Dear Joseph, beloved brother in Christ,
I’m becoming increasingly worried about the state of your soul. As a Christian in the twenty-first century, I find myself spending quite a bit of time actively, sometimes zealously, defending, justifying and explaining my faith and the Church (and, in fact the general concepts of “faith” and “church”) in exchanges with friends who are atheist or agnostic. Most often, this conversation begins when one of my atheist friends effectively accuses the Church (or religion in general) of being led by gangs of vipers, hypocrites and con-men (or women) who prey on the gullibility of those of us who, for whatever reason, simply refuse to see the realities before our eyes.
Lately, when these friends point to their usual examples of the Inquisition or the priestly sex abuse scandal, it’s becoming harder and harder to answer by pointing to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day. To be frank, Holiness, your conduct and the conduct of those most immediately around you, are at the center of this difficulty.
And now, this morning, I read a story about the fact that you (or those who work for you) are holding your former butler in a Vatican jail cell for leaking secrets about the conversations between you, and those around you, concerning the Vatican Bank. This one sentence may include more, and more interesting, examples of the kind of fodder you provide the critics of faith than any I could have imagined. Let’s “unpack” those examples.
(1) You have a former butler (or a butler at all, for that matter); not a “secretary” or an “assistant,” a personal servant. The head of the Church founded by the Poor Man of Nazareth, who had nowhere to lay his head, has someone to pick up his fur-trimmed hats and expensive, hand tooled red shoes for him. The Church of St. Francis, who stood naked in the square at Assisi and then wrapped himself in castoff rags, whose conversion was completed by washing out the sores of lepers with his own hands, is headed by a man who has traded in the practice of all recent Popes (both conservative and “liberal”) of wearing simple, often worn clothing for one of excessive care for fashion, and who has made other men his personal servants.
(2) You have secrets that can be “leaked.” With all due respect, the last time I looked your most important job was spreading the good news of Christ. All of the vast superstructure of Church and hierarchy at your command should be in service to that one, fundamental purpose. That good news is largely embodied in scripture in the form of a written record of Jesus disputing publicly with pretty much everyone he encountered, including his closest circle of associates. Likewise, much of the remaining scripture in Acts and the various Epistles consists of open, public, written disputation between St. Paul and other founders of the Church, including the founder of your own lineage, St. Peter. The notion that the Vicar of Christ has now become so obsessed with secrecy, with the need to conceal disputes within his own inner circle by jailing a hapless personal servant is scandalous in and of itself.
(3) The Vatican has a bank, about which it holds such secrets. It’s hard to know where to begin. Given, public knowledge of the Vatican Bank’s existence is nothing new. I suppose that repeated public use of the term “Vatican Bank” has finally come to mean that we’ve become desensitized to just what a preposterous phrase that really is. Remember the man who turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple? Remember that as being one of the acts that eventually led him to his execution at the insistence of the temple bureaucracy? Let’s be clear, you are now holding a person in prison for merely talking in public about the secrets of your own institutional temple money-changers. There’s really no more that needs to be said.
(4) That leads us to possibly the worst of the lot. You have a prison. A prison that one of your functionaries dismisses as just some “cells” and justifies by referring to the fact that the Vatican is, after all, still a temporal “state” as well as the center of the living body of Christ. You do remember Christ, don’t you? The Christ who was held by jailers and then put to death by the temporal state for crimes against the dignity of religion? What part of ‘My kingdom is not of this world,” do you and those around you not understand? I hope you will spend some time meditating on the following sentence. “You are holding one of your personal servants in your own prison for the crime of making public secrets about the workings of your bank.”
Of course, as Christians we believe that Our Lord will forgive manifold sins. More importantly, I take very, very seriously Jesus’ admonition that I not presume to judge, or really even recognize, the mote in the eye of my brother. I don’t mention all of these above in order to judge you. Those questions lay between you and God. However, you are also the “outward and visible” sign of the Body of Christ. You are a public figure and, for many, the public face of the Church and of people of faith in general. When you engage publicly in hypocritical, materialistic, bureaucratic and vengeful ways it reflects on all of us, and on our faith. As I mentioned at the outset, it makes it more and more difficult for all of us stand for religion in the intense public dialogue of the 21st century. In that sense, you are making yourself a cause of stumbling, in the sense of Matthew 18:6-7: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” And it is in this sense that I’m concerned for the state of your soul. With the increasing scandal that you engender and support, with your materialism and addiction to bureaucratic power and secrecy, you are causing others to stumble, and you are in spiritual danger as a result.
Yours in Christ,