Massimo Faggioli makes it seem that Joe Biden will bring a new or better set of conditions for Pope Francis’ relationship to American Catholics. On the one hand, Biden brings stability and restores diplomatic channels in contrast to the frosty relationship between Francis and the Trump administration:
Trump’s victory in November stunned the Vatican, but it didn’t flinch. Rather, it adhered to old diplomatic adages: “Never close a door” and “make yourself predictable.” Of course, this was not to be the way of the new president. While he behaved according to protocol on his visit with the first lady to the Vatican in May 2017, even projecting a sense of diplomatic normalcy, operatives like Newt Gingrich and Steve Bannon were simultaneously forging connections with anti-Francis prelates in a political project aimed at subverting the status quo both in Europe and in the Catholic Church. The idea was to introduce into the symbolic and administrative heart of Catholicism the pathogen that would be known as Trumpism, perhaps even to make Rome the parallel capital of a new anti-European and anti-Francis continent. That project, fortunately, has failed; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s extraordinary October attack against the sovereign diplomacy of the Holy See over its renewal of the September 2018 provisional agreement with China in some ways serves as proof. Indeed, his tantrum might actually have worked to Francis’s benefit, as the Vatican was able to signal to the world that it doesn’t take orders from America.
On the other, Biden may be a POTUS in tune not only with the Vatican’s faith but also Francis’ social teaching:
And though an America under Biden might seem a better fit with this papacy, it’s worth remembering that the most important documents Francis has produced—Laudato si’, Amoris laetitia, and Fratelli tutti—speak to the United States in a direct and not uncritical way. They don’t at all suggest anti-Americanism, but they do suggest a view of the world that is post-American.
Such distance or even antagonism between America and the Vatican should be put in perspective and the recent report on Theodore McCarrick can help. As much as left-leaning critics of American capitalism and individualism like to claim the mantle of Francis’ encyclicals against free markets and global warming for support, they seem to forget that the wealth of the American church has benefitted the Vatican considerably. Whether or what Francis knew about McCarrick’s sexual exploits, the pope did not seem to mind receiving funds that seemingly the worst features of American economics generated. For instance, a story from 2016:
The Papal Foundation in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, has awarded grants totaling $10 million in support of Pope Francis’s charitable work around the world, Vatican Radio reports.
The foundation, which has a $215 million endowment, was established in 1988 by United States clergy and laity to support the papacy’s charitable priorities. In 2015, the foundation distributed more than $15 million in support of housing, hospitals, education, and pro-life programs. Since 1988, it has awarded more than $121 million.
“We are called by Christ to share this mercy,” said Pope Francis, “with those who are spiritually and materially in need through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
The Papal Foundation, which Francis himself praised at least on one occasion, was an important part of the work of McCarrick for the better part of thirty years. Some of the foundation’s gifts may have sent not only resources but signals to the Vatican:
As an ex officio member of the board of cardinals which controls the Foundation, McCarrick advocated and voted four times to approve an extraordinary, expedited grant of $25 million to the Vatican, in order to help it bail out a scandal-plagued dermatology hospital that it controls, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI) in Rome: first in executive session in June 2017, then at the Foundation’s annual meeting in December 2017, again in January 2018, and finally in April 2018.
During at least the latter three votes, then-Cardinal McCarrick knew that he was under a Vatican-authorized investigation, carried out by the Archdiocese of New York, for sexually molesting a boy. According to a source with first-hand knowledge of the matter, McCarrick knew by October 2017 at the latest that he was under investigation. Because the recipient of the $25 million grant was the Vatican, which was the very entity that would determine McCarrick’s fate as a result of the investigation it authorized into his conduct, McCarrick appears to have had a manifest and gross conflict of interest.
However someone comes down on the McCarrick report, whether it was indictment of John Paul II (and so a rebuke to American Catholic conservatives) or an indication of the current Vatican administration and the clerical culture that it oversees, the money that McCarrick raised, the economy that produced that wealth, and the pope that received financial gifts even while casting aspersions on liberalism and capitalism should be part of the evaluation of the scandal surrounding McCarrick.