In late September, the Italian press reported that Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the cause of canonization of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, has been the subject of investigation by the civil authorities in Italy, for supposed financial wrongdoing during the time that he was bishop of Terni (2000-2012). Archbishop Paglia says that he has not been informed of any investigation, and defends his fiscal policies in Terni. However, we must consider some of the potential ramifications for the Romero beatification. The potential impacts seem to fall into three categories: (1) a distraction for Paglia that prevents him from concentrating on the Romero beatification cause, (2) a fall from grace for Paglia, which stains his reputation and has possible spillover effects on his work, such as the beatification cause, and (3) whether political dynamics reveal the presence of larger forces at play.
In an interview, Paglia denies having ever received a notice of investigation and explains the finances of his episcopate in Terni: “I am conscious, now as then, that in my years of bishop in Terni the bank debt of the diocese added up to eight million Euros, with a 3.5 million attributable to the previous management and 4 in the belly going to the parishes, that the diocese has since taken on. But this money was spent on the work for parish complexes, for the restoration of 53 churches and oratories, and the construction of facilities for the poor, not to mention the outlays necessary to the life of the curia.” Additionally, the current apostolic administrator in Terni, also denies having any knowledge of an investigation. Bishop Ernesto Vecchi says, “I have no indication that Monsignor Paglia is under investigation. And I am a little up to speed on these things, since I am the apostolic administrator.”
It is possible that this distraction for Paglia will result in a delay of a cause of beatification that was presumably accelerated by Pope Francis? A possible clue that the Romero cause might not be being driven with the zeal that you might expect emerged when Cardinal Angelo Amato reported that the Romero case was not keeping pace with John Paul II and John XXIII. On that occasion, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said that causes like the Romero cause are continuing “with their own times” which “do not depend” on the congregation, but on the dictates of the “postulators” necessary to promote each cause.
Has Paglia lost his shine? Without a doubt, these reports will be damaging. The headlines in one Italian newspaper announced: “Now at risk is his appointment as cardinal.” Some of the press reports have been full of comments that attempt to cast Paglia in a bad light with respect to the efforts of Pope Francis to bring reform and transparency to the finances of the Church, and his criticisms of ecclesiastical careerism. Paglia has been portrayed as something of a rising star in the church, and his career has been the focus of intense media attention. (He was said to be in contention for Patriarch of Venice, and for the College of Cardinals ever since he was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.)
But could this be just politics? Certainly it is suggested by reports that speak of a “war in the Vatican” and of Paglia as “collateral damage.” Marco Torricelli notes “The coincidence of the leak about an involvement with the upcoming appointment of cardinals.” Torricelli writes that “the investigation into the diocese of Terni is part of a much broader context, with all the contours of the great war of power going on in the Vatican and which Pope Francis is fighting, with a smile, but also with great determination.”
We’ll know soon enough. Just as the controversy could become a distraction, the Romero cause could provide Paglia a reason to take his mind off this controversy and to get media’s attention away from this story. While any stain on Paglia’s reputation would be unfortunate, we can be reasonably sure that Romero’s reputation is independently strong and should not suffer by association with Paglia’s temporary problems. Finally, wherever Paglia ends up in the symbolism of the day, Romero is going to continue to represent principle, transparency, and the Church of the poor that Francis has projected for his papacy, and that is bound to mean more than the politics of the hour.