A couple of weeks back the (then) inexplicably-expedited audience that one-time papal MC Archbishop Piero Marini was granted with Pope Francis caused my heart to sink. Was he to make an (unwelcome) comeback in that role? Some took me to task (especially by email) for being too negative towards him, and I did feel a little more inclined to give him the benefit of any doubt.
But my heart was right to sink, it is just that the reason it should sink has turned out to be different. Note that Marini is President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. He has been in Costa Rica for an Eucharistic congress there, quite rightly. He gave at least one interview, not surprisingly. Did he stick to his portfolio and a few general asides? No chance.
In an interview with a Cost Rican paper, reported on extensively by the National Catholic Reporter, he forged into foreign territory, on two particular fronts. The first, and lesser, was payback to Benedict XVI who did not keep him on as papal MC. No dignified silence from Marini. The second was to contradict Church teaching on a contentious issue. Charitably we might think that he made the silly assumption that simply because one is asked a question, one has to answer it. One doesn’t; and one shouldn’t when it goes against the official teaching of the Church, especially when one is a Vatican official. It isn’t rocket science. Unless of course he had a particular motive…
You can read the article on the NCR link above, but in short he failed on two fronts. The first was from the outset, with thinly veiled criticism of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Mind you, the questions seemed aimed and eliciting unflattering implications from Marini, and he obliged wholeheartedly:
For you, what has the change in the papacy meant?
It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s opening a window onto springtime and onto hope. We had been breathing the waters of a swamp, and it had a bad smell. We’d been in a church afraid of everything, with problems such as Vatileaks and the pedophilia scandals. With Francis we’re talking about positive things; he puts the emphasis on the positive and talks about offering hope.
Can you describe the atmosphere that prevails now in the Vatican?
In these first days of his pontificate there’s a different air of freedom, a church that’s closer to the poor and less problematic. He doesn’t like living surrounded by great paintings and gold.
So under Benedict XVI there were only the foul vapours of a swamp, negative and without hope, repressed and disdaining simplicity and the poor. They then ask a remarkable question, leading on from the matter of Francis apparent poverty:
Does it suggest that priests ought to get out of the sanctuaries and share with those in need?
Without a doubt. The new pope has said that pastors ought to have the smell of their sheep, which means living their lives and faith from within the community.
The question itself is ridiculous. First it suggests that priest being in the sanctuaries of their churches (offering Mass, baptising, shriving) is somehow detrimental to priestly life. Secondly, it suggests that a priest who faithfully carries out his sacramental duties (which only he can, not any old social worker or pastoral worker) is somehow withholding something from those in need. Marini’s answer shows a profound lack of sympathy with his fellow clergy, while otherwise it lacks any substantive meaning at all.
Then they ask him about Bl John Paul II:
In your 18 years as master of ceremonies for John Paul II, what did you learn from being next to a man who was so admired?
I learned his simplicity. He was a very simple, spontaneous person, with great ideas to share with people. He liked to stay with the faithful after Mass, chatting with them. He had worked in a mine, and therefore he knew the reality and the needs of the people.
Is there any conversation, phrase or memory that you’ve held onto with special affection from John Paul II?
I remember we were at World Youth Day in the Philippines, when John Paul II celebrated my 52nd birthday. I had never before blown the candles on a cake, and he brought together a number of people for me to celebrate. He was very friendly, cheerful and spontaneous.
A worthy tribute to a holy pope, but it is what he singles out that should be noted. Not his holiness, his resolute conviction and faith; rather Marini emphasizes his simplicity, human touch, friendliness and his knowledge of the people. He is doing so with rhetorical intent. In light of the previous thinly-veiled hatchet job (if a hatchet job can in fact be veiled at all) on Benedict XVI, the points he highlights can justifiably be read as saying more about what Benedict was not (in his opinion) than about Bl John Paul II.
But he comes of out the shadows to take a direct swipe at the emeritus pope:
Pope Benedict XVI used Twitter as a means of communication, do you think it was effective?
For my part I wouldn’t have used Twitter, but the pope was advised to do it. The church shouldn’t be antiquated, but you also have to exercise a bit of caution.
Poor Benedict: damned if he did; damned if he didn’t.
But the second failure is to have spoken as he did on the explosive subject of same-sex unions:
Costa Rica has opened a discussion about what it means to be a secular state. What do you think of these decisions?
This is already a reality in Europe. A secular state is fine, but if it turns into a secularist state, meaning hostile to the Catholic Church, then there’s something wrong. Church and state should not be enemies to one another. In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.
For a start, I am not sure at all that the Church sees a secular state as “fine”. It can tolerably and even profitably work with it, all things being equal, but approve it per se… not so sure about that. This opinion reflects the Church’s view more faithfully. Marini is right to state (the obvious) that the state and the Church should not be enemies, but then immediately proceeds to offer a single example of conflict between Church and state in which he implicitly pitches the Church as the aggressor: to keep the peace “it’s necessary” for the Church ” to recognize the union of persons of the same sex”. In this conflict between Church and state he feels the Church should betray its principles in order to repair the state’s failure to protect the civil rights of individuals in a way consistent with Christian morality. If Marini is ever put in charge of the New Evangelization, it is doomed.
Perhaps my liturgical criticism of Marini was not totally justified, though it was always partly so. However, here Marini parades as an egoist, harsh as that is to say about a curial prelate. What an official working with Eucharistic congresses is doing speaking out on topics beyond his brief and contrary to the Church’s teaching is hard to see, except in a negative light. He has queered the pitch for those whose responsibility it actually is to speak on such contentious issues.
Given the debate noted earlier in the NCR article about what Pope Francis’ position on same-sex unions has been in the recent past, one can only wonder if there is an attempt to nudge the Pope in the direction of accepting civil unions for same-sex couples. Note the thread of thought: wonderful JP II who was in touch with people and their needs; wonderful Pope Francis who is also very simple, a man of the people who wants priests to leave their churches and roll in the earth with the rest of humanity; and nasty Benedict XVI so out of touch, so lacking in the common touch, so negative, who made the Church a swamp. Am I the only one who sees an agenda here?
Archbishop Marini has behaved disgracefully, and indeed (in the canonical sense) scandalously. I, too, smell a swamp creature at hand, but it isn’t Benedict XVI. If the Curia is to be reformed, then perhaps we now have at least one firm idea of where the administrative razor should be slashing.
May God be merciful to Marini, and let us pray for him, a bitter man.