Public figures as diverse as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and John Gotti have all been called “Teflon men,” because nothing sticks to them. They don’t hold a candle to the current pope, though, who gets away with the most scandalous statements and actions without a whiff of disapproval from the fawning media.
In an interview last month with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Francis won yet more unctuous headlines along the lines of “Vatican to reveal secrets of Pope’s collaboration with Hitler,” which is critically important to give the world a fuller picture of whether Pope Pius XII acted appropriately with regard to the extermination of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Croatian non-Catholics and others during and after World War II.
But let’s back up. Since at least 2001, the Vatican has been promising to open its Holocaust-era archives to researchers, “as soon as possible.” There was no mention of any legal obstacle then, just of the large number of documents that had to be arranged properly.
The issue surfaced again in 2008, when the wartime Pope Pius XII was put on the path to sainthood. Some Jews were offended by this, and again demanded open access to the archives. The Vatican response was that access would be granted, but it would take another six or seven years to get things in order. Again, no mention of any legal obstacles, just of heavy workloads.
Access was granted to some scholars, though. Rev. Peter Gumpel, who has worked for decades running the campaign to make Pius a saint, claims to have read “every scrap” on Pius that is in the archives. This lets him confidently tell the world that “the accusation that he was anti-Semitic or anti-Judaic is absolute nonsense.” So the people the Vatican likes already have access; it’s the independent researchers who are barred.
Last January, as the six-to-seven-year clock neared its end, we were told by the prefect of the archives that the process of opening them up to everyone would still take another year and a half to complete, and that “After that, the pope will decide.” Once again, no mention of any legal issues.
Now it’s time for the pope to decide. And he’s hedging. Francis now tells us that there is “an agreement between the Vatican and Italy from 1929 that prevents us from opening the archives to researchers at this point in time” – the first time any such obstacle has ever been mentioned.
Those 1929 agreements between Italy and the Vatican are readily available online. Nothing in them even hints at any problem with opening the archives to researchers. On the contrary, they proclaim that “The artistic and scientific treasures existing within the Vatican City and the Lateran Palace shall remain open to scholars and visitors, although the Holy See shall be free to regulate the admission of the public thereto.” My suspicion is that Francis, now that he’s been told what the archives actually contain, is having second thoughts. It’s not just his predecessor’s silence about the Jewish Holocaust that’s at issue – it’s also items like the Vatican’s involvement in helping Nazis escape from justice after the war, and its possible involvement in the genocide of Croatian non-Catholics, and with the money that was stolen from them.
What does the press have to say about Francis’ new roadblock? Nothing. He’s being given a free ride, with nary a question about what part of the 1929 agreements he thinks is a problem.
The same free ride he’s been given for appointing as the Vatican’s new sex crimes prosecutor a priest with proven experience in covering up sex abuse committed against children.
The same free ride he’s given for refusing to waive diplomatic immunity for the Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski, accused of disgusting crimes involving shoeshine boys. Other countries often waive diplomatic immunity for crimes that have nothing to do with a diplomat’s official duties, but Francis is hanging tough. The Vatican says instead that Wesolowski will be tried in Vatican City, where he is currently under “house arrest” – a curious kind of house arrest though, which allows him to move about freely whenever he chooses.
How ludicrous is it to hold a criminal trial 5,000 miles away from the scene of the alleged crime? How do they expect to get evidence from victims and witnesses? The answer could well be, they don’t. Just last month Francis’ Vatican fully exonerated Msgr. Richard Loomis of accusations of abusing a Los Angeles high school student, after an “investigation” it claimed ran for more than a decade. Not once in all those years did the Vatican contact the alleged victim to get his side of the story, or even inform him there was an investigation going on!
Then there’s Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who was convicted in criminal court over two years ago of failing to report a child pornographer priest to the authorities. The response of most employers to such a conviction, especially for a person in a position of high responsibility over schoolchildren, would be “You’re fired.” The response from Francis’ Vatican: silence.
Francis’ finest PR moment was his “Who am I to judge them, if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” comment when asked about gay Catholics last year. He doesn’t need to judge them, though, because he has underlings to do that. Colin Collette served as music director for the Holy Family Catholic Community outside Chicago for 17 years; when he chose to marry his longtime male partner, they traveled to Rome to get engaged “in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica.” That seems like “seeking the Lord in good faith,” but he was immediately fired anyway. It would take one public statement from Francis to get them to show a little mercy here, but that call isn’t happening.
Meanwhile, the church in Northern Ireland last week decided to abandon the adoption service business altogether, rather than comply with a law requiring them to assist the handful of gay couples who wish to adopt. Who cares about mere orphans, when the man at the top orders his bishops: “That which is not Christian must be clearly denounced”? You’d think the fellow who won more press adulation in September by proclaiming that “To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman” could at least show a little consistency, if not compassion.
Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but the flip-flops of Francis can make your head spin. In September, he assured us that “War is never a necessity.” Just a few weeks later he changed his tune, and endorsed the military campaign against the Islamic State. Is this what he’s shrugging off with comments like “God is good to me, he has bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness”? Is this any different from the “unawareness” of the original Teflon Man, Ronald Reagan, during the Iran-Contra affair?
When the press reports only the puff pieces, without the kind of scrutiny given to other public figures, that leads to results like the overwhelmingly positive world polling results that the Pew Research Center just released (even though they are six months old). Someday, the truth will out.