Rorate Caeli

"Benedict XVI is by himself"
The disastrous "bad governance" legacy of Vatican II and John Paul II

Published today in La Croix, the semi-official daily of the French episcopate [tip: Le Forum Catholique]:

For Philippe Levillain, an expert in the recent history of the Popes, the adaptation of the Curia to the new orientations of Vatican II greatly contributed to make its governance more complex. 

LA CROIX: In the course of History, has it become more difficult to govern the Vatican? 

Philippe Levillain: Vatican II set a new stage, by making structures more complex. Numerous committees and commissions were established, in order to apply the new axes of the Council: interreligious dialogue, health, family, justice and peace, laity. These structures were added to those that were the heart of the traditional Curia, with the classic dicasteries (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [Holy Office], Evangelization of peoples [Propaganda Fide]...). Out of this fact, the role of the Secretary of State, the number 2 of the Holy See, is henceforth one of an orchestra-man, charged with creating synergies and coordinating the whole of these actions while playing the part of an arbiter. It is extremely complex. A pope will undoubtedly not be able to do as Pius XII, who decreed that he would fill the functions of Secretary of State from 1944 to 1958. 

The Secretary of State chosen by Benedict XVI presents, from this point of view, a profile somewhat different from that of his predecessors? 

Yes, John Paul II had chosen Secretaries of State who knew well the machinery of the State, as Cardinals Agostino Casaroli or Angelo Sodano, personalities to whom he was not nevertheless particularly close. On the contrary, Benedict XVI named as Secretary of State someone very close to him, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was always his faithful companion in the Curia.

It is to be noted, however, that, while John Paul II had entrusted the administration to a "high-level servant" used to the Curia, he had also placed men of trust, Poles, in all dicasteries, creating in this way a kind of "Parallel Curia". Benedict XVI has absolutely not put in place a parallel German system. 

There is the sentiment that the Vatican suffers from bad governance, is that new? 

In reality, John Paul II left aside some particularly sensitive matters, without truly taking charge of them, and his successor partly pays the price of this incompetence. For instance, the question of the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder was left in place while his sexual deviations were known, at least partly. In the same way, he did not take serious charge of the consequences of the pedophilia cases, and particularly with the juridical questions on the way guilty priests should be treated. Or also, following the moment in which the Lefebvrist broke negotiations, John Paul II allowed the schism with the Traditionalists to take hold. 

Finally, was not the Vatican always a place of intrigue? 

Yes, but, before, this intrigue was mostly motivated by the desire to occupy positions. ... What is new today is the strong media promotion of all that surrounds the pope. This began with Vatican II, but was masterfully magnified by John Paul II. Today, the pope is by himself before public opinion.  

Philippe Levillain supervised the publication of the Dictionnaire historique de la papauté [Historical Dictionary of the Papacy], Fayard, 2006.