Skip to comments.'Amateur hour': Vatican conclave drama is one for the history books, experts say
Posted on 02/26/2013 1:17:24 PM PST by Alex Murphy
A lame-duck pope. A secret dossier. Rumors of a gay cabal. A cardinal accused of "inappropriate" behavior.
The Vatican is in an uproar, and church scholars say there hasn't been this much drama surrounding a conclave since 1800, when Pope Pius VI died while being held prisoner by Napoleon.
One Vatican watcher says you have to go back to 1730 when Pope Benedict XIII's right-hand man fled Rome in disguise amid allegations of corruption to find a conclave buffeted by this much scandal.
"This is not a healthy situation for any kind of institution," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an expert on the Catholic Church at Georgetown University.
"It looks like amateur hour."
The conclave that will begin next month to choose Pope Benedict XVI's successor was always going to be an anomaly since it's been centuries since a sitting pontiff resigned.
The pope's historic Feb. 11 announcement has been overshadowed, however, by an extraordinary wave of revelations and accusations.
There were calls for cardinals accused of mishandling the sex-abuse crisis to abstain from voting. Then came a report that Britain's top cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien had been accused of bad behavior by priests, followed by his resignation on Monday.
Over the weekend, the Vatican had to deny an Italian newspaper report that Pope Benedict abdicated because an internal probe into the so-called Vatileaks mess had uncovered a network of gay priests who were being blackmailed.
Now comes the news that the pope will only let two people see the report on the document leaks himself and his successor despite calls for the Holy See to become more transparent.
Certainly, there have been other modern conclave controversies.
The 1903 frontrunner, Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, was vetoed by the emperor of Austria-Hungary, prompting a change in rules that allowed Catholic powers to knock down a candidate, said NBC News' Vatican expert, George Weigel.
The conclave of 1914 had cardinals from Germany and France refusing to speak to each other, and the conclave of 1939 was held against the backdrop of a world hurtling toward war.
But today's level of pre-conclave tension hasn't been seen since 1800, two years after French forces invaded Rome and carried off the pope, several experts said.
"You had a dire situation where Pope Pius VI died effectively still a prisoner of the French. The cardinals could not gather in Rome for the election and had to meet on an island off Venice," said Matthew Bunson, general editor of the Catholic Almanac.
James Weiss, a professor of church history at Boston College, sees the conclave of 1730 more analogous, because it was complicated by internal problems, not outside forces.
He said that when Pope Benedict XIII died after six years, his corrupt and powerful aide, Cardinal Niccolo Coscia, was run out of town amid allegations he looted Vatican coffers.
"The population of Rome attacked his palace and he disguised himself a washerwoman and escaped," Weiss said. Coscia managed to negotiate a return for the conclave, however.
The commotion around the upcoming conclave could have serious consequences.
The Vatileaks intrigue would appear to undermine the cardinals of the Roman Curia, the administrators of the Vatican, while the sex-scandal bombshells weaken the outsiders from dioceses around the world, Reese said.
The various crises underscore some of the Vatican's weaknesses: a lack of transparency and an allergy to change in a rapidly modernizing world with a 24-hour news cycle and exploding social media.
"This is chickens coming home to roost," Weiss said.
Church historians say the clouds hovering over the conclave show why the next pope, unlike Benedict and John Paul II before him, must make Vatican house-cleaning a priority from streamlining a web-like bureaucracy to standardizing archaic finances.
"It's always an issue when you have an institution that thinks in terms of centuries, to bring about reforms on a turn of a dime." Bunson said,
Bunson said he thinks those reforms are within reach with the right leader, but Weiss wondered if efforts to usher in a new era aren't already being undercut by the Vatican's announcement that the Vatileaks dossier will stay under wraps.
"That means the cardinals are going into the conclave blind, not knowing who among them may have stuffed their pockets or been part of gay sexual enclaves," he said.
Reese said moving up the date of the conclave which the pope announced Monday he would allow could also be antithetical to change because it gives the cardinals less time to consider outsider candidates.
"This is the most important thing these cardinals will ever do," he said. "Theres no reason to rush."
....The pope's historic Feb. 11 announcement has been overshadowed, however, by an extraordinary wave of revelations and accusations. There were calls for cardinals accused of mishandling the sex-abuse crisis to abstain from voting. Then came a report that Britain's top cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien had been accused of bad behavior by priests, followed by his resignation on Monday. Over the weekend, the Vatican had to deny an Italian newspaper report that Pope Benedict abdicated because an internal probe into the so-called Vatileaks mess had uncovered a network of gay priests who were being blackmailed. Now comes the news that the pope will only let two people see the report on the document leaks himself and his successor despite calls for the Holy See to become more transparent....
"...the cardinals are going into the conclave blind, not knowing who among them may have stuffed their pockets or been part of gay sexual enclaves"
I saw this article earlier. I thought it was overblown nonsense then too.
Gee, you’d never guess this article came from NBC, would you. /s
Reese is a radical leftist who was actually removed from the editorship of the Jesuits’ rag (”America”), so why anybody would consult him, I can’t imagine. Except that he is the MSM’s favorite “Catholic.”
BXVI was seriously undermined by people like him, and I think a lot of people realize this, even without the report. If there’s a housecleaning, it’s not going to favor people like Reese.
Supposedly, btw, Cardinal O’Brien (who was appointed by JPII, not by Benedict) was the result of an error. There were two Bishop O’Briens in Scotland (the other one being very orthodox) and JPII’s secretary, a Pole with a lot of consonants in his name, sent the notice to the wrong one.
Yes, there has been an obsession with all things Roman Catholic here for a long time.
Are other Christian churches secretive and full of palace intrigue and deep hidden historical mysteries and institutional concealment, I know that Mormonism is, and Scientology, but are there normal religions or Christian denominations that are like this?
Why is there a private face, and a public face, for church people?
All of you are welcome to the fullness of Jesus Christ’s Church.
LOL! Doe the words two-faced and duplicitous mean anything?
The only face is Jesus Christ’s face.
Only the ones with members who are sinners.
There. Fixed it.
All members of all churches are sinners, so it isn’t that, is there any other Christian denomination that is secretive, institutionally hidden from view, and that has a public face, and a private face?
Never saw such a DISGUSTING article at a time when the Church is going through a very major transition.
All of us are sinners in need of a savior and that is Jesus.
John 17, that ALL believers in Christ will be ONE.
is there any other Christian denomination that is secretive, institutionally hidden from view, and that has a public face, and a private face?
Yes: all of them. The technical term is "politics".
Former Anglican priest tells former Presbyterian reverend why “those deep in christian history...cease to be Protestant.”
I wasn’t being obtuse, your post just wasn’t very clear.
I’ve never noticed what you just claimed, regular churches seem open and non-mysterious, and without a walled off base somewhere that lives in secrecy and isolation, and which has it’s own private operations within the institution and it’s permanent leadership elites, and then a public face that it presents outside the walls.
I know that Mormonism does that, no one really knows what goes on with it’s Pope and the inner council of the holiest, and it has institutional secrecy and history, we know that there is a level of division between the deep, inner Mormon church, and regular Mormons and the public.