Monday, December 6, 2010

Vatican Notions Of Accountability Equate To 'Manning Up' Not Moving Down Or Out

The late Cardinal Michele Giordano meets with Naples prosecutors previous to his 2002 trial for loan sharking.

The following piece by John Allen about the recent death of Italian Cardinal Giordano piqued my curiosity because it's a piece of spin attempting to explain how the Vatican deals with curial officials who hold ecclesiastical rank when those men do things the rest of us consider criminal----criminal, not just immoral or sinful.  I've edited it for length.

Naples cardinal illustrated cultural gap on accountability

John Allen - NCR - 12/06/2010

In a thumbnail: In the late 1990s, Giordano was indicted for fraud and went through a full criminal trial (though he never set foot in court) in a case arising from a real estate scam orchestrated by his brother, causing massive embarrassment for the Italian church and the Vatican. (Italian authorities were also concerned about his brother's connections with the Mafia as the case also concerned loan sharking.)

The case generated church-state tensions when police insisted on examining confidential documents of the Naples archdiocese, in addition to financial records that Giordano provided. The Vatican also protested that Italian investigators had not informed them that Giordano was a target of investigation, a notice they should have given under the terms of the concordat between the Holy See and Italy.

At one stage, prosecutors revealed that they had tapped Giordano’s phone, which led the astonished cardinal to complain to the press: “I could have been talking to the pope!” (Probably not on that particular phone line--unless he meant another kind of pope.)

Although Giordano was acquitted in 2000, the outcome was not exactly a vindication. Essentially, the court bought Giordano’s defense that he was guilty of naiveté and sloppy administration, not criminal intent.
Giordano found himself in the dock once again in 2002, facing criminal charges in another real estate case. This time he was actually found guilty and sentenced to four months in prison and a fine, though that verdict was suspended and eventually overturned on appeal.......

The typical American take-away is that the Giordano saga illustrates a lack of accountability at senior levels of the church, since a cardinal who obviously made some dubious choices never lost his job.  (The Maciel case would suggest something different.  Accountability in the Vatican is a commodity one can purchase.)

In the Vatican, however, the perspective was different. I remember talking to senior officials in both the Congregation for Bishops and the Secretariat of State throughout the Giordano drama, and while some suspected Giordano might be the victim of an anti-clerical vendetta, even those who regarded him as guilty weren’t interested in coming to his rescue. The message was that he’s going to have to stay put and clean up his own mess. (A Mexican standoff seems more likely.  Giorodano undoubtedly had security codes to Archdiocesan accounts the Vatican couldn't afford to lose. Which is maybe why Giordano's successor, Cardinal Sepe, is also in the same exact kind of trouble.)

In other words, the Vatican version of accountability was to allow Giordano to stew in his own juices, rather than getting him off the hook by arranging a face-saving resignation.

Not only was that a tactical calculation to deny Giordano a soft landing, but it also reflects the official theology of the episcopal office. In theory, a bishop is not supposed to be like a CEO or a sports coach, who gets fired for poor performance. He’s more comparable to the father of a family, and policy-makers stepped in this “pater familias” view of the bishops’ role would say that the right course of action when times get tough is not to walk away, but to “man up” and make things right......

.......Nonetheless, the Giordano story illustrates a key insight into Vatican psychology, one that sometimes is obscured by differing cultural assumptions. When the Vatican refuses to sack a bishop, it’s not always about the absence of accountability, but rather a different view of what holding him accountable means.....


I was all  a dither to learn how Giordano 'manned up' and made things right, but alas, John Allen doesn't tell us.  Now that Cardinal Sepe is in the same boat of having to 'man up' maybe I will learn how an Archbishop should 'man up' when the secular authorities think he is in bed with the manly Mafia--- another group which firmly believes in the notion of 'pater familias'.  I can't help but wonder which group of manly fathers actually runs the Archdiocese of Naples, the Vatican or the Mafia?  Maybe there isn't much of a difference or maybe the titular heads of Naples belong to both family groups.  Maybe it's just a family thing.

I personally am not moved by Allen's attempt to explain Vatican accountability.  In fact, I think I'm offended.  If staying in place and facing the secular music is the Vatican's idea of accountability, that means there is no ecclesiastical accountability.  Bishops only face accountability from secular legal proceedings or their own conscience. In the meantime they stay in place with full perks and full access to all the money laity donate as well as the funds these men generate elsewhere.  This is all tax free money with no one looking over their shoulders.  No wonder some of it tends to get shared with their biological families. It's a great gig if you can get it.  Best if all, once you get it , no matter what you do, you get to keep it. 

Allen calls this system 'pater familias' but it's really a form of divine monarchy.  Now a days, abusive criminal fathers are held accountable by their family members, at least to the extent they aren't accorded any meaningful authority over the rest of the family.  This is perhaps why a lot of American Catholics don't get the Vatican notion of accountability and don't get why Cardinal Law is in Rome free from harassment by secular legal authorities.  Plus there is that number of confessed bishop predators who still retain their rank and the perks that go with the rank.  This is a much better deal than a Mafia don, where rank is still retained while in prison, but the don still has to go to prison. Not so with Catholic cardinals and bishops.  Some of them even get better mansions.

I keep mulling over the question of priority when it comes to Church reform.  Should the first priority be the entrenched untouchable hierarchical structure or should it be the theology and tradition from which that structure was created.  The truth is there is no New Testament justification for either one and plenty of justification for condemning both.  It is very difficult for me to picture the itinerant Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth parading in St Peter's in full papal regalia. Constantine yes, Jesus no.  Maybe if our so called Apostolic Successors had to spend some time in prison cells like their ancient predecessors, they might come to some conclusions about their own place in the cosmic scheme of things.  That place is not as clerical versions of mafia dons.


  1. I am so glad I have nothing to do with these idiots-or with any other group of religious buffoons.
    If religion had any positive effect on morality, places with lots of religion would be more moral, not like Naples, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Brazil, India, Pakistan, etc...........
    Religion's only effect on morality seems to be a strongly negative correlation.
    And these jerks want tax breaks?

  2. Theology or structure? A hard choice, Colleen, as it's a circular relationship. The theology is used to justify the structure, but the structure is used to create the theology - which is certainly not found in the Gospels or the persecuted church before Rome.

    I'm pretty certain that if an alternative structure were somehow put in place,a new theology would be found pretty quickly.

    Perhaps that is exactly what is happening right now - there are signs all around us that people are simply disbelieving the Vatican claims of ultimate authority. One of the more interesting statements in "Light of the World" is Benedict't admission that he has no power at all outside of people's minds - and that power is being eroded daily.

  3. Lately I've been thinking about Wikileaks and what the notion of transparency means. We are in a new age. This one is proving to be radically different from that which preceded it on a Gutenberg scale.

    Problems like those of the Vatican won't be compartmentalized. There's not much rug left to sweep anything under. And all the "solution to pollution is dilution" strategies of moving the problem clerics around won't work any more. There is no place to hide. Information is everywhere.

    Unlike most of their contemporaries the Vatican clerics were longing for the past when they were children. How many of the bishops and cardinals came from broken homes? abusive homes? single parent families? How many of them came from poverty? Their frame of reference predates the "Leave it to Beaver"/"Father knows Best" world. Psychologically they're children of the 1890's or earlier. They are shaped by the worldly views of their grandparents. It is a world of European noblesse oblige where one's betters should be deferred to and the rabble with their notions of democracy best ought to be ignored.

    They don't have a clue about how to relate to the billion destitute in the world. They don't know what it means to "man up" anymore than Bertie Wooster would.

    At the Drone's club one has one's gentleman's gentleman for such matters.


  4. If only someone could make Cardinal Sepe an offer he can't refuse.

  5. Terence, I think Benedict's admission about how his power resides in people's minds is a great point. I think that's why he continually stresses reason as a component of faith. The problem is in too much of Church teaching that's the equivalent to a psychotic using logic to justify their delusional structure. The logi may be marvelous in it's application, but if the underlying assumptions the logic defends are delusional fantasies the conclusions are just as delusional as the assumptions. The conclusions won't meet any kind of reality test.

    p2p, I found it very typical that the founder of Wikileaks is now facing arrest and extradition to Sweden. This must be the first time a guy has been extradited on what amounts to a dispute about a broken condom and definitions of consensual sex.

    I hope wikileaks has a back up plan in place because I for one am very interested in the dirt they supposedly have on big Pharma. The internet may prove to be a very difficult messenger for the big boys to shoot or silence.