By Ann Schneible and Elise Harris
On Sunday Pope Francis spoke out for the first time on what has been called the most recent “Vatileaks” scandal with the theft of confidential information by the Holy See, but offered his assurances that the reform process would move forward.
The stealing and publication of the documents was a “mistake,” and “a deplorable act that does not help,” the Pope said Nov. 8, explaining that he had called for the study connected with the confidential documents, with which he was well acquainted.
Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square about the scandal in his post-Angelus comments, acknowledging that many have been “troubled” by the news of the scandal in recent days.
Nonetheless, Francis offered his assurances that his reform would move forward.
“This sad fact certainly does not deter me from the reform efforts which we are pushing forward with my collaborators and with the support of all of you,” he said, stressing the importance of prayer for the Church.
“Yes, with the support of all the Church, because the Church is renewed with prayer and with daily holiness of every baptized person.”
“Therefore I thank you and ask you to continue to pray for the Pope and for the Church, without losing peace, but moving forward with faith and hope.”
The Pope’s comments come just days after two former members of the Vatican’s Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA), were arrested on charges of stealing and leaking information in connection with two books alleged to contain confidential information surrounding Pope Francis’ pontificate.
COSEA was established by the Pope July 18, 2013, as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances. It was dissolved after completing its mandate.
Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui – both former members of the commission – were taken into custody after being questioned last weekend by the Vatican Gendarmerie.
After spending a night in one of the Vatican’s four prison cells, Chaouqui was released in exchange for her cooperation with the investigations. The position of Msgr. Balda is still being examined.
The arrests came ahead of the publication of two books reportedly containing leaked information from the Vatican, one having been written by the same journalist – Gianluigi Nuzzi – connected with the Vatileaks scandal under Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
One of the books, entitled “Via Crucis,” was written by Nuzzi and published Nov. 4. The second book, titled “Avarice: The Papers that Reveal Wealth, Scandals and Secrets in the Church of Francis,” was written by another Italian journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, and published Nov. 5.
In a Nov. 4 statement Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said the disclosure of confidential documents and information “is an illicit activity that must therefore be prosecuted by the competent Vatican authorities.”
He said that the leaks were “unfortunately largely intentional,” and rather than offering clarity, the intended result was to create “the contrary impression – that of a permanent reign of confusion, lack of transparency or indeed the pursuit of particular or inappropriate interests.”
In his reflections on the day’s Gospel, Pope Francis compared Jesus’ condemnation of the hypocrisy of the scribes, who do good works in public in order to be noticed, to the poverty of the widow who gives her last two coins to the poor.
The scribes and Pharisees “strut around in public, using their authority to devour the houses of widows, who were considered, together with the orphans and foreigners, to be the most vulnerable and least protected people,” the Pope said.
He cautioned that even today there is the risk of falling into the same attitudes. This is first done by separating prayer from justice, he said, “because you cannot praise God and do harm to the poor.”
Another example Francis gave is “when we profess to love God, and instead use him for their own vainglory, their own advantage,” like the scribes had done.
However, while the “rich gave ostentatiously what for them was in abundance,” the poor widow gave her whole livelihood with both “discretion and humility.”
Even though the widow should have kept one coin for herself due to her extreme poverty, “she didn’t want to go halfway with God: she is deprived of all.”
“In her poverty she understood that, having God, she had everything; she feels totally loved by him and in turn loves him totally.”
Jesus gives us the same message, Francis said, namely, that the measure of justice is not quantity, but “fullness.”
Francis explained that justice is “not a question of the wallet, but of the heart. To love God with the whole heart means to trust him, in his providence, and to serve him in the poorest of brothers without expecting anything in return.”
When faced with the needs of others, we are called to deprive ourselves of something of great value, he said, not just something superfluous.
“We are called to give the necessary time, not only what advances us; we are called to give immediately and without reserve one of our talents, not after using it for our own personal gain or for that of the group.”
Pope Francis closed his reflections by asking Jesus for the grace to enter into the same school as the widow and to learn from her poverty.
He asked for Mary’s intercession in obtaining “the gift of a poor heart, but rich in a joyful and free generosity.”