How many ombudsmen has the Pope?

Autocrats at the top of hierarchical organizations—whether governmental, corporate, religious, military or political—have a lot of power when it comes to crushing dissent or doing battle with outside forces.

But when it comes to internal reform, that autocratic power commonly melts away.   Autocrats who try to reform the institution they supposedly control run into mysterious resistances and obstacles.  An autocrat is only as powerful as the willing obedience of those lower in the hierarchy extends.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

That’s why I admire and sympathize with Pope Francis in his struggle to clean house at the Institute for Religious Works, also known as the Vatican Bank.  Originally set up to finance the church’s charitable activities, the Vatican Bank operates outside Italian law and financial reporting requirements, and is understood to have been infiltrated by the Italian Mafia for the purposes of money laundering.

I don’t think Pope Francis really is targeted for assassination, as some Italian prosecutors have suggested, but I do think the various Italian Mafias are powerful institutions, and not only in Italy, and they did their utmost to frustrate the Pope’s efforts.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope, I wrote about his ambiguous role in Argentina’s “dirty war” under the dictatorship.  I now think that what I wrote was uncharitable and based on incomplete information.

I admire Pope Francis not just for his highly-publicized modeling of the behavior of Jesus toward the poor, sick and outcast, but his willingness to take action against church officials who abuse their power, such as the Bishop of Limberg, Germany, who was suspended for misuse of church funds for his extravagant lifestyle.  You don’t have to be a Catholic to wish him success.


Pope Francis launches reform of Vatican bureaucracy, with cleanup of Vatican Bank by Anthony Faiola for the Washington Post.

No wonder the Mafia are nervous | This pope is not one to indulge the wishes of gangsters by Peter Popham for The Independent.

Would the Mafia target Pope Francis over Vatican reforms? by John Dickie for CNN.

Suspended ‘Bishop of Bling’ was bound to irk austere Pope Francis by Carol J. Williams for the Los Angeles Times.

My attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church is something like my attitude toward China.  Each comprises more than 1 billion of the world’s people, and each is going to be an important part of world affairs for the foreseeable future.  While I would not wish to be part of either, I wish them well and hope they live up to their best values.

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