Review of The Francis Miracle by John Allen, Jr.
The author mentions nothing remotely miraculous about Pope Francis, yet the book is not simply puffery. In fact, the concluding chapter notes: “Walk into any Vatican department nearly two years into the Francis era and ask what’s different operationally as a result of the new pope, and the most common response is ‘Nothing.’”
Francis seems to have improved the Vatican Bank, a frequent subject of scandals. But he took office in 2013, several years after the financial crisis, and this timing certainly contributed to his success. Also, European financial regulators have gained increasing leverage over the Vatican bank, and have curtailed some questionable practices.
The gravest crisis the Church has faced in many decades involves crimes of sexual abuse and their cover-up. Allen points to no significant accomplishments on this front. Furthermore, he notes that in 2010, while still Archbishop Bergoglio, he said: “In my diocese, it never happened to me.” Allen remarks: “It was an improbable claim given that Buenos Aires is among the world’s largest Catholic jurisdictions and Bergoglio was in charge during a period in which tens of thousands of victims worldwide came forward to report abuse at the hands of Church personnel. It’s also inconsistent with the public record, since several cases did in fact arise during Bergoglio’s time as archbishop” (p. 167). While this is a bold statement for a Vatican correspondent, it is actually an understatement. Bishop Accountability.org, the leading chronicler of clerical sex abuse, has more detail at http://www.bishop-accountability.org/Argentina/.
Despite speaking soothing words about child abuse upon taking office, Francis was slow to meet with victims or take any actions. He was quicker to meet with Protestant preachers of the Prosperity Gospel. He even high-fived them, which seems inconsistent with his emphasis on the poor, not to mention Jesus’ teaching. Francis was far less emotional with abuse victims, who were also less than enthusiastic about the meeting.
Years after Pope Francis promised to put an end to the abuse problem, he has done little to further justice. Since about 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has received the personnel files of all priests accused of abuse. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of cases with credible charges, yet none have been turned over to civil authorities. Furthermore, the only bishops who were disciplined were themselves sex abusers. Francis has not disciplined any bishop for covering up abuse, or recycling abusive priests.
Overall, while Mr. Allen was less than effusive with his praise for Francis, I think he was overly stingy with his criticism. The book is not exactly fair and balanced, except perhaps in a common euphemistic sense.