The Church is the loser in this ugly war between Vatican officials

The Pope addresses Curial officials in the Clementine Hall (AP)

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Borgias have returned to the Vatican. Consider what has happened in the past few weeks: a fierce internal battle in the Roman Curia has spilled into the public square.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, is desperately trying to defend his position while being besieged by many who want him to resign. His enemies appear to be led by the “old guard” who were ousted after the departure of Cardinal Bertone’s predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The “Viganò affair” – in which letters alleging internal corruption written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then a Vatican official, were leaked – is just the tip of the iceberg. But the affair shows the preferred weapons in this fight: smear campaigns in the Italian media, confidential letters sent to anti-clerical journalists and damaging behind-the-scenes gossip. Those who were hindered by Archbishop Viganò’s tight financial controls and by his campaign against corruption used the media to seek his removal. When Archbishop Viganò was removed his confidential letters were leaked, creating an international scandal.

The position of the Holy See on the matter is still, unfortunately, unclear. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi tried to defend Cardinal Bertone, describing the the Italian television news programme that revealed Archbishop Viganò’s letters as “partisan” and “partial and banal”. Fr Lombardi suggested that Archibishop Viganò’s appointment as apostolic nuncio to the United States was “proof of [the Pope’s] indubitable esteem and confidence”. A statement from the Governatorate of the State of Vatican City, where the archbishop had served, described suggestions of financial corruption as “erroneous evaluations” and “fears unsupported by proof”.

But how can Archbishop Viganò enjoy the Pope’s “indubitable esteem and confidence” if he had made such a major error, as is claimed? Has he been sent to America as a reward, as Fr Lombardi seemed to say, or to remove him from the Vatican’s inner circle of power holders?

Nobody in the Curia seems to have heeded the Holy Father when, some years ago, he addressed the world’s bishops with these words from St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “If you go snapping at one another and tearing one another to pieces, take care: you will be eaten up by one another.”

So the war has begun. But regardless of who wins, the Church loses.