In his first major overseas event since being elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church in March, Pope Francis has kept a whirlwind schedule at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But when he gets back to the Vatican, things aren’t about to slow down.
Beset by cold weather and rain in wintry Southern Hemisphere Brazil – and surrounded constantly by huge crowds – the Argentine-born pontiff has delivered speeches, visited Brazil’s beloved shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, hugged recovering addicts at a hospital (where he also objected to the legalization of drugs), kissed babies, blessed a flag for Rio’s Olympic Games of 2016, met people in one of the city’s worst and most dangerous slums, heard confessions from young attendees, privately counseled young jail inmates, and delivered an address focusing on the importance of family.
The beach is also the site for WYD’s biggest events with Pope Francis: the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession on Friday night, a Saturday prayer vigil and a Sunday Mass, since rain reduced the original site to a sea of mud.
In Rio, the pope has been exercising his primary role as the Vicar of Christ and chief pastor to the Church throughout the world. But at the same time, he’s also the head of a large and complex bureaucracy dating back many centuries and currently battling dishonesty and disobedience in its ranks.
So, when the pontiff bids “tchau” to Brazil and heads back to the Vatican, he’ll need to hit the ground running once again.
Taking time away from pope-watching in Rio, the National Catholic Reporter‘s John L. Allen Jr. – the most respected voice from a publication that, earlier this year, was denounced by an American bishop for not upholding Church teachings – put out a piece on Friday, July 26, outlining the challenges Pope Francis faces.
Among those is the revelation last week that serious charges of immorality were laid against former Vatican diplomat Monsignor Battista Ricca, recently appointed by Pope Francis to be his representative at the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), aka the “Vatican bank,” which is undergoing an extensive review of its accounts in the wake of accusations of financial improprieties.
According to Italian journalist Sandro Magister, Ricca violated his priestly vows by engaging in an affair with Swiss army Capt. Patrick Haari (not a member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard) and engaging a male prostitute during a stint in Uruguay in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi questioned the credibility of the report, causing Magister’s employer, the weekly L’Espresso magazine, to defend him and his sources.
As of right now, Ricca – who apparently has had a good reputation after returning to Rome and developed a working relationship with the pope – is still in his job. There’s debate over whether this is a smear job on him by those who oppose Francis’ reforms, including what’s going on at the IOR, or if it’s the result of a whitewash of his records by a self-protective group of practicing homosexuals in the Vatican, known as the “gay lobby.”
Also on the reform front, on July 19, Francis created a commission of lay business and legal experts to investigate accounting practices across all Vatican departments, with its first meeting set on July 29.
Almost as soon as the commission was announced, questions were raised about the group’s only Italian member, Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, the 30-year-old Catholic daughter of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, who works in external relations and communication for multinational accounting firm Ernst & Young (the same firm entrusted with the names of Emmy Award winners).
Chaouqui was also an avid Twitter, and journalists examining her Twitterstream noticed that she tweeted some odd and inaccurate things about Vatican affairs. She also gave the impression of being friendly with journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who received stolen documents from Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, setting off the Vatileaks scandal.
While none of this is illegal or immoral, it may indicate a lack of judgment that could cause troubles for the commission down the line.
In his NCR report, in pointing out that neither Ricca nor Chaouqui have been removed from their posts, Allen posits the theory that Francis may not want to “create the precedent that anyone who wants to stop his reform can do so by digging up dirt on the people he tasks with carrying it out.”
Lastly, former Vatican accountant Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, under investigation for charges he used his Vatican bank accounts to smuggle cash and launder money. Currently behind bars in Rome’s Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) prison, Scarano reportedly wrote a letter to Pope Francis in which he defended himself and his actions.
This may either be a man asserting his innocence or a “Hail Mary” play from someone caught with his hand in the till – time will tell on that.
On Thursday, July 25, Lombardi said Pope Francis had not received the letter before departing for Brazil on July 22.