Is the “Vatican’s” government a “train wreck”?

There is a slow seismic tremor running very deep, but it is discernible.

For example, some in the UK are saying that the Bishops meetings there ought to be live-streamed so that the Catholic people know what is going on.  People far and wide want clarity in teaching and a Catholic voice in the public square.  Many Catholic lay people I know are rethinking how best to direct their contributions of money to the Church.

Is there a growing desire for greater accountability?

Just some thoughts before leading you to this article in USAToday:

Vatican government is a ‘train wreck’: Experts

If you are waiting for the Vatican to make clear, immediate and transparent responses to the ongoing global sexual abuse crisis … well, don’t hold your breath, two Vatican experts said Monday at a media seminar. [It is hard to know what that “global response” might look like, given that laws and social conditions are so different in different parts of the world.  This is, however, the standard way now to begin any article about the Church.  Cliche.  Beyond the cliche, however, there follow some good points which I can corroborate.]

Neither can you expect anything to come from the 30 minutes or so that the world’s cardinals will address this topic, among five topics on their agenda at their business meeting in Rome on Friday.

The frankly grim visions of Vatican structure and function — in crisis moments and daily governance of a church of 1.2 billion people — came from George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and author of numerous books on the Church and John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter Vatican specialist for 15 years and a biographer of Pope Benedict XVI.

They agreed there is, essentially, no media strategy, no war room, no one with a handle on reforming communications or, worse, reforming the governing structure itself. [This indeed seems to be the case.]

They spoke to reporters and columnists at this week’s Faith Angle conference sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center on how the media has covered the 2002 explosion of the abuse crisis in the USA and the Spring 2010 sweep of the crisis across Europe.

Vatican officials, Weigel said, “can appear to be dissembling or disinterested when there is no well-formed intent to deceive, they just don’t know what’s going on,” said Weigel. And their default position — no story is a good story — “is completely dumb.”

He bluntly reminded the media that the pope is not a monarch, the bishops are not “branch managers,” that he can appoint them but, realistically, he can’t dump them for incompetence or malfeasance. [Well… I think he can.   But practically speaking it would be difficult.]

The Vatican’s internal system of information is so antiquated [As I have said on many occasions, in the Vatican they update their equipment every 75 years, whether it needs it or not.] that Pope Benedict XVI was blindsided by the failure of his staff to discover the common knowledge on the Internet that the renegade prelate he wanted to reel back into the church, Bishop Richard Williamson, was “a world class lunatic,” said Weigel.”

Weigel’s answers: “The Vatican communications debacle has to end” and the Church must find away to dump bad bishops, which he called …the single biggest management problem in the church today… and the single biggest fix that can affect the life of the Church. [What remains, however, is just why a bishop might be a “bad bishop”.]

Allen echoed Weigel’s’ points and added the obvious problem of the culture gap between the Americans and the Italian-dominated Vatican. Americans expect leaders to pounce on problems, “act and act now” but the Vatican culture is one of ruminating, often for years, simmering and studying and, in some corners of the curia (the church government in Rome) fretting about conspiracies. [The old phrase is “Cunctando regitur mundus”.]

Allen walked through the most controversial cases Benedict had a hand in when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and confronting the abuse crisis. The argument by supporters of Benedict is that he was the reformer who read every vile case of clerical abuse of a minor and kick started the church’s response, finally, between 2001 and 2003.

But, says Allen,

If you want to say Benedict is the reformer, you have to explain the opposition he faced in the Vatican, what he did to overcome other officials and what those others did wrong. They have no way in their culture, no vocabulary, for saying anything critical about each other.

This governance mess is why a great teaching pope’s legacy — brilliant speeches, letters and books — could be lost in coverage of the schoolhouse on fire, he said. Allen concluded,

The papacy is adrift and has been for a long time…(It is) a papacy defined by its train wrecks.

Allen quoted a favorite Italian newspaper headline printed after the Vatican took 19 days to debunk a false rumor: “The Vatican denies everything. No one believes it.”

Thus the irony. When Ratzinger was elected pope, some in the media, including USA TODAY revived the image of him as John Paul II’s enforcer, as the Rottweiler. Said Weigel:

It turns out he’s not a Rottweiler after all. People thought he would dramatically reform the Roman curia and that turns out to be an inadequate expectation. I think he thought he would die soon, so he would focus on what he knew best and leave the institutional rebuilding to the next guy.

And when that day comes, Weigel and Allen agreed, expect a long, long conclave as the cardinals look among themselves for someone with a demonstrated track record of managerial talent in the Vatican swamp.

While Benedict seems likely to be pope for years to come, what qualities would you want to see in his successor? Does the Church need a theologian with a CEO set of skills?

Thought provoking article.


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  1. Prof. Basto says:

    Actually, more than thought provoking, I find the article to be yet another attempt on the part of liberals to take a shot at the current Pontificate. First, Wiegel mentions Williamson, and thus reopens criticism not exactly of Williamson himself, but of Benedict XVI’s desire to “to reel [him] back into the church”. The not-so-informed readers might confuse this reeling back into the Church of a “world class lunatic” with the whole project of SSPX reconciliation, and ask, “why the hell is Pope Benedict trying to get those lunatics back”. So, you see, the criticism of the Williamson affair is just a way to say that the pope was wrong in granting the remission of the excommunication he granted. The Pope took no individual action regarding Williamson, he took action regarding the SSPX four that were consacrated and punished in 1988. The remission of the excommunication is what Wiegel really seems to believe that should have been stopped.

    Then, in the last paragraph of the article, there is an attempt to start a discussion on the qualities that the successor of the living Roman Pontiff should have. All this while the current Roman Pontiff is happily reigning. Every Catholic knows, or ought to know, that it is of bad taste to discuss the succession of the living Pope, even if he were ill, which Benedict XVI is not.

    Also, one has to ask, if the election is done by the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church in secret and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, why should the laity be asked to ponder the qualities profile that should be required of the next Roman Pontiff? Is this an attempt to influence from outside a future papal election?

    Now, on other points touched by the article… the allegation that the pope is not a monarch, as if this was something obvious. Of course he is a monarch. Then the question of removing “bad bishops”. Of course he can remove them. Bishops have been deposed from their sees in the past. Surely the journalists interviewed know that, right. Of course, those bishops would still be invested with the Sacramental character. And also, it would require a very grave act, coupled with a refusal to resign when asked to, to trigger an act of deposition.

    But of course the pope should ask bad bishops, such as liberal bishops, to resign their sees early. Let they live in blessed and glorious retirement.

    The article then returns to the mode of universal criticism of the papacy (without question, criticism directed specifically against the present papacy of Benedict XVI, although this is implicit) . Allen says that the papacy is “adrift and has been for a long time…(It is) a papacy defined by its train wrecks”. Surely he is referring to the facts of Benedict XVI’s pontificate that caused a media crisis.

    And by saying that it is a papacy defined by its “train wrecks”, he says that the current pontificate is a failiure. Well, I beg leave to disagree. It is the Papacy that is fighting secularism more vigorously since the Second Vatican Council; it is the Papacy of Summorum Pontificum, that opened for every priest once again the possibility of praying the TLM and the other liturgical actions in the usus antiquor; it is the first papacy since the Council to have indicated a clear interpreative key that should be used to read the Council documents and that should be used to discern the correct attitude that should have presided, and must preside, the post-conciliar period: the hermeneutic of continuity; it is a Papacy that is attempting to restore liturgical decorum; it is a Papacy of courage, that is discussing with the SSPX the delicate subjects related to the reconciliation of the conciliar magisterium with preconciliar teaching, it is the Papacy of Christian Unity, that is transforming the generic “Ecumenism” drive into a true call to conversion to the one Church; it is the Papacy of Anglicanorum coetibus, etc. It is not a Papacy defined by train wrecks.

  2. Mark01 says:

    But Father, but Father,
    What can we do? How can we let our voices be heard on matters on Church governance on this level? I would really like to know. I agree, the Church needs better management in the upper levels and the government structure needs to be streamlined and clarified, but how can I, a layperson here in the US, make it known that these are the sorts of things we want? Who will listen? And if they can’t criticize eachother, how will change ever come about? I suppose I’ll just keep praying for the health of the Church and let the Holy Spirit do the work for me. Any suggestions on how we can have our voices heard on matters like this that seem so far out of our reach?

  3. dcs says:

    [Weigel] bluntly reminded the media that the pope is not a monarch

    What a curious statement of Weigel’s.

  4. Andrew says:

    Prof. Basto:
    I completely agree with your take on this. I might add that in my opinion Weigel has a very “regional” understanding of Catholicism. To me, he is a small “r” roman catholic. I have no patience for him.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Weigel has made other odd comments lately, which shows that his choice of language is not what it should be for the global news agencies and Internet.

    While I agree that the Vatican and Bishops’ conferences across the globe must be more transparent and even public, I disagree with the “branch manager” or CEO idea. The Church is not controlled by human management, but by the Holy Spirit. What is needed are saints at the top level. There is nothing like personal holiness to set priorities straight.

  6. Titus says:

    Does the Church need a theologian with a CEO set of skills?

    Of course, the Church needs both. The Holy Spirit will make sure he’s right, but it won’t make sure he’s effective.

    And when Weigel says “the pope is not a monarch,” I think it’s rather clear that he’s saying the pope is not, at least functionally, an autocrat. His Holiness may hold supreme judicial, legislative, and executive authority in the Church, and possess the power to administer all ecclesiastical property personally and immediately. But it would be foolhardy to say that the pope could, in the ordinary course of business, exercise these powers. Part of the reason he can’t is because of what the article points out—the internal administrative structures are so deficient that they hinder the pope’s ability to acquire information necessary for decision making. But even if he had perfect information, the responsibilities of his vicarage, together with the dignities of his fellow bishops and the mere practical limitations of human action, make it impossible for the pope to administer the entire church by personal fiat. Weigel may not speak with theological precision, but he is easily the most faithful member of the Church prominent in the mainstream media, and he deserves the benefit of doubt.

  7. dans0622 says:

    Wasn’t the Curia just reformed/restructured in 1988 with “Pastor bonus”? Maybe I am just in a sour mood but I found the article to be useless: a lot of criticism with no practical advice. It’s like the article and those quoted in it take a picture of a burning building and then send it to me and say “Do something about this burning building.” Shouldn’t these “Vatican experts” have some ideas on how to improve things? So, there are “bad bishops.” Who are they? Why? Who should take their place? “The papacy has been adrift for a long time.” What does that even mean? Why is so? An Italian newspaper says “The Vatican denies everything. No one believes it.” Where can we go from there? Anything the Vatican does, then, is an exercise in futility.

  8. papaefidelis says:

    While there is little in the article that is not absolutely true, there is little that is useful or not sensational. How long did the Vatican deny that JPII had any health problems whatsoever when he so obviously and clearly did? The old saying comes to mind (pardon my paraphrase): “The pope is in excellent health until he is dead”. In that regard, the Holy See is operating on an outmoded mentality. As I have never worked for the Holy See, I cannot speak of how well things are coordinated nor how well different dicasteries are informed of the work of the others; that is the job of the Secretariat of State. But having worked in academia for many years, I can say that no one knows what any one else is doing unless informed by rumor; if one does not plug into the rumor mill, you will be completely ignorant of what is going on since official sources are slow and incomplete.

  9. Jacob says:

    Practical Advice
    1. Break up State. It’s become a personal fiefdom that in the wrong hands can easily make mischief for other dicasteries (nuncios and their ternas, foreign policy trumping the Faith, the Secretary of State as Vatican PM issuing statements on various matters that eventually have to be contradicted by the Press Office, etc.).

    2. Find someone who is of the Faith and has more than half a clue of what is going on with the information revolution and give him free reign to revamp the Press Office and the other media organs in Rome.

    Get those two things done and you’re already halfway home.

  10. Supertradmum says:


    Ill health does not mean one cannot function. Also, it is not the duty of a State, which the Vatican is, to share intimate details of the leader’s health-in this case the Pope’s health. I find you comment lacking in understanding how good leadership demands a sacrifice beyond what most of us would do and also, an inspiring of confidence to the masses. If the Vatican had said “The Pope is ill”, the voices clamoring for his disposal, a la retirement, would have been louder and longer. Popes do not retire. They are healthy until they die.

  11. PghCath says:

    Along with most people who read this blog, I hardly view the current pontificate as a train wreck. The problem is, many marginal Catholics do. The Holy Father has dealt vigorously with abuse in the Church and has replaced many ineffective administrators with new faces – often from outside Italy. If you get your Church news from the mainstream media, however, you don’t know any of this. The tragedy isn’t that the Vatican is “adrift”; it’s that most of its triumphs go unnoticed.

    I think our Roman church needs an American-style PR machine. I’m tired of seeing people from SNAP being interviewed in front of St. Peter’s on the nightly news followed by a “no comment” from the Vatican. While the mainstream media is usually biased against the Church, it can’t present both sides of a story if one side doesn’t show up. The K of C just bought the Vatican some great new HD cameras. . . maybe it could also send some American journalists to Rome to go with them.

    One more point: Supertradmum, I have to disagree with you on the handling of John Paul II’s illness. Rather than simply ignoring it, the Church could have explained the nature of Papal service, Christian sacrifice, the worth of the elderly, etc. To the outsider who doesn’t know that “Popes do not retire,” denying the obvious made the Church look inept and dishonest. At worst, it may have looked like some insidious curial plot a la Dan Brown. A little honesty could have cleared things up and served as a teaching moment.

    Of course, perhaps His Holiness didn’t want his illness discussed. The point remains that we can do a better job of explaining our reasons to the world. For example, we should explain over and over that there is a reason for clerical celibacy. Many uninformed people think that the Church hews to tradition for tradition’s sake. They don’t know that we have reasons to support these traditions. They can (and will) disagree with our reasons, but we must nonetheless make it clear that there is a logic to what we do.

    Silence may be acceptable to people who already know, love, and trust the Church, but it won’t win us any converts.

  12. Daniel Latinus says:

    The Vatican needs a modern Public Relations department. While it may be nice the Vatican isn’t engaging in the propagandistic excesses of modern PR, the lack of competent and timely response to developing situations is harming the Church, the Church’s leaders, and not incidentally, the Church’s mission.

    As for the Williamson affair, I was rather shocked that those involved with the situation were unaware of Bp. Williamson’s reputation. I’d have thought somebody at PCED had the job of monitoring the SSPX, and would have been assembling a dossier on the bishops Abp. Lefebvre consecrated, as well as on other leading figures in the SSPX. Certainly it would not have been hard, or that expensive, to get subscriptions to the more important traditionalist publications, or to check official websites, and perhaps have the FSSP and Catholic dioceses forward information of interest.

    The Vatican’s failure on this also calls into question one of the reasons given for the Vatican’s diplomatic service. If Rome can’t keep tabs on an important dissident group it hopes to reconcile, how can Rome hope to keep tabs on political situations in which Vatican diplomacy may be called upon for assistance?

    As for the Pope’s health, well I can see it both ways. Respecting the Pope’s privacy and protecting his office are important. But when the Holy Father is seen with an uncontrollable shake, or always appears to be in a state of extreme exhaustion, some explanation is needed, even if only to reassure the faithful that the Holy Father is not at death’s door, he is still mentally competent, and even to ask for the faithful to pray for the Pontiff. (In this instance, having a competent Curia would be reassuring, so that even if the Pope were seriously indisposed, the Church’s administrative functions would continue.)

    Finally, I would expect the Cardinals to also try to be aware of each other, and issues in Rome. May God grant us our present Holy Fathers for many years, but the Cardinals should be ready to elect a successor as soon as the need arises.

  13. skellmeyer says:

    “They have no way in their culture, no vocabulary, for saying anything critical about each other.”

    Well, that’s been the problem for a long time, no? And not just in the Vatican. If I were to say that neither George Weigel nor John Allen are reliable or trustworthy commentators on Vatican affairs, many people, including the inestimable Fr. Z, would be wroth about that characterization, no matter how true it is.

    Both Weigel and Allen benefit from their inside connections to Vatican officials, both can give surface interpretations of events and relationships that appear ‘deep’ to the outsider, but neither actually understands what it means to be Catholic, hence we get mutterings (not the first time) like the above insane burble from Weigel about the Pope not being a monarch.

    If Pelosi or Biden had uttered such a foolishness, everyone here would be yowling about their ignorance, but from Weigel or Allen such objectively idiotic statements are quietly passed over because we “have no way in [our] culture, no vocabulary, for saying anything critical about each other.” The whole willingness to call out “fools, blind guides, hypocrites”, the entire Scriptural vocabulary of criticism so beloved of the Fathers and Doctors (e.g., St. Jerome, St. Augustine, etc.), seems to have gotten lost and woe to anyone who mentions it!

    So, before we critique the Vatican for their backward ways, perhaps we should be looking for mislaid pieces of lumber lounging about in various bodily orifices closer to home?

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    “the pope is not a monarch”

    Since when?

  15. Penta says:

    Prof. Basto, I hate to say it, but I believe you may be missing the point.

    Weigel and Allen are speaking to a secular newspaper. They’re not mentioning what you mention because it isn’t relevant, nor would it even be understood, by most of that newspaper’s readers. What you’re referring to, unfortunately, is what Americans call “inside baseball”. By which I mean this:

    Insiders and folks who’re really interested, like perhaps most readers of this blog, might be interested in what you pioint out. They may not agree, but they’ll grasp your point. The average reader, however, would have no idea in the slightest of what you mean – and because the average reader is either not Catholic or was-but-now-is-not Catholic, they would not care. Classic “inside baseball”.

    The article posted was no place to adequately introduce those topics from any perspective. It presumes you know about them, at least enough to get the quotees’ points.

    And taken strictly from a secular perspective? This article has good points. It’s not in bad taste at all – no more than bugging your older relatives to go to a lawyer and get a will drawn up is a bad thing. We all know Benedict XVI will die. That is certain. Given his current age, that death could happen at any time. Acknowledging those facts, accepting those facts, preparing for those facts, even in public, is not in “poor taste” when you speak about someone with the Pope’s influence (whether spiritual influence or secular influence). For many of the readers of USA Today (business/government travelers, to be honest – folks in hotels), they would be remiss not to consider virtual certainties like a Papal death and how that might effect things.

    Getting to the article:

    I find myself sympathetic to Weigel’s and Allen’s points. If the next conclave is anywhere near as short as the last, I will likely be forced to conclude the Cardinals were not taking their responsibilities seriously. IMHO, the next Conclave should last a week from when the doors close the first time. Minimum. 168 hours. No less. No matter your opinions on Church matters, I think we can all agree that there is a lot to discuss. Will the Cardinals be discussing things before the Conclave? Yes, I hope they would. But a Conclave, I suspect, brings issues into starker relief than any non-Conclave discussions could.

    From a secular perspective, has this Papacy been much besides careening from train wreck to train wreck?

    Honestly, from a secular perspective, no. And that’s not the media’s fault. If the Pope had had his speech in Regensburg at least looked at by someone prepared and able to tell him “Do not go out there until you edit these lines, or you will cause all hell to break loose, because those will be 30 seconds taken completely out of context by every media outlet on the planet”, he would have avoided an own goal – I know and you know what he said was not meant to be read the way it was, but I know and you know that it didn’t take a genius to foresee that almost nobody, even people who should know better, would ever read the whole speech, and that the lines about Mohammed would read very very badly when cued for media. If Msgr. Ganswein or others had pulled up a laptop and done a Google on each of those due for the remission of excommunication, does that mean that the remissions would not go ahead? No! But if they had done their jobs and provided the Holy Father with all the information, not just what was most conveniently available, you could at least have delayed it long enough to lay the groundwork in the world, and it wouldn’t have been nearly the humiliating mess it was.

    (If you’re nearing tl;dr, this is a good point to stop, the rest of this is ideas on how to deal with the situation the Holy See finds itself in.)

    Part of this is honestly a matter of matching reality to expectations, or at least trying to lower expectations to meet reality.

    The Holy See is seen as large, yes. Complex, yes. But it is also seen as powerful.

    It has to step up its game, hence, in many ways. How? I’ll go point by point, numbering them to be helpful.

    1. There are no excuses for the Holy Father not to have a world-class media operation, for example: It is expected of those who “play at the level” the Holy See does. The nation-states that matter have them, the corporations have them, the NGOs have them. You want to play with the big dogs, you have to be able to keep up. This applies to technology, personnel, operational methods. When you hold the artistic portfolio the Vatican does, when you have your own diplomatic corps, when you nominally have 1.1 Billion faithful? You are thought of as rich and powerful, and your media operation is judged accordingly. You are not held to the standards of the Anytown Community Church, you are not even held to the standards of a small nation like Monaco or Iceland. You are held to the standards applied to the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the UK, the President of China. You are held to the standards of Amnesty International or similarly globe-spanning NGOs. You are held to the standards of a Fortune 500 Corporation. Either you work your fingers to the bone and keep up, or you shouldn’t claim half of what you presently do. Put up or shut up.

    2. Yes, this takes funding. I understand that the Holy See runs a deficit even now. There are ways consistent with its image (and just as importantly, self-image) for the Vatican to step up its game in terms of funding – whether it be lending (but never selling) artworks to museums for a revenue stream (they’d always be the Vatican’s, but they could make appearances around the world), or other methods, it can be done. A lot can be done with volunteers and donations in kind (I know it’s seen as crass, but c’mon! Boeing or Airbus would kill to say “God trusts our planes” or something similar!) to give the Holy See the capabilities its status demands.

    3. Yes, it takes a change in mindset. The Pope is already seen as being sometimes as much a figurehead as HM Queen Elizabeth, sometimes as starkly powerful as a parody of a Divine Right King. Neither is true, and I don’t think keeping up old fictions helps. What would be good?

    In English, fundamentally the lingua franca of the media, release total data on the Holy See and Vatican City State – annually if not more regularly. Not just the Annuario Pontifico stuff, but more. Point out, with cites to English translations of the canon laws, the internal regulations of the Curia, etc.: The duties of everybody at the top of the Curia. Just how many people actually work in every organization under Vatican (as opposed to diocesan or episcopal conference) control, in as much detail as you can muster. (People think the Swiss Guard, for example, is 1000s of people – when its end-strength all told is, what, 139? Similarly with the Papal diplomatic corps – how many people know it even exists!) Sure, a lot of it will be known already unofficially, but you can add new data and get claims of a “new transparency at the Vatican”, and correct misconceptions. And maybe get a day or two of press coverage if you’re lucky.

    Openly consider: Do the clerics in certain positions need to be clerics? Not the men, but the positions, must they be held by clerics?

    For example: It would help the Papacy, and be enormously achievable, if some positions were separated – and some of the separated positions held by laypeople. For example…Fr. Lombardi doesn’t deserve to be a pinata, but his multi-hatted situation of heading up Vatican Radio, and heading up Vatican TV, and being the Pope’s on-camera spokesman, and running the Holy See’s entire press operation is an excellent example…He can do the job, yes, he’s doing it as is, but wouldn’t it be more efficient, more effective, frankly maybe more honest, if lay specialists were brought in to each run RV and Vatican TV, with maybe someone under Lombardi over them, explicitly? It would cost more, but I could see plenty of pros who’d probably love the cachet of being “The Pope’s radio guy” or something. (There’s still a lot of prestige attached to the Papacy, and I think people forget that.)

    You could extend the example throughout the Vatican. The reality is that the Church doesn’t have nearly as many priests or religious “in the field” as it could use, so moving to having more laity might be a good thing just because it’d get priests “back on the streets”.

    4. What I said re the media? Goes double for diplomacy. In reading secular foreign affairs stuff, I increasingly sense that the Holy See is respected diplomatically only for the history involved – that even where it should, you’d think, be listened to and respected on the issues, it isn’t – at best, it gets a smile of acknowledgment, like the hot girl responds to the ugly geek in high school. Partially this has to do with power issues, but I get the feeling that it doesn’t help that the Vatican’s diplomatic corps is seen of as not being serious. After all, what do foreign ministries go to them for? They don’t even support their own policymakers very well. How would I fix that?

    Like above with the media, consider opening up a lot of positions to the laity. Positions on the pointy end, and “in the back”. Employ a few political science majors – unless it needs a priest, send a lay diplomatic officer.

    Merge Cor Unum and the diplomatic corps – there’s a reason why USAID is hitched to the State dept, and it’s more than just bureaucracy (though that’s most of it): Your aid efforts, to be most effective for your objectives, should explicitly be yours. Anonymous charity brings warm and fuzzies, but from a Church perspective, I bet a lot of people would like the Church better if they knew the Church, the Vatican, was the source of that relief supply run or the money behind that soup kitchen they’ve always gone to.

    Get the Pope his own plane. I know all the reasons not to, yes. Here are reasons to do so:

    First, so the Pope doesn’t have to beg for charters from (now-privatized, I think?) Alitalia for inbound trips and whoever the local airline is for outbound trips (who did he use to fly home from the US, by the way? We don’t have a flag carrier…), allowing him the freedom at times to go “No, no splash. This situation (for example at the UN) demands a personal touch.” It also would let him fly to places that Alitalia won’t go to, for example. Plus, in the modern age, it brings more security.

    Second, any such planes could be used for other transport needs, including to do relief flights.

    Third, the image it presents: This sounds cheesy, but at some level, if you don’t come with your own transport, you get downgraded a level.

    4B. The Pope does not need a National Security Council. “How many divisions has the Pope?” is as irrelevant a question now as it was when Stalin allegedly asked it. He does not need an intelligence service (though it’s arguable that he could possibly use a group of people to analyze intel provided by others). He does, however, at a minimum, need something like the Pontifical Academy of Science focused on global security matters. If your impressions of war are limited to WW2, then you should admit that, and admit you need expert assistance to bring you up to speed on modern geopolitics, modern warfare (what weapons can do and cannot do in specific terms, as well as how modern militaries and military operations work). Get up to speed, then use the knowledge gained. “No to war!” is wonderful rhetoric, but works infinitely better when you know what war looks like, in specific terms. You (speaking collectively of the Church) become a more credible peace advocate when you (speaking collectively again) can converse knowledgably with the soldier and the policymaker (Pacem in Terris, which is really the last encyclical to touch on stuff like this, worked, sort of, because it didn’t need to speak in terms of throw weights and megadeaths to make its point – modern warfare, modern politics, however, is more complex than that) on their specialties.

    The best way to do this is simple. Find people of all sorts of ideological stripes. Recruit them explicitly for their knowledge of security matters – nothing else. (If they don’t agree on abortion? So what, that’s not why they’re being recruited.) They shouldn’t need to be Catholics (of any ideological viewpoint), they need not be Christians even; they need only be able to work with the Vatican and the others in this new organization on security matters, the same way the existing Pontifical Academy of Science can fit everybody, including atheists, in the room. Recruit diplomats. Recruit peace activists (some of whom do know their stuff). Recruit intelligence types. Recruit soldiers, sailors, airmen. Recruit academics. Recruit journalists, maybe. Recruit folks from the defense industry (as revolting as that may sound, they do know their businesses). Only then, when you’ve got it chock-full of secular specialists, do you add a few theologians and philosophers from the clerical ranks. Then? No holds barred, no credible opinion off-limits, Chatham House rules, set them to discussing. Providing, if you will, the “structural steel” from which theology and philosophy can build off of to do their work. (Hopefully in a span of years, not decades, because events move too quick for things to take decades.)

    5. If I could, I’d make English…Really, any language besides Italian or Latin…The language of work in the Vatican. Keep Latin for the picky stuff, things like the Catechism you write once and then translate, or for the museum pieces. I acknowledge that fluency in Italian will be needed for anybody working in Rome, of course. But I think a lot of the problem the Vatican has is how provincial they are – they live and work in Italian whether they themselves are Italian or not, they think in strictly Italian habits of thought as a result. How you think and how you express yourself have a lot to do with the language you’re working in. Latin works great for liturgy. It’s okay for theology (I personally think German or Greek are more natural fits to theological discussion, but that’s me). But Latin and Italian are terrible for bureaucracy and diplomacy, which is most of the Curia’s work. It’s not even that most Vatican staff are Italian – that’s not as big a problem as the habits of thought that are encouraged.

    6. More generally: The Holy See needs to get with the program re tech. “Every 75 years, whether it needs it or not” might be our host’s joke, but if it’s even close to the truth, that’s…scary. The Holy See wants to govern a church of 1.1 Billion in the modern age? It needs to equip itself appropriately. A website that looks like it’s from 1994 is not “poor”, it’s not “unsatisfactory”, it’s “They’re not even trying, and the religious running the thing need to be replaced, or read the riot act”. Not having a computer, with internet access, for everyone in the Vatican who might possibly need one (which is, really, everybody…Even if the Pope never uses one, the Papal Apartments should be tech-ready (even if they might never be cutting edge), and certainly his staff should all be computer-equipped) is even worse than that. Do I imagine the Vatican upgrading on corporate timescales? No, though that’d be nice. I imagine the Vatican keeping up, though, in general terms. Don’t be shy about asking HP or Dell (or whoever) for a volume discount, Fathers!

    7. I can agree with Jacob’s points at 9:49 am. I don’t think whoever gets appointed to revamp the Press Office (heck, the entire Vatican media operation) needs to be of the Faith, though, but that’s because I have a technocratic streak – and also because I want someone who won’t be wowed too much by working for the Pope, working at the Vatican, etc. I want someone who won’t take Their Eminences’ FUD and static, to be honest. Who will tell the Pope honestly (and properly) when they’re wrong on something within this person’s competence – not on matters of faith or morals, but just facts, which on tech stuff the Vatican can get very wrong sometimes. If they get wowed enough by the faith after working at the Vatican to enter the Church? Hey, that’s a bonus. If after working at the Vatican you can be convinced to enter the Church, that means it’s not totally lost its way. Even better if the Prefect of CDF conducts the RCIA, and the Pope baptizes and confirms the person. So far as the Secretariat of State: Agreed. Some way to do that job (of being the person who minds the store while the Pope does big-picture things) needs to be done, but not as it has been done. I would go so far as to say that the Section for Relations With States (the “foreign ministry” of the Vatican) should be its own dicastery.

    8. You’ll notice I didn’t touch on anything dogmatic or doctrinal. That’s because, to be honest, I don’t think much needs to be said there. It’s not the doctrine or dogma that’s the problem. It’s the day to day stuff, a lot of which is not unique to the Church in the least. It’s not what the Church teaches. It’s not necessarily how what is taught gets taught, even. It’s the less-theological, more-practical sort of things. (I recognize those who say “Wasn’t this covered in Pastor Bonus in 1988?” Yes. It was. It was covered in a way that probably did not last 10 years and certainly hasn’t aged well, for the most part, over 20 years. For as many things as PB fixed, new issues have arisen – some caused by Pastor Bonus.

    Fr Z: I don’t know what you intend with this thread – just for us to talk, or would it be appropriate for me to post more detailed thoughts in another comment?

    For others: Take what I say with this in mind: Technically, I’m a cradle Catholic. Baptized a Catholic, Confirmed a Catholic. I am, however, probably not a recognizable Catholic to many of you – because I’m what PghCath @ 10:56 am (somewhat dismissively, but I don’t think you meant it that way, Pgh) called a “Marginal Catholic”. I’ve friends who tug me in a more “unlapsed” direction (who read this, and know who they are), but still. If you’re going to win over anybody, you’re going to win people like me over first…And to be totally honest, I’m not won over yet.

  16. Jayna says:

    I agree with Daniel’s comment regarding the Vatican’s dire need for a restructuring of their PR approach, as what they currently have (which is to say, not much of an approach at all) is clearly deficient. So many good things that have happened during this pontificate are spun by the media – particularly the secular media – as terrible and destructive when, in fact, they are not so. The lag time that exists between these things occurring and the mostly inadequate way in which the Vatican eventually explains what really happened leads to gross misunderstandings. I think we all know Arbp. Fulton Sheen’s quote regarding the misconceptions people have of the Catholic Church, so I won’t even bother reproducing it here. Suffice it to say, the Vatican isn’t doing much (or, at least, certainly not in a timely manner) to change people’s minds about what the Church really is.

    And don’t think I am criticizing His Holiness. Rather, I am criticizing the way in which his actions – and the actions of the entire Curia – are not explained properly and certainly not in a timely manner. It’s almost as if they just expect people to already know all of the theological reasons behind what they do. While it would be nice if this were the case, it is not. The communications office needs to learn to play offense. Put it out there first before anyone else gets the chance to twist their words.

  17. pattif says:

    I think GW is right here: the Pope is not a monarch; he is “merely” the Monarch’s representative on earth.

    To be more controversial, I am glad that neither the Holy Father nor the Holy See marches to the 24-hour news agenda. I think it is important that he – and it – should ruminate and reflect, and only pronounce when that process is complete, rather than responding to the pressure of a journalistic deadline. I am all for being as helpful as possible, but that should not be the priority.

    I admire GW as a writer, and I have great respect for JA’s willingness to admit that his initial assessment of Cardinal Ratzinger was wrong, but I don’t think either is ideally placed to offer media advice to the Holy Father, because I don’t think either fully “gets” what he is about. For GW, Pope Benedict suffers from the grievous disadvantage of not being Pope John Paul, and I don’t find that either/or hermeneutic helpful, from whichever side it comes. I think JA has been on a phenomenally steep learning curve, but I think he is still playing catch-up in some key areas.

    Most controversially, I don’t think the opinions or behaviour of Bishop Williamson would have deflected the Holy Father from his purpose of lifting the SSPX excommunications when he did, even if he had known about them. To suppose that it was coincidental that he made that announcement during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on the 50th anniversary of Pope John’s convocation of the Council is, in my opinion, seriously to underestimate the Holy Father. This wasn’t about Bishop Williamson, it was about the pursuit of genuine Christian unity, and to have allowed Bishop Williamson to thwart him in that pwould have been to have elevated him to something like equivalent importance. I just don’t think that would have happened, and I think it badly misreads Pope Benedict to think that it would or should have.

  18. Geoffrey says:

    “He bluntly reminded the media that the pope is not a monarch…”

    I have always had great admiration for Mr. Weigel, but his one flaw has always been that he seems to be more American than Roman. If memory serves, he felt it was alright for the USA to invade Iraq, when the Holy See expressly said otherwise. And now, more and more are calling for “accountability”, etc. As I wrote in another post, the Church is not a democracy, and His Holiness the Pope is indeed a monarch… the oldest monarch in Europe. I know this doesn’t sit well with many modern republican-democrats, but that’s the way it is.

    Catholics such as Mr. Weigel should be very careful, as they will soon be playing into the hands of the heretics, who would like nothing better than for the people of a diocese to elect their bishop, and for all Catholics to elect a figurehead Pope.

  19. Larry R. says:

    “The papacy is adrift and has been for a long time…(It is) a papacy defined by its train wrecks.”

    I find this statement stupid and offensive. How, exactly, is it adrift? What would John Allen prefer it be doing instead of its aimless drifting? Ordaining women?

    I don’t have much use for Weigel, his statement “Theology of the Body is a theological timebomb that will go off in the next century” or something thereabouts is the main intellectual driving force behind the theology of the body/”Chris West presents” industry. Without that hyperventilating prose, which West constantly refers to in his materials, I don’t know that some of the problematic TOB materials get the wide support they have today.

    It’s hard to be Roman Catholic, especially in a secularized post modern republic. I don’t know that I fully get it, but I suspect these guys get it less.

  20. Peter from Jersey says:

    I am sure that if there was greater accountability the quality of government of the Church would improve. The model to look at is Chris Patten as Governor of Hong Kong. He made a point of answering questions in the legislative council. It is not so important who asks the questions as how well they are answered both at the level of individual bishop and at the Vatican level. Look how questions about the Papal visit to the UK were not answered to see the resulting bad publicity.
    My second idea is to copy the military. Not only do young officers get trained at a military academy (Sandhurst in the UK for the army) but senior officers attend the Staff College (at Camberley) to learn about their new responsibilities. While priests are trained in seminaries there seems to be no training for bishops.
    One aspect of this was highlighted in Accountancy magazine: Do bishops and Cardinals have any training in financial matters? Whilst they may be in charge of important organisations their lack of skill may cause much waste and incompetence. Similarly media handling skills are needed, personnel management and many other skills too.

  21. robtbrown says:

    The comments of Allen and Weigel are a nice blend of American arr0gance and presumption.

    1. Papa Ratzinger is not only very smart but also aware. He knows the mind of the likes of Bp Williamson, who are attempting an Anglophone version of French Traditionalism. And so Williamson’s Holocaust comments wouldn’t have come as a surprise.

    2. If the papacy has been adrift for a long time, then that includes the years of JPII, Weigel’s hero.

    3. The comment that “Americans expect leaders to pounce on problems . . . ‘act and act now'” is laughable. American bishops did next to nothing before the scandals hit the courts and news media. The same is true in liturgical matters. And they have done very little to reform the pre theological education in their seminaries, even though special attention was given to the situation at ad limina visits.

    4. Any Vatican “expert” knows that the SCDF, previously headed by the pope, has no governing authority–the Chain of Command goes through the Sec of State. In the last years of JPII’s papacy, when he was indisposed, decisions were made by a group that included Cardinals Sodano, Ratzinger, Ruini, and Abp Dziwisz.

    5. Re disagreement among the higher ups in the Vatican: Anyone who spent years in Rome knew about them, including the disagreement between JPII and Cardinal Ratzinger about the liturgy, which went public. It is also well known that Card Ratzinger on more than one occasion warned the inner circle about the dire situation in Germany. His warnings were waved off.

    6. Reform of the Curia by a new pope does not take place in the manner of a newly elected President, who quickly repopulates the Cabinet. This is especially true when the election of the new Pope had been opposed by certain powerful members of the Curia, e.g, Cardinals Sodano, Re, and Sodano’s man Sandri (the Sostituto, who has much more power than the Prefect of the SCDF), all of whom think Vatican diplomacy is much more important than reforming the Church. It is well known that Sodano all but refused to retire.

    Add names like the liberal Sorrentino, the Sec at SCDW, and it becomes obvious that reform of the Curia cannot take place quickly.

  22. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Can we please just get over the idea of collegiality and commissions? Efficient bureaucracy and a monarchy are not mutually exclusive.
    History demonstrates good monarchs that ran their countries well.

    Catholic monarchs used to defer to the Pope – up until Henry VIII and the Reformation. That God has taken away monarchies and left us to govern ourselves because of our sins, does not mean that the Pope is no longer THE monarch. The Pope may well be the last Great Monarch mentioned in prophecies. His monarchy still exists in spite of everything else falling away. Today’s derision of authority for parents and priests took its root in derision of the monarchy and nobility.

    If the Church is disorganized, behind the times, uninformed, slow to act, and with sneaky members, the answer is not to embrace the ‘committee’ – anyone who has been victimized by a ‘committee’ can tell you. Just as well-run monarchies employed advisers, so can the Church. But thank God we have the Pope who will always have the last word.

    Is it possible that the Church is in better shape under Pope Benedict XVI? This Pope has deftly outwitted long-standing bureaucracy better than any Pope in recent history. [How many work at the Vatican? Oh, about half.] Benedict sees the web and puts his finger right on the central spider. For instance, putting out the Motu Proprio in August while all the players were on vacation…

  23. joan ellen says:

    The Roman Catholic Church, large RCC, is full of 1.1 or 1.2 billion people. She has a Sacred character, and is distinguished by that Sacred character from the secular or profane one. She exists to teach, govern and sanctify souls.

    Since She is not a secular entity, i.e. corporate or government, Her methods of communication need to always convey Her Sacred character. Her methods must not treat Herself as secular or profane.

    Her Monarch and monarch would not approve.

  24. Ismael says:

    From the USA-today article:
    “the same parts of brain light up or go dark no matter which route you are taking to commune with your sense of the transcendent…In the brain, doctrine doesn’t matter.”

    That is quite OLD news (this study was done almost 2 years ago I think).

    In any case it hardly proves anything more that some areas of the brain are more active and more involved during a spiritual experience.

    There rest of the article is nothin more than speculation…

  25. Ismael says:

    PS: I mean the ‘first article’ I found, that was sticking up like a sore thumb :P

  26. jflare says:

    This article and the comments cover lots of territory, but let’s see if I can offer a few cogent thoughts:
    1. Referring to the Pope as a monarch strikes me as being somewhat simplistic. Yes, some of his role DOES involve tasks that a monarch might accomplish, but to me, “monarch” implies secular or civil authority. Honestly, that’s too “low” for a Pope. Our Holy Father is just that: A spiritual leader whose mission is to educate all of us regarding what Truth said and taught; the Pope should be consulted frequently by civil leadership, especially in today’s world. There was a time when a Pope DID need to be a secular authority as well, but there haven’t been Papal States in more than a century. Therefore, calling him a “monarch” strikes me as quite inappropriate.

    2. Before anyone can reform an organization, we need to know what we would change about it from now and what our intended goal might be? I’ve heard that the Church has a tangled web of bureaucracies, agencies, and whatnot. Well, so does the US government and so do most of the business corporations I’ve heard from. Before we can reform anything, we need to discern what our highest priorities might be and how we can best meet them. THEN we can worry about the structures of human beings.

    3. Penta, you mentioned many things the Vatican could do in terms of being more relevant to the world. I think I understand your thought process, but keep in mind, the Pope and the Curia aren’t intended as a debating society in which all ideas are more or less equal. Then again, one Pope or another HAS collected groups of experts in one subject matter or another. Sometimes he agrees, sometimes he contradicts almost completely. Case in point: Humanae Vitae. A group of experts had been gathered together to discuss the moral virtue–or lack of it–of contraception. This group decided that contraception might be OK in some circumstances. Pope Paul VI, however, said nothing doing, then proceeded to offer prophetic witness to the ravages of the contraceptive mentality. Too bad the world didn’t listen more carefully to what he said, experts or no experts.

    Speaking of which, having a dedicated spokesperson and an ability to monitor the world’s sentiments doesn’t guarantee much. Don’t forget, the US President DOES have a press secretary..but still struggles to define the political conversation. A formal press officer complete with daily briefings from the Vatican won’t help much if the world simply doesn’t wish to hear the message.

    4. “Americans expect leaders to act.. and act now.” Well, actually, yes, we do. When dealing with secular politicians. Actually, I rather detest this characteristic. Half the time, the politicians muddle things even further, because they can’t be bothered to genuinely study a problem in depth, nor adequately debate the various means to approach solutions.
    There’s a time to act and a time to study. I wish political leaders would remember much more of the latter, rather than trying to cobble together highfalutin compromise answers.

    5. If the Vatican needs to communicate more effectively, perhaps it ought to improve its liaison efforts with the likes of EWTN and various other Catholic-focused news outlets? Those laity with experience in that field might do us all lots of good.

    6. Why are we asking the Vatican to improve it’s communications to the world? Isn’t that what bishops, priests, and diocesan and parish staffs are for? Isn’t that why Benedict–or someone in that general, er, administrative vicinity–recently challenged bishops to get of their hiney’s and engage the world on the internet?

    7. I can’t for the life of me imagine why we’d want to change the official language of the Church. I don’t speak Latin myself–yet–but I don’t see a need to cater to one dominant world language or another. Don’t forget, Latin, routinely spoken or not, IS the Church’s universal language.

    I wish the Church herself would dedicate more energy and resources to better enabling all of us to learn the universal language that’s already in place.

    8. I don’t think it wise to dismiss various documents from the Church as frivolous. Perhaps the secular world and the marginal Catholics don’t read them. OK. So, by that logic, the US government shouldn’t post anything of the laws of the land on the internet. Most of us don’t read those either, nor even know that much of that exists.


    Educating oneself about one’s faith and knowledge of the nation’s laws are always an ongoing thing. Rather than demand that the Church be “easier to understand”, perhaps we ought to dedicate more of our own energies to understanding what she asks of us? And why?

    OK, this wasn’t very short, but hopefully I’ve provided more food for thought.

  27. jflare says:

    One more thing, mostly along the lines of what the bishops and priests should be doing:
    Someone commented about the Bush administration committing folly with the Iraq war, especially after Pope John Paul II begged them otherwise.
    Why on earth did anyone think that President Bush would take that seriously? Why did anyone think the US President would take the US bishops seriously? It may be that a group of bishops presented a letter via the Secretary of State. OK. So what?

    When bishops and priests have all but openly ignored key Church teachings themselves for most of 50 years, why would the President suddenly take them seriously?
    Or to put it more starkly: Pope John Paul II a VERY clear point with regard to abortion as a priority on at least two occasions, yet the US bishops didn’t do much in concert.
    Nor has any bishop publicly chastised any Senator or Representative for that legislator’s actions, votes, or comments.
    Why on earth would any President of this nation take our Pope that seriously, when it’s pretty clear the bishops of this country..don’t seem to care? Unless they want to, on occasion?

    If bishops and priests aren’t preaching and teaching The Word in their own parishes and dioceses, we can’t blame the Vatican for the fact that the world acts like pagans.

  28. Penta says:

    My beef has never been with Latin as a working language…It’s more been with Italian.:)

    Just thought I’d make that clear.:)

  29. robtbrown says:

    Does the Church need someone with CEO skill?

    CEO’s generally make decisions on policy and strategy. I think you might be referring to a COO, who in the Vatican is probably the Sostituto.


    Just read your comments. Whew.

    Merge Cor Unum and the diplomatic corps – there’s a reason why USAID is hitched to the State dept . . .

    I wonder whether all those intelligence operatives in USAID are the reason.

    For example: It would help the Papacy, and be enormously achievable, if some positions were separated – and some of the separated positions held by laypeople.

    That’s already the case. Dr Navarro-Valls was JPII’s press liaison. And I knew a women who worked at the SCDF. The pay was so small that they had to provide her with a free apartment.

    The reality is that the Church doesn’t have nearly as many priests or religious “in the field” as it could use, so moving to having more laity might be a good thing just because it’d get priests “back on the streets”.

    I think you’re overestimating how many priests work in the Vatican. Villa Strich houses American priests working in the Curia–27 live there. Almost all are Scriptors–Send all of them home, and that means each diocese gets 1/8 of a priest. Most of the priest-Consultors for the Congregations are profs at Pontifical Universities in Rome–many are consultors for more than one Congregation

    Like above with the media, consider opening up a lot of positions to the laity. Positions on the pointy end, and “in the back”. Employ a few political science majors – unless it needs a priest, send a lay diplomatic officer.

    First, almost all Vatican diplomats have been trained at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (know as the Accademia), from two to four years–after priestly studies. Cardinal Rigali, himself a trained Vat diplomat, was once the rector of the Accademia (which, IMHO, means that he would have been a fine choice for DC).

    BTW, IMHO, the life of a Vat diplomat is the hardest in the Church.

    Second, it’s not unprecedented that laics work in the diplomatic corps. Pellegrino Rossi was a lawyer diplomat who worked for Pius IX. He was murdered on the steps of the Cancelleria.

  30. DHippolito says:

    The problem will not be solved by Weigel’s or Allen’s solutions because the problem has very little to do with the lack of modern communication technologies or skills.

    The problem is centuries old and existential. The problem is the existence of a separate clerical class that embraces monarchistic pretensions, fosters institutional arrogance, regards laity and lower clergy as “inferior,” maintains an excessively bureaucratic structure and does everything in its power to maintain its sense of entitled privilege, prestige and power.

    I cannot conceive of either Christ or St. Peter formulating such a model for the transmission of apostolic succession.

    The problem isn’t new. Why did Vatican authorities violently discourage people (after St. Jerome) from exploring the original Greek and Hebrew texts in making Bible translations? Why did those same authorities countenance the abuse of indulgences, an abuse that led to the Reformation? Why did those authorities do their “best” to deny for centuries the existence of clerical sex-abuse (at least until Pope Benedict)? Why did it take until 1966 to discontinue the Index?

    This is all part of Christ’s judgment of a Church that has forsaken its calling for power, prestige, wealth, secular influence and ego. If it repents, all will be well. If it doesn’t, nothing will be able to forestall God’s ultimate condemnation.

    The problem is nothing new. Read Ezekiel 34. Read Matthew 23. Read 1 Samuel 2-4.

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