Climate of Fear in Vatican is very Real*
By Steve Jalsevac
Our Nov. 16-23 visit to Rome was the most dramatic of many such twice-per-year work trips we have taken there during the past 10 years. After meeting with cardinals, bishops and other Vatican agency and dicastery staff, John-Henry Westen, our new Rome reporter, Jan Bentz, and I saw a consistent pattern of widespread anxiety and very real fear among faithful Church servants. We have never encountered this before.
Many were afraid of being removed from their positions, fired from their jobs in Vatican agencies or of encountering severe public or private reprimands and personal accusations from those around the pope or even from Francis himself. They are also fearful and anxious about the great damage being done to the Church and being helpless to stop it.
Near the end of our visit, one very high-level cleric confirmed our observations. He added,
“One can sense the fear. It is tangible.”
Another, who has always been willing to discuss difficult situations, immediately told us that he would not talk, even off the record, in confidence, about any of the current controversies. We were told not to ask him any questions about these things. By the end of that visit we were able to broach one of the controversies and the important information unknown to him was appreciated.
From left to right, LifeSite Editor-in-Chief/co-founder John-Henry Westen, Rome correspondent Jan Bentz and LifeSite president/co-founder Steve Jalsevac during Nov. 16-23 visit to Rome. St. Peter’s is in background.
The release of the dubia letter by the now known to be six brave cardinals, quietly supported by at least 20 to 30 other cardinals, has clearly sparked a heightened atmosphere of intimidation and fear in the Vatican.
On Nov. 23 LSN journalist Pete Baklinski reported that Bishop Athanasius Schneider said he had “great astonishment” for what he called the “unusually violent and intolerant” nature of the backlash, adding that such reaction runs contrary to the Pope’s call for “dialogue and acceptance of a legitimate plurality of opinions.”
The Francis papacy has created a radically different climate in Rome from that of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, under whom Rome was a vastly more welcoming place for Catholic Culture of Life warriors such as ourselves.
Another Nov. 23 story reported that Cardinals Burke and Pell were officially removed from the Congregation for Divine Worship and that “the office’s membership was recently gutted, with numerous progressives appointed as replacements.” This has effectively left the strongly orthodox Cardinal Sarah, the congregation’s head, a neutralized, silenced figurehead.
Cardinal Ouellet, head of the Congregation of Bishops, has also been left with little real authority, with progressive, Francis-appointed underlings now having the greater say on who becomes a bishop. The bishops being appointed now are generally tending to be of the most radically liberal views, such as now Cardinals Cupich and Farell and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy. And of course, Cardinal Pell has been prevented from continuing his greatly needed reforms of Vatican financial institutions and procedures still rife with corruption (that information comes from an impeccable source).
The Academy for Life, originally personally founded by Pope St. John Paul II and the also saintly Dr. Jerome Lejeune, has been drastically changed and Kasperite bishop, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, has been chosen by Pope Francis to be the new head.
The original requirement by St. John Paul II and Dr Lejeune that members must sign a declaration that they uphold the Church’s pro-life teachings has been removed, the mandate of the Academy has been changed to a seamless-garment type that will now include a focus on the environment. The life-long memberships of the many distinguished original members of the Academy have been revoked. It is likely no coincidence that this was done considering that a significant number of those original members, dear friends of John Paul II and Dr Lejeune, have been among the severest and more capable lay critics of Pope Francis.
Claire Chretien reported on Nov. 23 that Pope Francis has praised the 1960s German moral theologian Bernard Häring, one of the most prominent dissenters from Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, for his new morality, which the pope said helped “moral theology to flourish.”
Can you imagine the impact of that act by Francis on all those in the Vatican curia and agencies, and on pastors around the world, who were all taught to strongly defend Humanae Vitae by St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict? What will happen to them now, in the current climate of severe intimidation, if they continue what was natural to them for decades in union with the Catholic magisterial teaching on the issue of contraception – teaching going back to the very beginning of the Church?
In his editorial in the upcoming December issue of LifeSite’s Faithful Insight magazine, John-Henry Westen relates more of what we discovered.
“… Catholic universities in Rome are watched and professors’ lectures screened to ensure they fall in line with a liberal interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. Clerics are reported to superiors if they are overheard expressing concerns about Pope Francis. Many are afraid to speak openly, even though in the past they were always very willing. Vatican reporters told us they were warned numerous times not to report on the dubia.”
It is as though Catholic Rome has turned into a type of Church police state because of what is seen to be a great threat from the dubia letter to certain agendas.
In a December 13 article on OnePeterFive, Vatican commentator Maike Hickson stated,
“I have heard reports that the Vatican is like an occupied state. Certain sources I’ve spoken with have a fear that communications with Vatican officials are being monitored; some have even reported suspicious anomalies in their telephone conversations in which, after a dropped call, the audio of the last moments of their conversation has played over and over again on a loop, as though they are hearing a recording. Some individuals who work within the Vatican are advising their contacts on the outside not to share sensitive information via email or their Vatican-issued cell phones. [emphasis added]”
Hickson goes on to quote respected Vatican correspondent Ed Pentin’s response to a question in an extensive interview in Reginamag.com titled, “Is there a reign of terror in the Vatican?” Pentin responded,
“The Pope’s reaction, of going so far as to question the [four] cardinals’ mental state, has been read as a manifestation of his own anger at having his agenda taken off course. And instead of taking the four cardinals at their word (they have said they are acting primarily out of charity towards the Holy Father, justice and deep pastoral concern), they are seen as adversaries. I understand he has also been working behind the scenes to ensure his agenda is not thwarted. From strategically placed articles in L’Osservatore Romano to equivocations from those who publicly criticized the dubia when asked if the Pope had asked them to do so, Francis has been acting, as one observer put it, like a “behind-the-scenes political lobbyist.” In the three weeks after the dubia were published, the Pope gave three interviews to the world’s media, each of them aimed at legitimizing his position while denigrating his critics.
Lastly, it’s important to point out that simply by matching facts with words coming from the Pope and his allies, it’s clear there is significant lying and deceit taking place, as well as calumnies and the besmirching of reputations of those labeled to be “on the right” just because they are publicly critical of Amoris Laetitia, or merely report on such criticism. It genuinely pains me to say all this, because as a Catholic journalist one doesn’t wish in any way to diminish the Petrine Office, but I feel I have an obligation to report the facts on what is happening. [my emphasis].”
These are strong words from this always top-notch Vatican reporter who is normally soft-spoken and very mild-mannered.
Pope Francis was mostly very sombre during the November consistory
In another LifeSite article, we reported Bishop Athanasius’ assessment of the deterioration of the situation in Rome,
“The reaction to the dubia is a proof of the climate in which we actually live in the Church right now,” Bishop Schneider said.
“We live in a climate of threats and of denial of dialogue towards a specific group.”
Schneider went on to say that “dialogue seems to be accepted only if you think like everyone else – that is practically like a regime.”
Schneider brought up his experience in Russia, where he was born in the time of the Soviet Union. His parents were sent by Stalin to work camps, or “Gulags,” after the Second World War.
“If you didn’t follow the line of the party, or you questioned it, you couldn’t even ask. That is for me a very clear parallel to what is happening now in the reactions to the dubia – questions – of the Cardinals.”
At a small press scrum with Cardinal Cupich at the North American College immediately after the consistory, there was an incident related to my question to Cupich on behalf of LifeSite.
After the newly installed cardinal’s unsatisfactory answers to two questions from Ed Pentin, I was given the nod. While briefly prefacing my question, I was suddenly harshly interrupted by a Vatican press official demanding, “Ask the question!” Considering that the preface was brief, the question was about to be asked and there were only a handful of media persons in the room, the interruption was totally uncalled for.
Small press scrum with Cardinal Cupich after recent consistory. Steve Jalsevac is first person in photo on the right. John-Henry Westen was standing next to him – John-Henry Westen/LifeSite
I immediately asked the question regarding the animosity that respectful questioners of Francis have been enduring and to which the cardinal astonishingly responded by denying any knowledge of such a thing occurring. Then, when John-Henry Westen put up his hand to ask a question, a spontaneous rule was announced by the press official. He refused to allow John-Henry’s question saying that only one question was permitted from each agency.
That sudden ruling caused an uncomfortable stir among the several other media representatives. Four in a row were now also not permitted to ask their questions because of the new rule. When the last one was denied, Cardinal Cupich said,
“Why not, since yours is a friendly question?” And so that softball question was permitted.
The growing hostility to faithful media who dare to simply question with respect the actions or statements of those around Pope Francis or of the pope himself was especially highlighted in a December 7 Reuters report.
Reuters stated, “Using precise psychological terms,” Pope Francis “said scandal-mongering media risked falling prey to coprophilia, or arousal from excrement, and consumers of these media risked coprophagia, or eating excrement.”
So now, if the translation is correct, as most of these usually are, if we dare to see and report what are obviously newsworthy developments that do not reflect well on the pope or his close collaborators, we are “scandal-mongering,” “eating excrement” and being sexually aroused by this excrement of reporting uncomfortable truth.
How can a pope, the Vicar of Christ, make such vile accusations? Whatever happened to, “Who am I to judge?”
This article could go on and on, with many more examples, such as our report that retired Roman Catholic Greek bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis ripped the four cardinals for committing the sins of “apostasy” and “scandal,” saying they receive Holy Communion “sacrilegiously” for raising concerns about the pope’s document. Then there was very liberal Cardinal Cupich’s response that the four holy cardinals are “in need of conversion”.
Every day it seems there is more and worse hostility being orchestrated against any who would dare to respectfully support the faithful dubia cardinals, who would dare to respectfully question statements and actions of Pope Francis, and who would dare to mention the crystal clear teachings of Christ’s moral absolutes, wonderfully and thoroughly expounded by Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor.
We have to wonder where all of this is going. It is deeply, deeply concerning. The common phrase we kept hearing that week in Rome is that there is a “war” going on in the Church – a war of the “The Spirit of Vatican II” progressives against the orthodox Catholics. One person after another shockingly used that word.
I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime and I am sure most, if not all regular LifeSite readers, can say the same thing.
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