Rorate Caeli

The quiet life

The Washington Post published a long article on Saturday on Vatileaks and the inner workings of the Holy See - nothing new. But it contained a wonderful portrayal of what we could call "a day in the life of Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca", current Secretary of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, a gifted Latinist and a friend of the Traditional Mass. He is Sicilian, so perhaps the reporter was expecting something spicy, or mysterious, from the man who is the budget director of a large and wide-ranging global corporation. Instead...

On a rainy December day, Benedict clapped along with jugglers, lion tamers and puppeteers in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall as the church opened its arms to the world of itinerant circus performers. While a woman wearing a cat mask twirled four hula hoops in the hall, Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca was chauffeured across a piazza behind Vatican walls to greet a visitor.

“Good morning, dottore!” Sciacca called from the passenger seat of a small blue Volkswagen. Sciacca, the successor of Viganò, the central player in the leaks scandal, is a sprightly and gregarious Sicilian who walks around Rome doffing his hat to the waiters and storekeepers. He tends to stop walking when he has something to say, with the expectation that his audience will stop to listen.

Sciacca, who will play a principal role in organizing the papal transition, has a reputation for intelligence and honesty, but unlike his reform-minded predecessor, he is considered loyal to Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict’s No. 2. When asked for an interview as he window-shopped for vestments on Via dei Cestari, behind the Pantheon, he said he first needed to see the questions and get permission to talk. He shrugged off the suggestion that an official request should go through the Vatican press office.

He would need permission, he said, from Bertone.

As the Volkswagen rolled to his Vatican apartment, Sciacca claimed that he had overruled Bertone and his lieutenants in agreeing to an interview. “They told me not to talk to you!” he said, jokingly comparing himself to a “shepherd who invites in the wolf.”

The driver pulled up to Palazzo San Carlo, a centuries-old apartment building opposite the Vatican’s private gas station. Above the few steps, renovated with wheelchair access for the aged prelates, a polished gold plate held the names of the building’s residents. On a lower floor were offices belonging to one of the Vatican’s financial institutions. On the top floor lived one of the cardinals Gabriele had named as a sympathizer to his concerns about the Vatican.

Sciacca’s home is a spacious L-shaped apartment warmed by thousands of books broken into sections reflecting his years as a Latinist, high school teacher of literature and philosophy, canonist and judge on the church court. He pointed out a portrait of Benedict overlooking the hallway that he had commissioned.

“Economics, the budget, transparency! This is what I think about,” he said. “It cost a couple hundred of euros. It’s not necessary to spend more. Plus Michelangelo’s not around anymore.”

Sciacca had his good-governance talking points down. In the corner of his bedroom, opposite a purple clerical robe hung on the outside of a wooden armoire, a single bed lay under a modest comforter. (“I’m single” he joked.) In the study was a faux-marble statue of the Good Shepherd with a sheep draped over his shoulders that he had picked up “at a good price in the Vatican museums,” he said.

Over espresso and a couple of slices of pandoro at the kitchen table, covered in mandarin oranges and marmalades offered to him at the morning’s Mass, Sciacca said he’d later offer a tour of the Vatican grounds “with my cheap car. I’ve always had little cars because when I was a kid in Sicily, I noticed that people got angry if they saw priests in luxury cars. Decorum, yes, solemnity in worship and the liturgy, but the private life should always be poor.

He took a seat on a burgundy leather couch in his study and read six typed pages he had prepared in response to transparency questions.

He paid heed to “my predecessor, the former Secretary General Viganò,” for imposing more rigorous checks on spending and the rewarding of contracts, which “I maintained and enhanced.” As a testament to his belt-tightening, he pointed to the church-owned organic cattle farm outside Rome that provided the Vatican with less-expensive beef. Mindful of the exorbitant costs Viganò targeted for the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, Sciacca focused on a cut-rate deal he had reached on a centerpiece.

“This year, we will have a full savings,” he said. He added that the pope was pleased about the budget discipline, that the region was delighted about the publicity and that the Vatican workers expressed no misgivings.

“They were all happy. They congratulated me. They said, ‘What good news!’ If they were angry they would have demonstrated their own dishonesty,” he said, referring to the workers. With his script lowered, he continued: “They’re not so stupid. This is also the proof that everyone worked well.”

Sciacca offered a hard copy of his answers and a jar of peach marmalade as he selected a bottle of wine for his lunch meeting with a powerful French cardinal from the diplomatic corps. Sciacca asked a Washington Post reporter to put his number in the prelate’s phone, an old flip-style cell. The reporter accidentally stumbled upon Sciacca’s list of contacts and backed off. “Go ahead!” Sciacca said. “There aren’t any mobsters in there. There’s nothing to hide.”

Downstairs, he asked a gendarmes officer to lend him a driver and a car, small and economical, he specified, to escort his guest on a tour of the sprawling, immaculate gardens. From the passenger seat, he pointed out elaborate fountains, the old Vatican train station and the grotto where Benedict takes a walk every afternoon. The tour concluded at St. Anne’s Gate, near where the butler was then being held. Sciacca promised an electronic copy of his answers on a disk. He later provided a Verbatim floppy disk.


poeta said...

Ah, the Vatican! In the words of Fr. Zuhlsdorf, "Yesterday's technology tomorrow!"

speranza said...

Sciacca for Pope!

Matt said...

How quiet? His "busyness" seems a little off key with a quiet life."

HonestAbe said...

Sciacca, the successor of Viganò, the central player in the leaks scandal, is a sprightly and gregarious Sicilian...