Papal basilicas are open to the faithful again, and public Masses are being celebrated as of Monday all throughout Italy. That’s all welcome news here, especially after what was, to be perfectly frank, a dismal time of it for the pope and the Vatican last week.
The prospect of financial collapse came to loom so large the Vatican’s own economy czar had to issue a denial, after Francis’s own senior lieutenants let it be known that they consider his financial reform project a failure.
I wrote about all that that last week, but sitting of a Sunday and mulling it all over, my thoughts turned to Edmond About and his treatment of The Roman Question, specifically a passage in the last chapter, dedicated to finances in what were then styled the Papal States, and particularly at Rome:
In almost all civilized countries the nation enjoys two rights which seem perfectly just and natural. The first is that of voting the taxes, either directly or through the medium of its deputies; the second, that of verifying the expenditure of its own money.
In the Papal kingdom, the Pope or his Minister says to the citizens, “Here is what you have to pay!” And he takes the money, spends it, and never more alludes to it except in the vaguest language.
Still, in order to afford some sort of satisfaction to the conscience of Europe, Pius IX promised to place the finances under the control of a sort of Chamber of Deputies: the Consulta di Stato of Finances. …
“It is established!” said the Pope. But the Consulta di Stato of Finances, established the 12th of September 1849, only gave signs of life in December 1853. Four years afterwards. This is what I call drawing a bill at a pretty long date. It is admitted that the nation needs some guarantees, and that it is entitled to tender some advice, and to exercise some control. And so the nation is requested to call again in four years.
Now, About made his name – and a chunk of his living – lampooning clerics, so it’s fair to take the passage with a grain of salt. Still, if you substitute “the faithful” for “the nation” and look at how things have gone over the past seven years, then one has a good example in the present, of another Frenchman’s famous diction: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Karr was talking about something else, and it is in any case prudent to be sparing in the application of Karr’s or anyone’s epigram. Still, paper reforms and promises that things will be different have been standard fare for some time now – in financial and other matters – as have been unrealistic or untenable expectations and “vague language” about what is being done with what has been given.
Anyhow, the rest of the week wasn’t much better.
The Pope Emeritus offered his two cents – discreetly delivered in a letter about something else – regarding the deleterious effects of too much willingness to work outside the system, not as a temporary or an ad hoc response to contingency, but as a stable modus operandi, and the benefits of restraint when it comes to the temptation to smash the old order.
Meanwhile, the Vatican comms department – try as it might – couldn’t get the guys in charge of health and safety to say much more than chlorine spray and heat scanners when it came to the nuts and bolts of how they are going to keep people safe when the papal basilicas open to the faithful for Mass on Monday.
All that followed a week of crickets chirping n the Vatican after the Catholic Herald pointed out an apparent discrepancy in claims regarding the handling of a major mismanagement of a child safety issue in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati: sources in Rome say the matter was investigated “within the framework” of Pope Francis’s new reform law designed to combat abuse cover-up, while the Archbishop of Cincinnati says he heard from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops that the reform law didn’t apply to the case.
Here’s hoping this week is better. The bar is pretty low, by now.
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