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Pope Francis was courageous to call out the diplomats

The Holy See’s diplomatic corps – gathered en masse for their triennial meeting last week – has had its prominence and power restored under Pope Francis. But a new openness about abuses of that power means that diplomatic culture must change in nunciatures the world over.

Since the reforms of St Paul VI, the Roman Curia has had two centres of gravity, the Secretariat of State – responsible for administration and diplomacy – and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the “supreme” congregation for doctrine and discipline, whose nihil obstat is required for all major personnel decisions.

Under St John Paul II and his chief lieutenant, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the CDF increased in influence. That was extended with the election of Benedict XVI in 2005, and the selection of his former deputy at the CDF, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as the new Secretary of State. A doctrine man was in charge of the diplomats.

Pope Francis set out to restore the diplomats to their former glory immediately. Bertone was replaced by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a career diplomat. Another long-serving nuncio, Lorenzo Baldisseri, was put in charge of the synod office, which now has more influence over magisterial documents than the CDF. When looking for a new head of the Congregation for the Clergy, Pope Francis chose the head of the diplomatic training academy, a post where the only sheep around are other shepherds.

So it appeared as if the priestly diplomats were in for a pontificate of going serenely from strength to strength. But events have intervened, and the next years will be turbulent ones for nuncios – at least the bad ones, of which there are not a few.

The case of Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, the predator nuncio in the Dominican Republic, came to light early in the pontificate. Francis removed him from his post and he was tried in the Vatican for sexual abuse and dismissed from the clerical state. He died while his canonical appeal was pending. Had he lived, the Holy See would have stripped his diplomatic immunity so that he could face criminal charges in both his native Poland and the Dominican Republic.

But the Wesołowski case was an extreme example. Another case reported earlier this year, may prove to be the earthquake in the diplomatic corps. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, now nuncio in Kazakhstan, was the Holy See’s man at the United Nations in New York when he was summoned to Rome in January 2014 to answer for problems in his conduct of that mission. In July he was formally removed from the position and then languished for nearly two years without formal assignment until he was shipped off to Kazakhstan.

Light was shed on that unusual career path by reporting earlier this year from Crux, which described Chullikatt’s tenure as a “horror story”, with allegations of ill-treatment of staff. (Chullikatt denied allegations of wrongdoing.)

Pope Francis has dismissed nuncios widely regarded by their colleagues as problem cases. In the delicate world of diplomats, such matters are styled as retirements, but everyone in the club knows what happened.

The tyrannical nuncio is not a rarity in the diplomatic corps; gatherings of priest-diplomats often include “war stories” of what they had to put up with in their junior years. Every young diplomatic monsignor has many of them. Nevertheless, it must have been a shock to hear Pope Francis speak openly about it to the nuncios.

“Christ warns us about the temptation of the wicked servant,” said Pope Francis, referring to the parable where one servant beats his fellow servants, certainly a choice that would have got the archbishops’ attention (cf Matthew 24:48-51).

“The nuncio ceases to be a ‘man of the Church’ when he begins to treat badly his collaborators, the staff, the sisters and the nunciature’s community as a bad master and not as a father and pastor. It’s sad to see such nuncios who afflict their collaborators with the same displeasure that they themselves received from other nuncios when they were collaborators.”

There are of course many good and faithful priests and bishops in the diplomatic corps, but an inter-generational tradition of tyranny and corruption is also present. Pope Francis was courageous to call it out.

The emeritus not in the room was Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who turned against the Holy Father over Theodore McCarrick and revealed pontifical secrets. He was savaged in private, and there were thinly veiled references to him in public. Yet Viganò is more the future than the past.

The new legislation promulgated by Pope Francis for the Vatican City State and the diplomatic corps, as well as the new reporting requirements for sexual abuse for the whole Church, are aimed generally at moving from a culture of concealment to a culture of reporting and accountability. Another biblical passage might be more fitting for the corps in the years ahead: what is done in the darkness will be brought into the light (Luke 8:17).

Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of convivium.ca