By Andrea Gagliarducci
25 May 2015
Pope Francis’ opening address to the Italian Bishops Conference’s general assembly showed the spirit of the real Pope Francis. The Pope condensed his views about the Church into two pages of text that he personally wrote. His view is of a non-clerical Church, capable of educating lay people, with priests and bishops who act as shepherds, not managers. He always says the same things, but it is significant that he stated this in front of the Italian Bishops, thought to be a particular target of his. And the way the assembly carried on afterwards perhaps reveals who Pope Francis’ real enemies are. In the end it is but one enemy: ecclesiastical careerism.
To be clear, careerism is not a problem exclusive to Pope Francis’ pontificate. Benedict XVI addressed the issue in one of his first his first ordination of priests as Pope and returned to it many times. In 2009 he spoke about careerism in the homily for a Mass of consecration of five new bishops, among them the current Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Even John Paul II had to cope with careerist trends, as did Paul VI, and as John Paul I would have done had he lived long enough.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable that careerism from two different groups flourishes right under the gaze of Pope Francis, who from the start claimed he wanted to move the Church beyond it – as his two consistories for the creation of cardinals may show. One group consists in those prelates who had influence prior to the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but who then felt marginalized by him. The second is found in those who are directly linked to Pope Francis’ new course, but who are unable to see that his course has changed somewhat over the past couple of years.
Remarkably, these two groups of careerists are somewhat connected. The Pope who came “from the end of the world” was not particularly confident in the Roman Curia, and was informed about it by some of his closest collaborators – men like Msgr. Fabian Pedacchio, who serves both in the Congregation for Bishops and as the Pope’s private secretary – and from newspapers. He also trusted some of the old curial hands, many of whom, as Vatican diplomats, were marginalized under Benedict XVI because his pontificate was founded on the notions of truth and communion. This is the reason that at the beginning of Francis’ pontificate diplomats had huge influence. The old Curia of John Paul II, led by the powerful Cardinal Angelo Sodano, became influential once again, a fact signaled by the appointment of Beniamino Stella, a former nuncio, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; the very quick rise of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, another former nuncio, who was supposed to end his career as Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops, but who suddenly was named General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops; and the old-school diplomat Pietro Parolin, who was picked as Secretary of State.