“There is an old guard at the Vatican, and they’ve lost control of the papacy”

“There is an old guard at the Vatican, and they’ve lost control of the papacy” March 23, 2014

Longtime Vatican observer John Thavis, author of the best-selling memoir “The Vatican Diaries,” talks with The Christian Science Monitor about Pope Francis and what some people in Rome think of him:

Q: Is there an internal old guard that’s working against the Pope in the Vatican bureaucracy known as the Curia?

A: There is an old guard at the Vatican which encompasses much of the Curia, and they’ve lost control of the papacy.

I’ve been back to Rome quite often over the past year, and every time it has struck me how the level of enthusiasm around the world for this new Pope is definitely a notch or two above that inside the Vatican.

You hear this when you talk to people who have made their careers there. They’re disoriented by this new Pope and apprehensive when they say things how the church needs to decentralize, how it’s not some kind of royal court.

He’s also made some pointed remarks about the culture inside the Vatican, and they’re not very flattering to people. And they’re concerned that his first step was to name eight cardinals, almost all of whom live outside of Rome. He’s not turning to the usual suspects and asking them to reform themselves.

Q: Can the old guard resist the Pope’s reforms?

A: They’re uncomfortable, but I don’t think they’re in a position to resist this. The Pope is the Pope. He’s made it clear he wants change, and he has a mandate from the conclave.

Also, the Vatican culture is still largely driven by the Pope. If you’re a Curia agency, you don’t embark on some major new project without his blessing. Few new projects have begun because he’s essentially ignoring them.

That’s about the worst thing that can happen to the bureaucracy. They tend to justify their own existence by creating documents and holding conferences, and I’ve seen a big drop-off in that kind of activity over the past year.

This reflects his agenda. He believes the church has spoken enough about its theology and should be less focused on the bureaucratic and theoretical aspects of the Catholic faith.

Q: Apart from his increased focus on tolerance, what other messages is Pope Francis sending to the world?

A: He’s not an erudite theologian. Instead, he reflects a lot of the grassroots experience of Catholicism in Latin America. He believes in prayer, in the gospel, in the daily mass.

He wants to spread the message that you have been saved by Jesus: Come meet us, we are a joyful community.

There’s much more. Read it all. 

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