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The Pope’s stolen papers

· A conversation with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Secretariat of State ·

Bitterness and sorrow at what has happened in the past few days in the Vatican but also determination and trust in coping with a situation which, quite frankly, is difficult: these are the sentiments that can be perceived in the Substitute of the Secretariat of State — Archbishop Angelo Becciu, who, because of his office, works every day in close contact with the Pope — in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano on the subject that is attracting the attention of vast numbers of the media across the world: namely, the arrest, on 23 May, of Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s aiutante di camera (“gentleman of the chamber”), for having been found to possess a large number of private documents belonging to the Pope. What can be said of the state of mind of those who work in the Holy See? “With the people I have met in the past few hours”, the Archbishop answered, “we looked each other in the eye and I saw dismay and anxiety, but I also noted the determination to continue their silent and faithful service to the Pope”; an attitude breathed every day in the life of the Holy See’s offices and in the small Vatican world, but which obviously does not make news in the media storm unleashed after the serious and, in many ways, disconcerting events of the past few days. In this context, the Substitute weighs his words carefully to emphasize “the positive outcome” of the investigation, even though the outcome was regrettable. Reactions across the world, moreover, which on the one hand are justified, on the other “are worrying and disconcerting because of the manner in which the information was obtained which has given rise to speculation that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality”.

Would it have been possible to give a quicker and fuller response?

There has been, there is and there will be strict respect for the individuals and procedures, as prescribed by the Vatican laws. As soon as the event had been ascertained, on 25 May the Holy See Press Office disseminated the news, although it came as a shock to all and is causing some dismay. Moreover, the investigation continues.

How did Benedict XVI feel?

sad. Because, given what it has been possible to ascertain so far, someone close to him seems to be responsible for conduct that is unjustifiable from every point of view. Of course, sorrow for the person involved is what the Pope feels most deeply. Yet the fact remains that he has suffered a brutal act: Benedict XVI has seen published papers stolen from his house, letters that were not merely private correspondence but indeed information, reflections, expressions of conscience and even outbursts which he only received by virtue of his ministry. For this reason the Pontiff is particularly saddened, also because of the violence suffered by those who wrote these letters or writings addressed to him.

Can you express an opinion on what happened?

I consider the publication of the stolen letters an immoral act of unheard-of gravity. Above all, I repeat, because it was not only a violation, already very serious in itself, of the confidentiality to which anyone would be entitled, as rather a vile offence to the relationship of trust between Benedict XVI and anyone who turns to him, even in conscience, to protest. Let us reason: the Pope was not merely robbed of letters. Violence has been done to the consciences of those who turn to him as Vicar of Christ, an assault has been made on the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter. In many of the documents published we are facing a context we presume to be of total trust. When a Catholic speaks to the Roman Pontiff, he is duty bound to open himself as if he were before God, partly because he feels that he is guaranteed absolute confidentiality.

There was a desire to justify the publication of the documents on the grounds of criteria for the Church’s purification, transparency and reform.

Sophisms do not go very far. My parents not only taught me not to steal but also never to accept stolen goods from others. I consider these to be simple principles — perhaps to some people too simple — but it is certain that someone who loses sight of them, easily loses him- or herself and also brings others to ruin. There can be no renewal that tramples on the moral law, even on the basis of the principle that the end justifies the means, a principle which, among other things, is not Christian.

And what answer should be given to those who claim the right to report an event?

I think in these days, on the part of journalists, that in addition to their duty to explain what is happening, there should be an ethical shock, namely, the courage to take a clear step back from the initiative of a colleague whom I do not hesitate to call criminal. A little intellectual honesty and respect for the most elementary professional ethics would not hurt the sphere of information.

According to various comments, the papers published reveal a murky world within the Church and in particular within the Holy See.

Behind certain articles I seem to see an underlying hypocrisy. On the one hand the central government of the Church is accused of being absolutist and monarchical, and on the other, people are scandalized because a few write to the Pope expressing ideas or even complaints about the organization of this same government. Many of the documents published do not reveal conflicts or revenge but rather that freedom of thought which, on the contrary, the Church is accused of not permitting. In short, we are not mummies; rather, different viewpoints or even contrasting evaluations are normal. If someone feels misunderstood he has every right to turn to the Pope. What is shocking about this? Obedience does not mean renouncing the right to have an opinion of one’s own, but expressing one’s opinions sincerely and fully, in order to adapt to the superior’s decision. And not out of interest but out of adherence to the Church that Christ desired. These are fundamental elements of the Catholic viewpoint.

Struggle, poison, suspicion: is the Vatican really like this?

I do not perceive this milieu and it is regrettable that the Vatican should have such a distorted image. But it must be food for thought and stimulate all of us to do our utmost to make a life more deeply impressed by the Gospel shine out.

In a word, what can be said to Catholics and to those who are nonetheless looking at the Church with interest?

I have spoken of Benedict XVI’s sorrow but I must say that the Pope is not lacking in the serenity that leads him to govern the Church with determination and clear-sightedness. The World Meeting of Families is about to open in Milan. These will be days of festivity where it will be possible to breath the joy of being Church. Let us make our own the Gospel parable of which Benedict XVI reminded us a few days ago: the wind blows against the house but it will not collapse. The Lord sustains it and no storms will be able to demolish it.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 15, 2019