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Vatileaks, And Why Young People Should Care

by Dan Horning | GWU

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: July 30, 2012
Dan Horning New Dan Horning

Remember that time Dan Brown wrote a series of books that made a bunch of Catholics mad, especially the people at the Vatican, because he wrote fictional stories about the Catholic Church covering up crimes and leveraging power over its flock?

Now mix that with a game of Clue, and you have a real life story unfolding right now.

One of the most powerful, secretive, and controversial organizations in the world is once again under the global spotlight about a topic it would rather see go away. Money, power, greed, influence and politics have taken center stage, instead of a mission to feed the poor and spread the Gospel. What could possibly be the latest PR embarrassment for the world’s largest single religion and smallest sovereign state, and why should young people even care?

Vatileaks, as it has been dubbed by the media, is seen as a three-tier power struggle: hide questionable activity by the Vatican Bank, undermine the Pope’s second in command, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and increase the influence of the Italian cardinals in selecting the next Pope. In January 2012, several private letters from top Vatican officials, including the papal secretary and Pope Benedict XVI himself, were leaked to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi. Those leaked communiqués, which Nuzzi published in a book called Sua Santità (His Holiness), document a Vatican in disarray, resembling medieval feudal states divided between various camps and cliques, resembling a lion’s den more than anything else.

What did these documents reveal? Just some of the highlights: the head of the Vatican City’s administrative government, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, attempted to end crony contracts and save money in the Vatican budget (for example, ending a contract which overpaid for the Christmas nativity by €350,000), but Bertone had him transferred to Washington, D.C. to be the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., which prompted a letter from Viganò to the Pope documenting the corruption and chaos in the government.

Attempts to make the Vatican Bank more transparent and in line with European Union regulations on money laundering hit a brick wall, as the tainted bank (rumors range from incompetence to mafia ties) fired its president in an attempt to divert attention away from its suspicious activity. And to top it off, in early 2011, it was discovered that Bertone was offering to buy (with Vatican money) a hospital in Milan that engaged in research the Catholic Church found morally questionable. The Pope had told Bertone not to go through with the sale, but he disregarded his boss’ orders, nearly leaving the Vatican on the hook for €250 million until another buyer came through.

The Pope’s butler was arrested by Vatican police, allegedly with official documents stashed away in his apartment, as the source of the leak. However, outside observers note that the butler is too smart to just leave the documents around his apartment, and believe that he is the scapegoat for higher powers. Who are these higher powers? No one knows yet. Guesses range from regular Vatican workers scared by the new levels of corruption that they are faced with, to Cardinals working in the Vatican who want to undermine Bertone and protect the status quo.

Where does the Pope fit into all this? His hands are clean, but this scandal has shown that, in spite of being the most powerful man in the Catholic Church, he has been powerless to change the deep seeded culture of the Holy See; he is even afraid to replace Bertone for fear of alienating Bertone’s allies. Benedict has decided to remain above the fray, focusing on finishing his writing and being a shepherd to his flock in the final months of his life.

Now, aside from the fact that someday a really awesome movie starring Tom Hanks could be made out of this saga, why do we care? Why is this important to young people, what a bunch of old men with pointy white hats do in Rome?

Episodes like this all too well manifest the lack of trust young people have in institutions of power, and one of many reasons why young people are losing their religion. The Washington Post now says that one in four young people no longer identify with a religion. For Catholics, the priest sex abuse scandal shook us to our core; we still cannot look at our priests, our bishops, our church in the same way.

Many stopped going to church altogether, the final straw in a faith life that has been dominated by overzealous bishops and priests, doctrinal discipline over pastoral understanding, and a lack of space for young people to bring fresh ideas to the table. Now this episode confronts the faithful. The same men who are entrusted with our pastoral wellbeing, our spiritual salvation, are bickering and backstabbing over money and power, over which one of themselves they will select to be the next Pope or who will be awarded a crony contract.

In spite of all this, there is a candle in the darkness. If there has ever been a need for young people to step up and become part of the solution, now is that time. This is just a case study of the trust vacuum that exists in society today. Look at Congress. Look at the Presidential race. Look at Wall Street and the big banks. The people leading these institutions are part of the problem; new leadership is needed.

That means us. That means people our age need to step up and fight back. It means speaking with our wallets, taking money out of crony banks that cheat borrowers, and churches that spend money on €500,000 Nativity scenes instead of the poor and dying. It means voting, in annual elections and parish council meetings. It means being active, not being an armchair activist, ranting on Facebook and Twitter. It means fighting corruption in every corner that is infiltrated.

I’m a man of faith. As much as my Church frustrates me, I love her, and know that she’ll get through this one. The Church survived the Romans and the Barbarians; we can survive this. But I’m also not naïve. Sitting here and praying won’t change everything. A little elbow grease goes a long way. If one good thing comes out of this scandal, it should be an encouragement for young people to get up and get active. As Edmund Burke said, evil prevails when good men do nothing. Now is the time when good men (and women) are needed most to change today’s society, and those people are us.

Dan Horning Dan Horning Dan Horning is a Philadelphia native and senior at The George Washington University. An International Affairs major concentrating in international development and international economics, Dan has worked on a number of political campaigns and is a self described public policy nerd.

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