Embroiled in sexual abuse scandals, shady financial dealings, Curial power-plays, and even full-blown doctrinal disputes – rather than becoming the engine of reform, the C9 has, to some, begun to look like a microcosm of everything going wrong in the Church. Critics have begun to ask if the Council of Cardinals, and the whole of Pope Francis’s reforming agenda, still has the credibility to effect any meaningful change.
For example, clerical sexual abuse has reemerged as a major crisis in the Church, and three of C9 are connected directly to issues surrounding sexual abuse allegations.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and a close confidant of the pope, is the C9’s official coordinator. For months, he has been dogged by allegations concerning his personal finances. At the same time, his auxiliary bishop and his frequent proxy in the governance of his archdiocese, Juan Pineda, was forced recently to resign, after allegations were made public that he sexually approached seminarians and maintained a string of male lovers – and allegations were also made that those behaviors were widely known in the diocese and by the cardinal.
In response to that scandal, several seminarians from Tegucigalpa wrote an open letter to the bishops of Honduras, detailing a culture of open and active homosexuality in the seminary, with reprisals taken against those who spoke out. Cardinal Maradiaga reportedly denounced the letter’s authors and their motivations for writing it.
Cardinal George Pell, another member of the C9, has had to return to Australia to defend himself against “historic” allegations of sexual abuse. While the trial is ongoing, the cardinal is vigorously defending himself in court against the charges, and questions have been asked about the methods of Victoria police during their investigation.
Furthermore, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, a C9 cardinal who was known to be a close friend of the pope before his election, has emerged as a central figure in the disastrous Chilean abuse scandal.
Though he retired as Archbishop of Santiago in 2010, Errázuriz is alleged to have participated in cover-ups of clerical sexual abuse in Chile over a period of years, – including the abuse of notorious Fernando Karadima. It has also been reported that he tried to prevent Juan Carlos Cruz, the most visible and vocal of the Chilean abuse victims, from being appointed as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Young People.
While five Chilean bishops have had their resignations accepted by Francis, and although Archbishop Theodore McCarrick made history recently by resigning from the College of Cardinals in the wake of his own scandal, Errázuriz remains both a cardinal and a member of the C9.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, whose public intervention was credited with the pope’s change of heart toward Juan Carlos Cruz and the other Chilean victims, is widely considered to be the Church’s most credible voice in speaking out against sexual abuse. Yet the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he leads, has seen the resignation of two high-profile members, both survivors of sexual abuse. One of them, Marie Collins, has spoken often about her frustration that the Commission’s recommendations have not been adopted in the Curia or by national bishops’ conferences.
And O’Malley has faced criticism over reports that in 2015 his office received a letter from a priest detailing allegations against McCarrick, but issued only a staff member’s response, saying that the allegation was not the cardinal’s responsibility to address.
If the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a member of the C9, cannot advance binding reforms in the Curia, or even instill a culture of moral responsibility in his own staff, some working in Vatican tell CNA they are left wondering whether meaningful change can be expected to get beyond rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the structural reform of the Curia rumbles on, with Vatican departments being newly created, combined and renamed.
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Initially, the most important of these new developments was the creation of the Prefecture for the Economy, led by Cardinal Pell. But even before Pell had to return to Australia, it became clear that bringing transparency and accountability to the Vatican finances was going to be an uphill slog.
In 2016, the Secretariat of State cancelled an external audit of Curial finances that had been arranged by Pell’s department. The cancellation was ordered by then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Angelo Becciu. It was widely seen as an old-fashioned power-play - neither Becciu nor anyone else at the Secretariat of State technically had the authority to overrule Pell and the Prefecture for the Economy. That Francis was persuaded to back the move, granting it legal authority after-the-fact, was seen a serious blow to financial reform in the Curia.
In June 2017, Pell’s departure for Australia coincided with the dismissal of the first Vatican auditor-general Libero Milone. Milone was fired in dramatic fashion by the Secretariat of State, once again through Angelo Becciu, while being accused of “spying” on the finances of senior officials and facing the threat of prosecution.
Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were a direct threat to the Curial old guard. In May of this year, the Vatican quietly announced it had dropped all charges against Milone, but the financial reforms he and Pell were working towards appear to have been effectively dropped as well.
Despite expectations that the C9 would deliver a comprehensive reform of the Roman Curia, the results have been decidedly haphazard. New ‘super-dicasteries,’ like the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, were announced with much fanfare, but thus far, without clear mandates of responsibility and processes for oversight, changes to the names of departments appear to be about as tangible as the reforms have gotten.
Meanwhile, as other departments like the Prefecture for the Economy have had their wings very publicly clipped, the Secretariat of State has seen its influence grow under Cardinal Parolin, to the point where virtually all Vatican business, either formally or informally, comes under its purview.