Recently – and after some years of internationalization - the Vatican has been becoming once again more Italian in many fields. There is a sort of comeback of the Italian influence within the Sacred Walls. The appointment of five Italians, all coming from the Ceremonial of State, might show that the Vatican’s Italianizing trend did not happen by chance.
The second piece of food for thought: Pope Francis' modus operandi. Pope Francis has shown until now a certain intolerance towards titles like that of Gentlemen of His Holiness. Rumor had it that the Pope wanted to abolish these titles and the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, since both recalled the Papal Court.
In the end, both the structure and the titles stayed. The Pope changed the way of managing them. In the particular case of the Gentlemen of His Holiness, observers noted that some of the noble families traditionally associated with the Papacy are not represented among the Gentlemen. At the same time, the latest appointments choose State officials without many connections with the Vatican world.
The third reason: although one could find these issues to be of secondary or even less importance in a complex Vatican world, they are not. The Vatican speaks through its tradition, and its language is the protocol refined in centuries of history. Titles are not just for the titles' sake, in the Vatican.
Pope Paul VI knew it very well. Many said that, with his reform, Paul VI shut down the papal court. This is not true. He simply transformed it.
In the past, the papal court was divided into the Pontifical Chapel, that assisted the Pope in his functions of the spiritual father of the Catholic and Church, and the Pontifical Family, that helped the Pope in his temporal role as sovereign of the Church and head of State, but also his daily activities.
The court itself was rooted in history, and it was the expression of the spiritual reality around the Pope. Every gesture, every action had to be linked to religious meaning. That is why the Pope had a “family” helping him in his temporal functions, not State officials.
Here comes the fourth thing: what are the criteria to choose the new members of the pontifical family?
The impression is that the current criteria are more worldly. There were new members of the Pontifical Household appointed because of worldly motives or to express a particular interest in the past. There are known cases of Gentlemen of His Holiness who never should have been.
On the other hand, the fact that five people with similar profiles joined the club makes one think that there was a worldly, rather than a purely spiritual calculus at work in the choice.
If this seems like inside baseball, that’s because it is. The point is that these little details really can help us understand where the Pontificate is going.
(Column continues below)
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Pope Francis is accepting to expand the papal court, after he was supposed to be of more than half a mind to shut it all the way down. All the new members come from the Italian environment. The criteria for selection suggest external factors can influence the pontificate.
If this can be the case in little things, it might be the case in big ones, too. So it seems, at least.