December 19 as assessor of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, APSA.
A surprising appointment, because at APSA the position of assessor did not exist and was invented for the occasion. But even more surprising because of the profile of the appointee.
Zanchetta, 53, made the news last July when out of the blue he abandoned the diocese of Orán, for which Pope Francis had destined him in 2013. He justified the desertion with an unspecified “health problem” for which, he said, he had to get urgent treatment elsewhere. And he established himself for a while in Corrientes, 500 miles away, only to turn up even farther away, in Madrid, apparently in good physical shape.
At the time of his desertion, promptly made official by the pope, the Argentine media described the disastrous state in which Zanchetta had left the diocese of Orán from an administrative perspective, on a par with what had happened in the diocese of which he was previously vicar, that of Quilmes. Moreover, news went around of his refusal, asserting his “status as bishop,” of a search of his vehicle by the police, who were looking for drugs.
This is the man to whom Francis has entrusted such an important role in the curia, in close contact with the president of APSA, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, who meets regularly with the pope and is a tenacious opponent of the drastic reorganization of the Vatican finances attempted without success by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the secretariat for the economy.
Now Cardinal Pell is on leave and has gone back to Australia, with his position in the curia remaining vacant. Also remaining empty is the key post of auditor general, after Libero Milone was brusquely removed from it on June 19.
If this is the state of affairs, Zanchetta’s appointment is doing nothing but increasing the confusion in which the much-vaunted reform of the Vatican curia finds itself.
But as if that were not enough, here comes the third own goal, centered on the nativity scene set up this year in Saint Peter’s Square (see photo).
There is neither ox nor ass, neither sheep nor shepherds. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary can be spotted with some effort, against the backdrop of a dome of Saint Peter’s in ruins. It is a nativity scene without grace and without poetry, the intention of which is rather to depict one by one the seven corporal works of mercy.
The offer of such a nativity scene to the pope was made by the abbey shrine of Montevergine, which stands on a mountain above Avellino, not far from Naples. At the governorate of Vatican City they say that the project, realized afterward by the Neapolitan artisan Antonio Cantone, was submitted beforehand to the judgment of the secretary of state and of Pope Francis, receiving their approval.
But even more enthusiastic was the approval of Arcigay of Naples and of its president, Antonello Sannino, who told the American journalist Diane Montagna of LifeSite News: "The presence of the Vatican Nativity Scene for us is a reason to be even happier this year,. For the homosexual and transsexual community in Naples, it is an important symbol of inclusion and integration."
The shrine of Montevergine, in fact, hosts an image of the Blessed Mother - reproduced in the nativity scene of Saint Peter’s Square - that was adopted some time ago as patroness by a vast LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual), which once a year, on February 2, the feast of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, popularly called “Candlemas,” makes a festive climb of the sanctuary by foot, called “juta dei femminielli,” the climb of the effeminates.
It is a “mix of the sacred and profane,” a sort of “ancestral gay pride,” Sannino explained. In 2002 the abbot of Montevergine at the time, Tarcisio Nazzaro, protested against the political spin being given to that the pilgrimage, which was joined this year by the transexual parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria.
But at the “Candlemas” of 2014 Luxuria appeared at the shrine reading a letter that he had written to Pope Francis in the name of the LGBT community.
In 2017 an LGBT group, again with Luxuria, met with new abbot Riccardo Luca Guariglia, who - they later reported - gave them his blessing in an “atmosphere of dialogue.”
The town of Ospedaletto d'Alpinolo, from which the climb to the shrine departs, this year gave honorary citizenship to a married couple of homosexuals, inaugurated for the “femminielli” a “no gender” bathroom and put up a sign at the entrance to the town saying: “Ospedaletto d'Alpinolo is against homotransphobia and gender violence.”
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Sannino should say he is convinced that a greater openness of the Church on the subject of homosexuality also depends on “how conscious” Vatican officials are of the connection between the nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Square and the LGBT community. "The Church is extremely slow in its transformations," he added. "But we hope that the Church will finally develop a real sense of openness in the wake of the pope’s words: ‘Who am I to judge?’”.
Meanwhile, in this Christmas season, pilgrims and tourists who have come to Rome from all over the world are looking with visible bewilderment at the nativity scene set up in the middle of Bernini’s colonnade, and especially its chiseled “nude” who seems to be longing after something other than being dressed mercifully.
Like every year, on the evening of December 31, after the “Te Deum” Pope Francis will also appear before the nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Square, although it is not known “how conscious” he will be of the mess he has gotten himself into. And the LGBT community will certainly be very attentive to scrutinizing and interpreting every one of his gestures and expressions.