ROME — As Pope Francis continues his efforts to clean up the Vatican, two of his closest advisers this week struck slightly different notes about where things stand, with one insisting the Vatican is not a “den of thieves,” but the other claiming it contains a “gay lobby” the pope is trying to dismantle.
The comments came from Italian Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs, effectively the No. 2 official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the pope’s all-important council of nine cardinal advisors.
Becciu was addressing the scandal that broke out in November, when two Italian journalists published books based on leaked documents revealing various forms of financial corruption, mismanagement, and waste.
In comments to an Italian news magazine, Becciu insisted that the depiction by some of the Vatican as a den of thieves is an “absolute falsehood.”
It’s unfair that Vatican employees, who are “proud of serving the pope and the Church,” Becciu said, “some time ago arrived at the point at which they’re embarrassed to say that they work here.”
Becciu also referred to the controversy over Peter’s Pence, an annual collection to support the pope that is billed as a way to support papal charities. Today, of every $10 collected, only $2 goes to charity, while $6 goes to fund the Church government and the rest is saved for a rainy day.
“Do we want to use $6 for charity instead of $2? Then of the Vatican’s 4,000 employees, we should immediately lay off 400,” Becciu told the Italian weekly Panorama. “We prefer not to add this extra weight to the Italian government and to stick to Pope Francis’ recommendation: Reform, but without leaving anyone out of work.”
At around the same time, Rodriguez Maradiaga discussed the state of things in the Vatican in his local Honduran newspaper “El Heraldo,” confirming that in his view there is a “gay lobby” inside the Roman Curia.
By “gay lobby,” Vatican insiders and the Italian press generally mean an informal network of gay clergy in the Vatican who support one another, and who have a vested interest in keeping one another’s secrets and helping one another move up the ladder.
(For the record, when Francis was asked back in 2013 if he had found a gay support network in the Vatican, his response was, “I have yet to find someone who can give me a Vatican ID card with ‘gay’ [written on it] … they say they are there.” Earlier, during an informal session with Latin American leaders of religious orders, the pontiff reportedly said he would “see what we can do” about the network.)
“These are things that step by step, the pope is trying to change,” Rodriguez Maradiaga said. “One can understand [the gay community], and there is pastoral legislation to attend to them, but what is wrong cannot be truth,” he said.
The cardinal, considered a strong voice of the progressive camp during the last Synod of Bishops on the family, also said there was no reason to believe that Church teaching opposing same-sex relationships will change.
“We must understand that there are things that can be reformed and others cannot,” Rodriguez said. “Natural law cannot be reformed.”
“God designed the body of the man and the body of the woman to complement each other and transmit life,” he said. “The contrary is not the plan of creation. There are things that cannot be changed.”
Referring to the Vatican bank, formally called the Institute for the Works of Religion, Rodriguez said it’s been audited and that it’s currently complying with international financial laws to prevent it from being used for money laundering.
He said that after the bank, the pope’s council of cardinal advisors next focused on the Vatican’s communications apparatus, which includes Vatican Radio, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, and the Vatican’s television center, to try to unify them and make them profitable.
Here, too, he said, things move at a pace set by Francis.
“Vatican Radio has 356 employees,” he said. “It has a deficit of $26 million each year, so we started studying possible reforms, but Francis doesn’t want for anyone to be fired.”