The Cardinals and the Pen: Turbulence in the Vatican

January 26, 2023
Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller

Through interposed books, the maneuvers of the next conclave are being played out. While Msgr. Georg Gänswein, Cardinal Ludwig Müller, and a posthumous work by Benedict XVI question the seemingly obscure side of current pontificate, the progressive wing is stepping up to defend the line that prevailed in the 2013 election.

First there are the memoirs critical of the Argentine pontiff, published by the former private secretary of Benedict XVI, Msgr. Georg Gänswein. Then the posthumous book of Benedict XVI released on January 18, 2023, a disavowal of the modernism advanced during the current pontificate.

And as if that were not enough, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in turn published a book that points the finger at Pope Francis’s governance.

In an ironic and colorful way, Cardinal Ludwig Müller has denounced the “circle of magicians” (sic) with whom the current successor of Peter has surrounded himself and who decide everything: “There is a kind of closed circle of magicians who gravitate around St. Martha’s House,” explains the former prefect of the CDF, who according to him, “do not have the theological training required.”

Cardinal Müller explains that in the Vatican “it seems that information now circulates in a parallel way, outside the institutional channels.” According to him, the pope only listens to a “narrow circle of people” and offers special treatment for his friends, even in cases of abuse.

And the high German prelate goes on to evoke the case of Msgr. Gustavo Zanchetta, an Argentinian close to the Pope who was placed in the position of assessor of the Administration of the Heritage of the Apostolic See (Apsa) – a tailor-made position created for him – who, in 2022, was sentenced by the courts in his country to four and a half years in prison for abuses committed between 2016 and 2017.

And the former boss of the former Holy Office reproaches what, in his eyes, is the conversely severe treatment reserved for Cardinal Angelo Maria Becciu who had been disgraced by the Argentine pontiff “on the basis of a single press article.” In doing so, Msgr. Müller argues, “the Pope seems to have listened to a group of advisers without realizing that he was doing so in the most arbitrary way.”

Challenging the way in which Francis handled the Traditional Mass question through the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, the German cardinal hopes that there will be no more pope emeritus in the future: “I advised against Pope Francis following the same path as Benedict XVI, even if, given his character, he always ends up doing the opposite of what he is told,” he laments.

And the German cardinal fears that what is behind those who are pushing the current Roman pontiff to resign, are hidden “ecclesiastical political strategies aimed at steering the next conclave by identifying a candidate who is younger and closer to the reforms launched.” So many mechanisms are “deleterious to the unity of the Church,” warns the porporato.

Defenders of the line of the current pontificate were quick to speak out. Cardinal Walter Kasper – a member of the St. Gallen group that piloted the 2013 election – lashed out, during a an interview granted to the Bayerischer Rundfunk at the “Benedict XVI fanatics who appropriated his message and instrumentalized it in the last stage of his life.”

For the high German prelate, a figure of progressivism, the reforms of the Church initiated by Francis must succeed: “We must have the courage to go further, we cannot stop there,” he predicts.

And to top it off, at the very moment of the publication of Cardinal Müller's book, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, close to the current pope and director of Civilta Cattolica, has planned to present his latest work entitled Una trama divina Gesù in controcampo. [A Divine Plot. Jesus From a Reverse Angle].

The purpose of the book, whose preface was written by Pope Francis himself, is to favor a reading of the gospel that is intended to be “cinematic” and “immersive,” where one “does not think about the meaning of words.”