And as with the Italian State, so with the Italian church. It now has a Pope who has not only taken perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Jesuit but who has taken the name of Francis of Assisi to set the tone of his papacy. I must declare a personal liking for Franciscans; the friars have been my priests since I reached my teens. When first I knew them they lived walled from the world in a magnificent friary at East Bergholt, the heart of Constable country, a stone's throw from Randolph Churchill's old home. When they left it to relocate to a large Council house on the Chantry estate in Ipswich to serve an undistinguished modern community church I thought at the time that they were diminished. Of course the opposite was true. It took age to realise it.
As the Catholic Herald reports, change is afoot within the Vatican. I still can't walk the Embankment under Blackfriars Bridge without recalling the reporting of Roberto Calvi's corpse hanging over the water. Roman corruption is a squid with long tentacles. Vaticanologists are clear; once Francis has cracked the curia, he will turn his attention to the bishops. And where better to start than Germany and Austria?
Catholics in the UK will not believe the stupendous wealth of the Germanic church, funded by a State-supported Church Tax that ranges from 1.1% of income in Austria to 8% - 9% of Income tax in parts of Germany. It has allowed for instance the idiot Bishop of Limburg to spend €31m on his palace without anyone noticing, and no doubt scores of other incidents of corruption, financial abuse and self-service that are well hidden from public gaze. Francis' next move against the bishops will be the hardest of his papacy; as the Herald reports,
Pope Leo XIII sent an apostolic visitor to Ireland to report on the Catholic Church there,” he writes. “On his return, the Holy Father’s first question was: ‘How did you find the Irish bishops?’ The visitor replied that he could not find any bishops, but only 25 popes.There will be those (indeed including regular readers) who will criticise not only Francis' conservatism but the validity of his faith. Myself, I welcome and support him with all my heart; his crook is not only a hook for errant sheep but a weapon that can kill a wolf. If he turns the gaze of his stewardship towards the EU and the Italian State, he needs to have cleared his own garden first.