When I was offered a copy of Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ Secret Battle Against Corruption In The Vatican, I was hesitant to accept it. But I decided that if there was something about my Church I ought to know, then I shouldn’t bury my head in the sand.
It is no stretch for me to believe that the administrative arm of my Church needs reform. My whole life I have wondered why administrative posts are filled by ordained men when the local parishes are so short of priests. It’s always seemed to me that it would make far more sense to have lay people run the administrative business of the Church and let the ordained focus on passing on the faith. (Although a priest friend of ours recently argued that in order to make sure money is handled both wisely and from a Christian world view, you need both perspectives.)
I am naturally suspicious of sensational language like battles between good and evil, but I was willing to keep an open mind and process the information in the book slowly and thoughtfully.
Unfortunately, for large portions of the book, I couldn’t follow the information presented well enough to understand what the author was trying to communicate, much less summon any outrage.
In part, that is because the cast of characters and organizations is so sprawling that I simply couldn’t keep track. On the other hand, Nuzzi artificially inflates that cast of characters. For instance, on page 47, in the middle of several paragraphs addressing the size of apartments inhabited by cardinals, there is this sentence: “The former archbishop of Lubljana, he” (Slovenian Cardinal Frank Rode) “had been a personal friend of Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, who had been suspended from the ministry for pedophilia.” I waited for that aside to be shown as relevant to the discussion at hand, but I waited in vain.
In places, like the first part of the real estate chapter, the threads were well unified and the implications clear. In another chapter, Nuzzi does a good job of showing the discrepancy between stockpiles of goods sold in Vatican gift shops versus what is claimed on balance sheets. (To me, this suggests inept management, but not evil.)
But a great deal of the time, I felt like I was reading numbers upon numbers without the necessary context for analysis. For example, he talks about a farm that falls under the Holy See’s domain, but I never saw anything in the text that indicated mismanagement. Eventually there was something about a money transfer to a diocese, but I read the section four times without ever understanding what was problematic about it.
In the end, then, my impression was this: yes, there are problems within the Curia. Yes, there is great resistance to change, and a fairly appalling amount of un-Christlike behavior. But change is happening, albeit slowly. It’s been a mere 2 1/2 years since Francis was elected. How much revolutionary change can reasonably be expected in such a short period of time? A big ship turns slowly. It would be nice if it was otherwise, but that’s reality.
Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of Merchants in the Temple by the publisher, for purposes of review. When I accepted it I was very clear that my opinion would be honest and given through the lens of my Catholic faith.