‘‘no one knows all of what he’s doing,” Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said in an article in the latest edition of National Geographic. “His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: one person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.”
The Holy See’s press office director shrugged and observed: “This is the life.”
Although remarkably frank, Fr Lombardi’s words on working for Pope Francis do not come as a complete surprise. Last year, when a second unrecorded interview with the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari appeared, it took Fr Lombardi unawares. He wasn’t consulted on as important a matter as an interview with a major newspaper (that and other similar incidents led some even to suggest that the Vatican spokesman should offer his resignation on the grounds that his authority was being undermined).
Inside sources back up Fr Lombardi’s comments, saying a small inner circle exists which the Holy Father consults, but those in charge of the Vatican communications are often not a part of it. This is especially frustrating for Fr Lombardi, who greatly valued the direction and clarity of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
But the Vatican spokesman welcomed the fact that the Secretary of State’s office is not as centralised as it once was. “The Pope has many relations that are directed by him alone, without any mediation,” he said in the article. This was positive “in a sense”, he added, as in the past some had too much power over the Pope and that isn’t “the case now”.
Officials say privately that the Pope can run things with an iron fist, and that if he asks you to carry out a task, he expects you to do it well and not tarry “or there will be consequences”. Furthermore, officials advise not proposing anything to the Holy Father unless you already know he would like the idea.
One official complained half-jokingly that it was like working under Mussolini: a dictatorial and confusing regime inside, huge adulating crowds outside. Another said more charitably that the Pope simply acts like an old-school religious superior: he lives an austere life and expects obedience. Coming after pontificates which lacked strong curial governance, this approach is useful for Vatican reform and largely welcomed, albeit with room for improvement in the area of internal communications.
Alas, after 11 years, this is my last Vatican Notebook for the Catholic Herald. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who have read my reports from Rome, and of course the Herald staff who kindly gave me the column to write back in 2004. From September, I’ll be writing exclusively for the American Catholic newspaper, the National Catholic Register.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund