In Britain we are no strangers to political scandals, all of which have certain features in common. One such is the statement that the Prime Minister has “full confidence” in whoever the minister or MP might be who is in the eye of the storm. When the embattled politician hears that, he knows his days are numbered.
Now something that sounds similar is happening in the Vatican. The council of cardinals have said that they give Pope Francis their “full support”. This public expression of support is quite unprecedented. One is left with the impression that someone is protesting too much. After all, Cardinals support the Pope in all things, don’t they? That is their default setting. So why the public expression?
The answer may lie in the grievances listed on the posters that went up around Rome the other weekend, and which are now collectors’ items. They represent an unprecedented rebuke to the Vicar of Christ. Moreover, along with the discontents listed in the posters, other troubles may be brewing for the Pope.
No one accuses or could accuse the Pope of not caring about the welfare of children, but evidence is building that his handling of the child abuse crisis that continues to challenge the Church has been less than sure. First we had the setting up of a Commission for the Protection of Minors, whose success has been mixed to say the least. One member left the commission, saying it was meaningless unless Bishop Barros of Osorno, Chile was removed from his diocese. Bishop Barros faced angry accusations from Chilean Catholics of protecting an abuser, but he is strongly supported by the Pope. If this were not enough, we also have the case of the convicted abuser Don Mauro Inzoli, whose priestly faculties were first taken away and then returned, with the approval of the Holy See and according to The Week, with that of the Pope.
If all this were not enough, we have had ample evidence of the Pope showing great personal favour to Cardinal Danneels, despite the latter’s history in the sad case of the Bishop of Bruges’ abuse of his nephew.
Needless to say, any one of these cases would have been enough to sink anyone in public life apart from Pope Francis; it is remarkable that none of these stories have attracted much attention in the English-language media. Because each one represents his personal judgment, each also means that his judgment can be called into question.
While the Pope is infallible in certain narrowly defined instances, in matters of administration he can, and does, make mistakes. The last two Popes made lots of misjudgments in their appointments, I am sure, so it should come as no surprise that this Pope may also do so. Like Charles II, the Pope can always attribute his mistakes to those who advise him. And here, of course, the council of cardinals has its role to play in advising the Pope and letting him know the mind of the faithful. The Church is not a democracy, but it is a family, and in every happy family all voices need to be heard.