Servers carry red hats as Pope Francis leads a consistory to create 14 new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 28, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Unholy influence

Originally Appeared in : 9905-2/28/19

On Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, gave a farewell address to the American people. He famously stated, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” 


That prescient warning struck me recently as I began reading Andrea Tornielli’s book “Il Giorno del Giudizio: Conflitti, guerre di potere, abusi e scandali. Cosa sta davvero succedendo nella Chiesa” (November 2018), regarding the ongoing abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, as a source for possible editorials in this newspaper. Tornielli is an exceptionally well-informed Vaticanista, who founded the blog “Vatican Insider.” Last December, Pope Francis appointed Tornielli Editorial Director of all Vatican communications.


Unlike his blog, Tornielli’s book is not yet available in English, so I will have to offer my own unofficial translations and paraphrases.


The reason why General Eisenhower’s warning came to mind was a phrase introduced on page 14. Tornielli describes the simultaneous worldwide release on Aug. 14, 2018, of the now-infamous dossier of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, detailing the rise of Theodore McCarrick through the ranks of the priesthood and episcopacy and the Cardinalate, from which Pope Francis had already removed him in June 2018, before dismissing him from the clerical state— “defrocking” him—in January 2019 (made public in February, after McCarrick’s appeal was rejected). 


This release of the dossier, Tornielli writes, took place through a “media network”, connected with “the conservative galassia (“galaxy” or “complex”) of the pope’s opponents. I have already written in these pages how bizarre it was that the documentation of the rise of a serial abuser to the penultimate heights of the hierarchy, with which Jorge Mario Bergolio had nothing to do—and who as Pope Francis would ultimately bring McCarrick down—could be used as a pretext to demand the resignation of the Holy Father.


Tornielli links the multinational media network with the “conservative” complex of opponents of Pope Francis. Is this not a Media-Industrial” (or “Media-Financial”) complex?
He uses the word “conservative” to refer to neoconservative, traditionalist and anti-conciliar (Vatican II) circles, whom he accuses of seeking “Regime Change” or “Impeachment” of Pope Francis—an “act without precedent…achieved by a diplomat who decided to violate the pontifical secret.”


Given Viganò’s reputation for integrity and probity, his release of his “testimony” on Aug. 14, 2018, seemed anomalous and gave rise, in the minds of observers, including his former colleagues, that the elderly prelate was being manipulated—perhaps by something like the “Media-Industrial Complex” described above.


Tornielli mentions one particular gathering of members of the Complex, about a month after the release of Viganò’s “bombshell.” In September, reports surfaced of a cocktail party hosted by The Catholic University of America, with six Cardinal trustees of CUA in attendance. A “squad of super-rich Catholics, a self-appointed ‘Group for the Better Governance of the Church’ announced plans to prepare a dossier on every Cardinal Elector in a future conclave to elect a new pope, in which the level of involvement and individual response of every Cardinal with respect to the scandals of sexual abuse and other manifestations of clerical corruption will be presented.” This “Red Hat Report” will involve “at least 40 investigators, including journalists considered ‘expert’ in Vatican matters and some 10 ex-agents of the FBI. Among its directors is Jay Richards, at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and a regular fixture on EWTN.”


Philip Nielson, who will compile the “Red Hat Report,” has said that “each cardinal will be presented according to a system of classification which will distinguish subjects ‘gravely culpable’ from those suspected of culpability and from those who emerged clean with respect to clerical abuse.” Nielson added, “If we had had the ‘Red Hat Report,’ …perhaps we might not have had Pope Francis.”


The last time outside influence was brought to bear on a conclave was in 1903, following the death of Pope Leo XIII. After two ballots on Aug. 1, Cardinal Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla had amassed 29 votes (out of the 42 votes needed for election). When the balloting resumed the next morning, “Cardinal Jan Maurycy Pawel Puzyna de Kosielsko, the Prince-Bishop of Kraków, … acting on instructions from Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, exercised the Emperor’s right to veto one candidate”—namely Rampolla, who was regarded as pro-French. An uproar ensued and Rampolla withdrew himself from consideration, paving the way for the eventual election of Cardinal Giuseppe Melchior Sarto as Pope Pius X.


On 20 Jan. 1904, “less than six months after his election, Pius X issued the apostolic constitution Commissum Nobis… prohibiting not only the assertion of the right to veto but even the expression of ‘a simple desire’ to that effect,” under penalty of “automatic excommunication.” He “also required conclave participants to swear an oath to abide by these rules and not allow any influence by ‘lay powers of any grade or order,” which would include the self-appointed “Group for Better Governance of the Church” and other members of the “Media-Industrial Complex” who appear to be seeking “the acquisition of unwarranted influence,” against which we, the Church must always guard. 


As Massimo Faggioli notes in his article “An offer we must refuse: The wealthy can buy influence in politics, they must not be allowed to buy it in the Church” (Feb. 11, 2019), “Wealthy donors want to make us believe that, in their generosity, they are trying to save the Church from corruption. He cites the maxim, protectio trahit subjectionem—"protection through money involves allegiance to money.” 


While the Church clearly needs purification and reform of its personnel practices, and the voices of the lay faithful must be heard and considered in order to bring about the necessary changes to policies, we must not return to corrupt practices of old, such as the purchase of influence—“pay to play”—  to correct current corrupt practices within the Church.


Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.

Go to top