Rorate Caeli

French analyst: Pope Francis' harshness betrays his growing isolation and weakness within the Church

Prof. Odon Vallet, a liberal historian of religion who is highly influential in France (he is the "progressive" go-to man for analyses of Catholic current events in French media), has already been quoted in Rorate before. This is the interview granted by him to French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on the Pope and the Curia.

"Pope Francis has 90% of the Curia against him"

Le Journal du Dimanche
December 23, 2015

INTERVIEW - Historian Odon Vallet interprets pope Francis' very harsh words for the Curia, the group of influent personalities in the Vatican. On Monday [December 22, 2014], the Pope presented a list of the 15 "infirmities" that affected the interior of the Holy See, including "spiritual Alzheimer's" and "existential schizophrenia". Odon Vallet is a historian of religions and the author of "God and religions in 101 Q & As" [Dieu et les religions en 101 questions-réponses], [published by] Albin Michel, and he sees a pope who is isolated and weakened.

[Le Journal du Dimanche] How to explain such harshness of Pope Francis towards the members of the Curia?

[Vallet] His words are indeed very harsh. Pope Francis speaks of "mental petrification" within the Curia. After the last Synod (editor's note: on the family), the Pope sees that his adversaries are at the heart of the government of the Church. In particular, without naming them, the American, African, and Italian bishops.

Do these words express a difficulty in achieving the reforms he set out to do?

Nothing allows us to assume that he will be able to accomplish his reforms. I gather that he has an under-50% chance of accomplishing them. The reform of the Council of Trent (16th century) took 18 years, and required six popes... Pope Francis is 78, his undertaking in the renewal of the Church will be very difficult. Even more so because he has 90% of the Curia against him.

On the other hand he is very much appreciated by the faithful...

He is just as popular in Europe as he is in difficulty with those who are near him. Popularity can give rise to jealousy. Remember the crowd that applauded Jesus at Palm Sunday, and that spat on him on Good Friday.

Do you see in this speech a pope who is cornered, or a chief who is trying to affirm his authority?

Pope Francis comes from the Jesuit school. They advocate discernment and moderation. Today, the supreme pontiff resembles above all an intensive-care physician. I recall that he has already compared the Church to a hospital. Maybe he should have the interest of having his speeches read [beforehand] by more diplomatic persons, because those who approve of them in substance disagree with their form.

But who is he fighting against? Why is he this isolated within the Vatican?

When he was elected, he understood the problems of the Curia poorly. That which he found out went beyond his fears. Even if he has named people close to him, he would need 10 to 12 years to turn the bishops to his side. The problem of the curia is the same of that huge cruiser that ran aground the Italian shores. We can imagine that the cardinals and the bishops set up such a strong inertia in the Vatican machinery that Francis can do nothing about it. His worst enemies are those who praise him in the crowd.

Has he already lost the battle against his internal adversaries?

At this moment, he is in the process of losing it. Silence is gold...and he sets up a whole [new] category of persons against himself each day with his declarations. If I were pope Francis, I would put a cardinal in charge of saying good things about people and of putting oil in the cogwheels, instead of throwing it into the fire.

Can you see pope Francis resigning?

Yes. Even though he can still reverse the trend. His speech is perhaps a way of saying, "I will die standing."

(Vincent Lenoir) [Original, in French - Rorate translation]