Reforming the Church is a complex, almost an impossible task. Already, criticism of the Pope’s delays is beginning to mount: he needs our prayers

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (CNS)

Is Timothy, Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, really becoming impatient over the way Pope Francis is running the Church? “We wanted someone with good managerial skills and leadership skills, and so far that hasn’t been … obvious,” the Cardinal said in an interview recently.

His remarks are being quoted in support of the contention that Pope Francis’s apparent hesitation in reforming the Roman Curia is beginning to disquiet some of the Cardinals who elected him; in support also of one explanation currently being given for this lack of movement in Curial reform: that the Pope is simply ignoring the Curia itself completely, governing through a small group becoming known as his “”segretariola”.

What is happening, according to the same observer, is that “in the little office of pope Bergoglio on the second floor of the Casa di Santa Marta, where he has chosen to reside, many things are decided and done that never even pass through the majestic Curial offices of the first and third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, a few steps away from the now-deserted pontifical apartment.

“The secretariat of state continues its routine work, but much more at work is another secretariat, miniscule but highly active, which in direct service to the Pope attends to the matters that he wants to resolve himself, without any interference whatsoever.”

Is this true? This is an apparently well-informed account of the “segretariola” by means of which, it is said, the Pope is running the Church by simply ignoring the existing structures of Curial government. Maybe this would be a good idea, maybe not. It could certainly be a good idea in the short term: but sooner or later, the Vatican bureaucracy is surely going to have to be either reformed, cut back, or just closed down where necessary. I have to admit, this alleged “segretariola” makes me a bit nervous: it depends vitally on who is part of it; and that depends, above all, on how good a judge of character Pope Francis is.

The report I have been quoting, it should be said, emanates from a familiar informant, the famously well-informed Sandro Magister, whose website I have found over the years to be an invaluable source, usually borne out by events as they unfold, of information about just what is going on inside Vatican City. The question arises: what is his source for this story? Perhaps someone with an axe to grind in “the majestic Curial offices of the first and third loggia of the Apostolic Palace”? One simply doesn’t know.

Magister, is not, it has to be said, a commentator with a reputation for disloyalty to the Holy See. And he points out that Pope Francis is not the first supreme pontiff who has governed in this way: he instances one of the greatest and holiest of them, Pius X, who a century ago also governed through an inner group called a “segretariola”. Pius X, also, had come to a negative judgment about the Curia, but even after he had reorganised it he was very careful to protect the little personal secretariat with which he had surrounded himself immediately after his election in 1903.

Magister draws an extended and very interesting comparison between the two popes. Pius X “was also born to a poor family, and continued to dedicate himself even as Pope to the help of the poor. He was dearly loved by people of humble conditions. He led a simple and austere life.

“He had a good-natured disposition, not devoid of irony. He had a profound spiritual life and was later proclaimed a saint. He had a tremendous capacity for work, which he extended into the nighttime hours. He did a great many things on his own, keeping the curia in the dark about them.”

One hundred and ten years later, says Magister, this Pope, too, has inherited a Curia which needs entirely to be rebuilt. But that, he seems to be insinuating (and not for the first time) requires a soundness of judgement about people which perhaps Pope Francis does not always possess. For instance, “perhaps he may have wanted to do something similar to his holy predecessor when last July 18 he appointed among the eight experts of the newly created commission for the reorganisation of the economic-administrative offices of the Holy See, with right of access to the most confidential documents, an expert in public communication, the thirty-year-old Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui.”

This exceptionally glamorous young woman has not unexpectedly, given her extreme pulchritude, received considerable Italian media attention since her appointment: and it emerges from this intense scrutiny that among her other friendships (including several Cardinals) with Vatican and related connections has been one Gianluigi Nuzzi, the receiver of the documents stolen from Benedict XVI by his unfaithful butler.

She is, according to the well-informed John L Allen “a 30-year-old devoted Catholic who’s worked, among other places, at Ernst and Young … [and] is the child of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father. She could also be a candidate for another distinction: The first papal nominee in history to lose a job because of use of social media.”

Allen continues: “Enterprising journalists followed her digital paper trail, and here’s what they found: Back in February, she tweeted that Benedict XVI had leukemia, although the Vatican has repeatedly denied that any specific health concern led to his decision to resign the papacy.

“Chaouqui has (also) sent out several seemingly friendly tweets about journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who was the one who received stolen documents from the Pope’s butler and gave rise to the Vatican leaks affair. At one stage, Chaouqui told Nuzzi he was ‘bleeding right’.”

She has sent out many other gossipy tweets. Allen accepts that none of them are really scandalous. But they do, he says, illustrate her poor judgment and the lack of a good “internal editor” before hitting the “send” button. Nonetheless, her internet gossiping has caused some commentators to wonder if Chaouqui really belongs on a commission charged with drafting the blueprint for Pope Francis’s reform of the Roman Curia (when it actually does start to happen).

A far more scandalous accusation is that which Magister has levelled against an Italian priest, Msgr Battista Ricca, whom the Pope has appointed as his personal representative on the Vatican bank. Those close to the Pope have denied the truth of Magister’s story: so I don’t want to give it any more currency here than simply to indicate that it exists. What it all goes to show, however, is what an indescribably complex, indeed, almost impossible, task the governance of the Catholic Church really is: and how much The Holy Father needs our prayers if he is not to be wholly engulfed by it.