Preparing for the Next Conclave
Two books were released this summer: The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates, by Edward Pentin and The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission by George Weigel.
“The Holy Father is considered to be getting on in years and he himself has occasionally hinted he would like to follow Benedict XVI into retirement at some stage …. Some of the Pope’s close associates have said privately … it will happen this year.” Pentin explained. Pentin, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register owned by the right-wing EWTN media giant, is one of the best-connected and experienced Vatican reporters in the world.
His book “consists of highly-detailed profiles of 19 leading papabili with the aim of better equipping the cardinal electors to know who to vote for, or not vote for, as the case may be,” Pentin wrote. “Revealed in each cardinal’s profile is where they stand” on internal ecclesial issues like liturgy and interpreting the Second Vatican Council, but also “key contemporary issues such as priestly celibacy, the role of women in the Church, contraception [and] abortion.… Enormous spiritual battles are taking place in today’s societies, not least in the United States, as well as inside the Church. These will require strong papal leadership as they increase,” he warned.
In Weigel’s book, the author “proposes the qualities needed in the man who will lead the Church … in the wake of grave institutional failures, mission confusion, counter-witness, and the secularist challenge.”
Weigel, one of the Religious Right’s founding theocons, was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and is now a senior fellow. “EPPC has functioned as the cutting edge of the neoconservative-driven culture war against progressive theology and secularism, and the associated effort to ensure right-wing control of the Republican Party,” stated SourceWatch.
His publisher sent the new book to all cardinals with a cover letter written by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Prelate of Wall Street. Dolan, “who is known to be a longtime friend of Weigel's,” wrote “I am grateful to Ignatius Press for making this important reflection on the future of the Church available to the College of Cardinals,” i.e. the electors of the next pontiff.
Weigel wrote about “challenges confronting the next pope” in a recent The Wall Street Journal article.
“Two stand out. Francis’ successor must build on the work of his predecessors and end the world-wide crisis of clerical sexual abuse.
Then there is the reform of the Vatican itself. By the end of this year, the Holy See may be in a severe financial crisis because of incompetent investment management, self-dealing, nepotism and a lack of transparency. Beyond serious managerial issues, there is an even greater challenge for the next pope: the challenge of faith itself."
Weigel’s “challenge of faith” continues his decades-long exhortation for a Catholicism that stands firm on the “Church’s teachings in full,” code for inclusion of the Religious Right’s leading issues - abortion and same-sex marriage. “The next pops must find ways” to counter this “aggressive secularism,” he wrote.
If the next pope “builds on the work of his predecessors” this will not "end the world-wide crisis of clerical sexual abuse.” Pope Francis made “a lot of promises to the world that he was going to put an end to this and put safety measures into place to ensure that there was no more – or to prevent future coverups,” said Brenda Brunelle who was abused from age 12 and is founder of a chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of the Abused by Priests).
“Speaking as a survivor and an advocate for those abused by priests, I’m afraid to say that our report card is a failure,” she said this past February.
“The sad fact is that the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy [in the U.S.] is not just in the past,” the leaders of SNAP wrote on Sept. 3. “Last year, 38 clerics were arrested and this year, so far, we have tracked 14 more Catholic clergymen and staffers arrested for abusing [children]. We know that these arrests do not reveal the full scope of clergy abuse because of the nature of sexual violence – in the U.S., the average age of a survivor of clergy abuse coming forward for help is 52. This means many, many crimes do not get reported within an actionable window, that many survivors are still silent, and that their abusers could possibly still be abusing,” they noted.
Clerical sex abuse is a “world-wide crisis.” In just the past month, there have been articles on the subject from Australia, West Java, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, Canada, England, Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and Italy.
Like clerical sex abuse, Weigel also misrepresents the Vatican’s “severe financial crisis.” True, the Holy See reported a deficit in May “linked to Covid-19” but continues to keep secret the billions of dollars donated to Pope Francis. Weigel omits mentioning the Vatican’s hidden wealth. Fortunately, some excellent reporters have provided us with partial information.
The Vatican has two Swiss bank accounts that hold “as much as €7 billion,” reported Pentin in July 2019. These bank accounts are managed by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) which handles the Vatican’s investment portfolio, some commercial real estate and “large amounts of unregistered cash in offshore accounts,” according to Pentin.
“There is a hub of corruption within APSA” related to these two Swiss banks. “Highly irregular transactions were transiting through these banks,” a reliable source told Pentin.
“Sources say only few officials within APSA know the true extent of the Vatican’s foreign real estate portfolio, which is held largely ‘off the books’ [and] is estimated to be worth at least €800 million,” Pentin wrote.
APSA’s investments are “hidden behind layer after layer of false fronts and holding companies,” noted John F. Pollard in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy (p 149).
APSA is also the Vatican’s treasury and central bank. It has €187 million in currencies, 32,232 ounces in gold bullion and 3,122 ounces of gold coins (worth €30.8 million),” Italian journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, reported in 2014.
The Vatican has $50 million in gold on deposit at the U.S. Federal Reserve, stated Fortune magazine in 2014.
“APSA has accounts and deposits of its own in central banks all over the world: the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Deutsche Bundesbank, the Bank of Italy, the Bank for International Settlements, and others,” noted veteran Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, quoting from a report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe's financial monitors.
The Vatican Bank “has financial relations with more than a hundred countries; it has banking ties with forty of these and has links with financial entities across the European Union,” stated Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena.
A Moneyval report “confirmed” that there are “more than forty banks in Europe, in the United States, in Australia, and in Japan [having] relationships of ‘correspondence’ with the Vatican Bank, permitting it to operate all over the world through them,” Magister stated.
The Vatican also has financial institutions in the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos. Both locations are known as havens for off-shore bank secrecy. Both were removed from the ecclesial jurisdiction of their geographical dioceses of Kingston, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas respectively and created as “independent missions.”
Who controls the wealth of this autonomous city state beyond the reach of any civil authority save its own? Opus Dei according to Robert Hutchison in his book, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei. (p 363)
The Opus Dei website states its “mission is to spread the Christian message that every person is called to holiness and that every honest work can be sanctified.” Non-Catholics are welcomed as “cooperators” who “assist the educational and social undertakings promoted by the Prelature.” All memberships are secret except if self-revealed.
Opus Dei is an official arm of the Catholic Church.
At the top, however: “Opus Dei is an efficient machine run to achieve world power," stated investigative reporter Penny Lernoux in her book, People of God (1989).
“Opus Dei members control ... a large number of banks and financial institutions,” Martin A. Lee, author of books and articles on far-right movements, wrote in 1983.
After “helping to install Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II” (also here) he designated the group as a “personal prelature,” that is, they are under the sole jurisdiction of the pope and no other prelate. “Like a Mafia shrouded in white” Juan Martin Velasco, one of Spain’s leading theologians, described the prelature.
“Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power” noted Hutchison in his introduction. “The problem is Opus Dei’s hidden power. [In practice] Opus Dei operates as it wishes, where it wishes, in total obscurity, with or without papal consent, unburdened by any form of oversight,” Hutchison stated.
In 2005, “there is a widespread group, and not only within the curia, campaigning for [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger as the next pope,” reported Magister. “In the Vatican, the Opus Dei cardinal most active in view of the conclave is Julián Herranz … Ratzinger's leap to the top of the list of candidates for the papacy is due to him; it took shape at the suppers for cardinals that Herranz organized at Opus Dei's heavily guarded villa in the Roman countryside, or at his new apartment behind St. Peter's Square,” observed Magister.
In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – who had come in second to Ratzinger in 2005 - was elected in large part due to the superior communication skills and media equipment of the U.S. episcopate.
In August, Pope Francis appointed Máximino Caballero Ledo as the number two person in the Secretariat for the Economy. “He specialized on Economics at the [Opus Dei] IESE school in Barcelona. At the same time, Caballero Ledo is a long term friend of Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.”
Guerrero has oversight over all of the Vatican’s financial operations. In July, all Vatican departments received a letter from Guerrero instructing them to move all their cash deposits to APSA. Guerrero said the decision was made “in a meeting led by Pope Francis.”
Who will be the next pope?
Other than Pentin’s 16 cardinals, no other Vaticanista has put forth any particular names. That "the electoral campaign has already begun" was acknowledged by Vatican reporter, Andrea Gagliarducci.
Both Pentin and Weigel suggest the next pope will be a “strong leader" against the “secularist challenge.” Since “Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power,” they will decide if a pope perceived as open to the world or as closed against it better serves their purpose.
If, as Weigel states, the sexual torture of children and Vatican finances "stand out" as important issues to Opus Dei, then the next pope will continue to address them as does the current pope - with meaningless "reforms" for the sake of appearances. We will have to wait for the next pre-conclave machinations to see which issues are deemed as important.
Opus Dei’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross established the School of Church Communications in 1996 “to prepare communication professionals.” The curriculum “includes the processes of shaping public opinion.”
The effort to influence cardinal electors may be very subtle. In 2013, Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola “was considered a front runner.” In fact, “after the white smoke appeared, the Italian bishops’ conference mistakenly put out a communiqué congratulating him on his election.”
But the media campaign that proved successful in electing Bergoglio, carried out principally by Americans, had denigrated “Italian work habits” (even though Italy has the third largest economy in the Eurozone) and portrayed Italians as untrustworthy.
“An ‘anti-Italian’ sentiment seemed to grow among [the cardinal electors],” noted Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne
Whoever wins the papacy, the next conclave will be an interesting study in state-of-the-art manipulative messaging.
Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.