The Malta Independent 26 September 2020, Saturday

The Maltese Vatican connection

Noel Grima Sunday, 12 January 2020, 08:09 Last update: about 10 months ago

Over the Christmas holidays many readers must have watched the film The Two Popes and, like me, enjoyed it.

There were many enjoyable scenes in it, from the two Popes doing the tango to them watching the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. This is what the conservative National Review (US) had to say:


“First Things has comprehensively demolished the new Netflix movie The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins as a grumpy Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as a radiant Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, today known as Pope Francis. Netflix is spending huge sums trying to win Oscar nominations for the picture, which was directed by the acclaimed Brazilian Fernando Meirelles. (Netflix is spending huge sums on a lot of things this season.)

“If you don’t write about movies for a living, you may be under the impression that filmmakers telling stories about real people make at least some vague gestures in the direction of truth. You would be wrong. The movie is about Bergoglio contemplating retirement but instead being summoned to see Pope Benedict in the Vatican. The two then spend days together becoming friends and Benedict tells Bergoglio he is going to resign and anoint Bergoglio as his successor.

“None of this happened. The whole movie is fiction. As John Waters writes in First Things: ‘Bergoglio did not in 2012 fly to Italy to meet with Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo to ask for permission to retire. The two men did not spend days together getting to know each other. Pope Benedict did not give Cardinal Bergoglio advance knowledge of his intention to resign. He did not tell him that he regarded himself as no longer fit to be pope. He did not reveal that he had decided Bergoglio would be the perfect choice to replace him.’

“This paragraph describes virtually the entire movie. It’s just a lie from start to finish. But I want to talk about a deeper untruth, which is the message of the movie. The Two Popes is a feel-good tale about how an archconservative mired in outdated ways of thinking  (Benedict) can find common ground with the Church’s equivalent of a hippie: Bergoglio is a romantic, sensitive soul, a man of the people who tangos and loves ABBA and football and represents progressive values and the inclusive, loving future of the Church. Benedict passes the mitre to Bergoglio because he realizes his time has passed.

“In other words, liberals and conservatives can find common ground, if the conservatives would just agree to surrender the field of ideas to the liberals and step out of the way. No doubt there are some conservatives who think everything would be fine if liberals would simply admit that they’re wrong and agree to shut up forever. But if you made a movie about that, it would rightly be derided as sheer fantasy. The Two Popes is fantasy built on lies.”

To sum it up, there is a hidden battle going on inside the Catholic Church between the liberals and the conservatives, trying to determine the outcome of the next Conclave.

But then there is another hidden battle inside the Catholic Church and, as it happens – and unbeknown to us, there are Maltese involved in it.

Gianluigi Nuzzi is perhaps the best known of journalists writing on the inside stories of what happens in the Vatican. Many of his books have been world best-sellers, such as Vaticano Spa on the Marcinkus era, Sua Santita which revealed documents from Pope Benedict’s desk that led to that Pope’s resignation, Via Crucis which described Pope Francis’ first year, and Peccato Originale which broke the story of many stories of sexual corruption in the Church.

Now he has issued Giudizio Universale about the so far unsuccessful efforts of Pope Francis to bring the Vatican finances into order and the battle against a mafia of Curia cardinals all spending beyond their means from funds they were not supposed to have.

He tells of two people who were appointed by the Pope to bring about some order in the church finances in a subterranean battle against the powerful Secretariat of State but who inexplicably ended up badly – Cardinal George Pell, an Australian cardinal who was accused – and later convicted – of paedophilia despite the last-minute defence by an obscure Maltese priest, and Libero Milone, born in The Hague, very respected by Deloitte for whom he works, who one day found himself accused by the Head of the Vatican Police of illegal acts and threatened with an immediate arrest if he did not resign with immediate effect, which he did.

Nuzzi mentions two Maltese priests: Mgr Antoine Camilleri, “from the old Secretariat of State” who used to be the Number Three in the Secretariat and who has now been sent to Iceland as Nuncio and appointed an Archbishop, and Joseph F.X.  Zahra, who has been working in the Council for Economic Affairs since 2013 and who is described in the book as the rising star in Pope Francis’ new financial structure for a leaner, less profligate, more socially-sensitive Vatican.


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