It is always hazardous to apply our "high octane model" of speculation to the Vatican, for it is, after all, the world's oldest intergenerational political chancery, in continuous operation for centuries. It is also, as former Assistant Secretary of HUD observed during a recent conversation we had, the world's biggest intergenerational pile of equity. As I pointed out, the recent moves by Pope Francis I in bringing in the auditor of the Bank of International Settlements, Ernst and Young, to audit the Vatican is a first in a sense. But what's the purposes?
Well, that auditor of record for the BIS is, interestingly enough, also the auditor for Lloyd's of London. Having one company control the audits of three of the world's largest financial institutions (one of which is the world's largest pile of intergenerational equity), would give "whomever" access to just exactly how much that biggest pile of equity is really worth... a key piece of intelligence in the emerging world. And there's another implication of all of these developments, for you can be sure that the Americans, British, French, Chinese, Russians, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Brazilians, Japanese, Indians and just about anyone else who's a "player on the world stage" (did I mention the Chinese?) will have their "assets" - both "humint" and "sigint" (human intelligence and signals intelligence) carefully placed inside of Ernst and Young. And one can also imagine various corporations will have similar assets similarly placed. Inquiring minds want to know just how big that equity pile is...
...and all of this would be known, of course, to the power players inside the Vatican of Pope Francis I, and Francis, a Jesuit, will himself know all about all the possibilities and implications of his moves. And this is where the hazardous high octane speculation kicks in.
Francis is making other interesting moves, such as:
(1) calling for "more decentralization", i.e., less papal, and more episcopal, power:
(2) criticizing "capitalism," which isn't surprising coming from the papacy; it's done it before, and often (think only of John XXIII or Paul VI, even John-Paul II). What's new here is the context(which we'll get back to):
(3) Seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is both old and new in a sense (and we'll get back to that too):
(4) Acting and saying things in a "radical" manner, that papacy watchers will recognize.
Let's begin with that fourth factor - acting in a radical manner - first: For those who are not familiar with it, there is a body of "prophecies" compiled by Malachy of Armagh, a 12th century Irish bishop. These purport to be a list of all the popes from his time forward, given by a short "motto" describing that pope. There is, of course, a whole cottage industry that has grown around this list, both inside and outside of the papal church, along with speculation that the papal elections, and the elector's choice of a papal name, has been controlled or at least influenced by this list. For example, Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, was known in the propechy of Malachy's list of mottos as gloria olivae, the "glory of the olive", and this, in turn, so the reasoning ran, was a reference to the Benedictine order, papal catholicism's oldest religious order. Thus, advocates of the "Malachy prophecy" school point to Josef Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of the name Benedict as yet another indicator that the prophecy is being taken into consideration for the selection of the pope, and by the elector himself in choosing the symbolic name that will "define" his papacy.
So what about Francis I? Obviously, the choice of the name is a first, and in that sense, a break with prior tradition, on a par with Albino Cardinal Luciani's choice of the name John-Paul for his short-lived papacy. For Cardinal Luciani, however, the choice was meant to symbolize his intention to reign in the spirit of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, the "Vatican Two" popes. It was meant, in other words, to indicate some sort of contintuity, howsoever threadbare it may be, given the other reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It will be recalled that the First Vatican Council, under Pius IX (Giovanni-Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti), was the council that formally defined the pope to be infallible ex cathedra (from the chair) and ex consensu ecclesia (without the consent of the Church), and also defined him to have a supreme and immediate jurisdiction, This latter is important, for it means that every Catholic is immediately subject to the pope, and that his word is final. Immediacy means that he need not confine his policy decisions or actions to the normal bureaucratic chain of command from top to bottom. He can step outside that, and act upon any individual matter he wishes.
Why am I bothering you with this? Because, amid all the reforms of Vatican Two imposed from above on the papal church - some would call them revolutions and I would be inclined to agree with them - one thing was spoken of in all the old familiar terms of plenitudo potestatis (plenitude of power), and in all the old dismal terminology: the papacy itself.
This is the necessary context to Jorge-Maria Cardinal Bergoglio's choice of his papal name: Francis. As I wrote here during his election, this could be Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders of the Jesuit religious order, the pope's own order, or the far more familiar Francis of Assisi. It is with the latter possibility we are concerned, for Francis of Assissi and the Franciscan order itself spawned a number of cantankerous movements in the middle ages, calling for the end of Church riches and patrimonies, and that meant, of course, the tremendous power that had accumulated around the papacy. While most people are focused on the Francis Xavier possibility, I think that in the labyrinthine ways of the world's oldest political chancery, we might also be looking at a symbolic bow to Francis of Assisi...
So what do we have? A pope that stays in humble surroundings, walks to work, audits the Vatican, meets the Russian president, and issues warnings about capitalism, in other words, a pope whose actions could be construed as a kind of emulation of Francis of Assisi. So this brings us back to the prophecies of Malachy. The last pope in Malachi's list is simply described as Petrus Romanus, Peter the Roman, who, we are given to believe, is to feed his flock amid great trials. There has always been a dispute about the last name on Malachy's list, if it is meant to follow gloria oliviae directly, or if there is a gap. But in any case, Cardinal Bergoglio's choice of the name Francis is yet more (probably deliberate) ambiguity, for the name Francis has little to do with Petrus Romanus...except perhaps in the actions the pope is taking.... there's more, but that will have to wait until tomorrow...
See you on the flip side.