But pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio certainly does not like the curia the way it is. And in fact he often and intentionally does without it.
The latest chirograph signed “Francis,” that of July 18 which instituted a commission of eight experts to rethink the organization of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See, was made known to the Vatican secretariat of state only as a done deal.
This means that in the little office of pope Bergoglio on the second floor of the Casa di Santa Marta, where he has chosen to reside, many things are decided and done that never even pass through the majestic curial offices of the first and third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, a few steps away from the now-deserted pontifical apartment.
The secretariat of state continues its routine work, but much more at work is another secretariat, miniscule but highly active, which in direct service to the pope attends to the matters that he wants to resolve himself, without any interference whatsoever.
A century ago, under the reign of Pius X, it was called the “segretariola.” Pope Giuseppe Sarto had come to a very negative judgment about the curia at the time, but even after he had reorganized it he was very careful to protect the little personal secretariat with which he had surrounded himself immediately after his election in 1903.
With the current pope, the son of Piedmontese emigrants, the Venetian Pius X has many traits in common. He was also born to a poor family, and continued to dedicate himself even as pope to the help of the poor. He was dearly loved by people of humble conditions. He led a simple and austere life. He had a good-natured disposition, not devoid of irony. He had a profound spiritual life and was later proclaimed a saint. He had a tremendous capacity for work, which he extended into the nighttime hours. He did a great many things on his own, keeping the curia in the dark about them.
It comes as no surprise that the “segretariola” of Pius X was very soon the target of tenacious opposition. It was suspected of influencing the pope, guiding his decisions. And these suspicions were also shared by directors of the curia whom Pius X admired, like then-substitute secretary of state Giacomo Della Chiesa, the future Benedict XV, about whom the pope used to say: “He’s a hunchback but he marches in line.” In fact, none of the secretaries of pope Sarto, once he had gone to heaven, was rewarded by subsequent pontiffs. One of them even ended his days voluntarily isolated in a hermitage, on the mountain above Camaldoli.
The black legend loomed over them until when, a century layer, the documents of that “sacred table” were discovered in a storage closet of the Vatican offices and two talented scholars, Alejandro M. Dieguez and Sergio Pagano, the latter now prefect of the Vatican archive, published between 2003 and 2006 a complete inventory of them and an anthology in two large volumes. From this it was clear that those industrious secretaries were not to blame, because everything was desired, decided, and even written personally by the indefatigable pope Sarto. As seems to be happening today as well, with pope Bergoglio.
The first to join the “segretariola” of Pius X was Fr. Giovanni Bressan, his secretary before he became pope, when he was bishop in Mantua and then patriarch in Venice. Immediately afterward pope Sarto called to his side two other Venetian priests whom he knew well, Francesco Gasoni and Giuseppe Pescini. And then a priest from Como, Attilio Bianchi, nephew of Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, the founder of the missionaries who take their name from him.
To these four Pius X finally added, “because of his extensive experience in this regard,” Monsignor Vincenzo Maria Ungherini, who had been the second secretary of Leo XIII, his predecessor as pope.
Here as well the similarities with today are strong. In the “segretariola” of Pope Francis there appears in fact, and for the same reasons as then, the second secretary of his predecessor Benedict XVI, the Maltese Alfred Xuereb.
Nonetheless, the man in closest contact with the pope is not him but a priest of Buenos Aires, Fabián Pedacchio Leaniz, who came to Rome and the curia in 2007 as an official of the congregation for bishops, at the joint behest of his archbishop at the time, Bergoglio, and of then-prefect of the congregation Giovanni Battista Re, the “very dear” cardinal whom Bergoglio thanked most warmly in his first encounter with the college of cardinals after his election as pope.
Today Fr. Fabian, 49, is a permanent resident at Santa Marta, where he works on a very full-time basis in the service of Pope Francis. He is an expert in canon law and was secretary of the association of Argentine canonists. He loves opera music, the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the films of Pedro Almodovar. In soccer his favorite team is not the same as Bergoglio’s San Lorenzo, but the more trophied River Plate.
In addition to Fr. Fabián, in the circle of the pope’s close collaborators is another Argentine from Buenos Aires, Monsignor Guillermo Javier Karcher, a pontifical master of ceremonies but above all assigned to protocol, the office of the secretariat of state through which all of the documents of the Holy See pass.
And then there is an Italian, Monsignor Assunto “Tino” Scotti, 58, from Bergamo, supervisor of the section of general affairs of the secretariat of state and dean of the camera apostolica, the institute that administers the assets of the Holy See during the interregnum between one pope and another, with the cardinal camerlengo. It is Monsignor Scotti who selects and supervises the fortunate people who are admitted, morning after morning, to the pope’s Mass, in the chapel of the Casa di Santa Marta.
To each his task. But like Pius X, Pope Francis as well is not the type who likes to delegate. In Buenos Aires he worked alone at a small and very organized desk. In the adjoining offices he had a secretariat, but this did not even handle his appointments: he was the one who set them down in his own planner. A planner that he never let out of his sight and even wanted to have with him when as pope he boarded the airplane for Rio de Janeiro, in the briefcase seen in the photo published around the world.
From the “sacred table” of Pius X all of the letters went out with the signature of one of his secretaries, and all written in the third person: “The Holy Father desires…” “The Holy Father wants…” “The Holy Father obliges me to communicate to you…” But then it was seen that on the original drafts the handwriting was entirely and solely that of the pope. There was no decision, big or small, that did not come down personally from him.
With Bergoglio as well this seems to be the case. With the advantages and risks that every monocratic authority runs. During his first months as pope, the most serious mishap into which Francis has stumbled has been the appointment of the prelate of the IOR, the Vatican “bank,” in the person of Monsignor Battista Ricca. An appointment strongly backed by the pope himself, entirely in the dark about the scandalous past of this figure, every documented trace of which was made to disappear.
In cases of this kind, when he sees that the curia is bringing him harm rather than help, Pope Francis feels even more driven to do it himself.
After “L’Espresso” uncovered the scandal on the basis of indisputable testimonies and documents that disappeared in Rome but were kept at the Vatican nunciature in Montevideo, the pope wanted to verify the truth himself. He put his his “segretariola” into action to tell him about and deliver to him all of the evidence in the case. In the interview on the return flight from Rio, his harshest words were directed against the “lobbies,” remarking twice that “there was nothing” about the scandal in the “preliminary” investigation on Ricca that they had shown him in the curia.
In the same interview, Francis asserted that he was a Jesuit in his heart. Pius X was another thing, but there is a pragmatic shrewdness that seems to link these two popes together.
In order to prepare for the reform of the curia, pope Sarto secretly supported the publication of a book of denunciation and proposal, released anonymously by a fictitious publisher, that met with substantial public success. In reality, that book had been written by a trusted monsignor of the secretariat of state, Giovanni Pierantozzi, had been printed by the Vatican publishing house, and had been reviewed before publication by the pope himself in December of 1903.
One hundred and ten years later, pope Bergoglio as well is up against a curia that needs to be rebuilt from the foundation. And perhaps he may have wanted to do something similar to his holy predecessor when last July 18 he appointed among the eight experts of the newly created commission for the reorganization of the economic-administrative offices of the Holy See, with right of access to the most confidential documents, an expert in public communication, the thirty-year-old Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui.
It is a shame, however, that no one told the pope that this self-assured Italian-Egyptian young woman indeed boasts of her friendships with various cardinals in the curia, but also has a direct connection with Gianluigi Nuzzi, the receiver of the documents stolen from Benedict XVI by his unfaithful butler, and is an assiduous informant for the website dagospia.com, the most popular source in Italy for gossip and slander about the Vatican.