The reason may have been wrong, but the sentiment was right: on Piero Marini

A couple of weeks back the (then) inexplicably-expedited audience that one-time papal MC Archbishop Piero Marini was granted with Pope Francis caused my heart to sink. Was he to make an (unwelcome) comeback in that role? Some took me to task (especially by email) for being too negative towards him, and I did feel a little more inclined to give him the benefit of any doubt.

But my heart was right to sink, it is just that the reason it should sink has turned out to be different. Note that Marini is President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. He has been in Costa Rica for an Eucharistic congress there, quite rightly. He gave at least one interview, not surprisingly. Did he stick to his portfolio and a few general asides? No chance.

In an interview with a Cost Rican paper, reported on extensively by the National Catholic Reporter, he forged into foreign territory, on two particular fronts. The first, and lesser, was payback to Benedict XVI who did not keep him on as papal MC. No dignified silence from Marini. The second was to contradict Church teaching on a contentious issue. Charitably we might think that he made the silly assumption that simply because one is asked a question, one has to answer it. One doesn’t; and one shouldn’t when it goes against the official teaching of the Church, especially when one is a Vatican official. It isn’t rocket science. Unless of course he had a particular motive…

You can read the article on the NCR link above, but in short he failed on two fronts. The first was from the outset, with thinly veiled criticism of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Mind you, the questions seemed aimed and eliciting unflattering implications from Marini, and he obliged wholeheartedly:

For you, what has the change in the papacy meant?

It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s opening a window onto springtime and onto hope. We had been breathing the waters of a swamp, and it had a bad smell. We’d been in a church afraid of everything, with problems such as Vatileaks and the pedophilia scandals. With Francis we’re talking about positive things; he puts the emphasis on the positive and talks about offering hope.

Can you describe the atmosphere that prevails now in the Vatican?

In these first days of his pontificate there’s a different air of freedom, a church that’s closer to the poor and less problematic. He doesn’t like living surrounded by great paintings and gold.

So under Benedict XVI there were only the foul vapours of a swamp, negative and without hope, repressed and disdaining simplicity and the poor.  They then ask a remarkable question, leading on from the matter of Francis apparent poverty:

Does it suggest that priests ought to get out of the sanctuaries and share with those in need?

Without a doubt. The new pope has said that pastors ought to have the smell of their sheep, which means living their lives and faith from within the community.

The question itself is ridiculous. First it suggests that priest being in the sanctuaries of their churches (offering Mass, baptising, shriving) is somehow detrimental to priestly life.  Secondly, it suggests that a priest who faithfully carries out his sacramental duties (which only he can, not any old social worker or pastoral worker) is somehow withholding something from those in need. Marini’s answer shows a profound lack of sympathy with his fellow clergy, while otherwise it lacks any substantive meaning at all.

Then they ask him about Bl John Paul II:

In your 18 years as master of ceremonies for John Paul II, what did you learn from being next to a man who was so admired?

I learned his simplicity. He was a very simple, spontaneous person, with great ideas to share with people. He liked to stay with the faithful after Mass, chatting with them. He had worked in a mine, and therefore he knew the reality and the needs of the people.

Is there any conversation, phrase or memory that you’ve held onto with special affection from John Paul II?

I remember we were at World Youth Day in the Philippines, when John Paul II celebrated my 52nd birthday. I had never before blown the candles on a cake, and he brought together a number of people for me to celebrate. He was very friendly, cheerful and spontaneous.

A worthy tribute to a holy pope, but it is what he singles out that should be noted. Not his holiness, his resolute conviction and faith; rather Marini emphasizes his simplicity, human touch, friendliness and his knowledge of the people. He is doing so with rhetorical intent. In light of the previous thinly-veiled hatchet job (if a hatchet job can in fact be veiled at all) on Benedict XVI, the points he highlights can justifiably be read as saying more about what Benedict was not (in his opinion) than about Bl John Paul II.

But he comes of out the shadows to take a direct swipe at the emeritus pope:

Pope Benedict XVI used Twitter as a means of communication, do you think it was effective?

For my part I wouldn’t have used Twitter, but the pope was advised to do it. The church shouldn’t be antiquated, but you also have to exercise a bit of caution.

Poor Benedict: damned if he did; damned if he didn’t.

But the second failure is to have spoken as he did on the explosive subject of same-sex unions:

Costa Rica has opened a discussion about what it means to be a secular state. What do you think of these decisions?

This is already a reality in Europe. A secular state is fine, but if it turns into a secularist state, meaning hostile to the Catholic Church, then there’s something wrong. Church and state should not be enemies to one another. In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.

For a start, I am not sure at all that the Church sees a secular state as “fine”. It can tolerably and even profitably work with it, all things being equal, but approve it per se… not so sure about that. This opinion reflects the Church’s view more faithfully. Marini is right to state (the obvious) that the state and the Church should not be enemies, but then immediately proceeds to offer a single example of conflict between Church and state in which he implicitly pitches the Church as the aggressor: to keep the peace “it’s necessary” for the Church ” to recognize the union of persons of the same sex”. In this conflict between Church and state he feels the Church should betray its principles in order to repair the state’s failure to protect the civil rights of individuals in a way consistent with Christian morality. If Marini is ever put in charge of the New Evangelization, it is doomed.

Perhaps my liturgical criticism of Marini was not totally justified, though it was always partly so. However, here Marini parades as an egoist, harsh as that is to say about a curial prelate. What an official working with Eucharistic congresses is doing speaking out on topics beyond his brief and contrary to the Church’s teaching is hard to see, except in a negative light. He has queered the pitch for those whose responsibility it actually is to speak on such contentious issues.

Given the debate noted earlier in the NCR article about what Pope Francis’ position on same-sex unions has been in the recent past, one can only wonder if there is an attempt to nudge the Pope in the direction of accepting civil unions for same-sex couples. Note the thread of thought: wonderful JP II who was in touch with people and their needs; wonderful Pope Francis who is also very simple, a man of the people who wants priests to leave their churches and roll in the earth with the rest of humanity; and nasty Benedict XVI so out of touch, so lacking in the common touch, so negative, who made the Church a swamp. Am I the only one who sees an agenda here?

Archbishop Marini has behaved disgracefully, and indeed (in the canonical sense) scandalously. I, too, smell a swamp creature at hand, but it isn’t Benedict XVI. If the Curia is to be reformed, then perhaps we now have at least one firm idea of where the administrative razor should be slashing.

May God be merciful to Marini, and let us pray for him, a bitter man.

20 thoughts on “The reason may have been wrong, but the sentiment was right: on Piero Marini

    1. When it is in a paper or on the TV it is “news”; when it is in a blog, it is “gossip”, or at least some would have it so.

      As you suggest, the ordinary person knows far more about what goes on in the Church than ever before. That scares a few people!

      Pax tibi.


  1. Fr Hugh

    Back in the earlier part of the first decade of 2000s, I was not really involved in reading Catholic related blogs, but I certainly would watch the Papal masses from Rome having always admired the late Blessed Pope John Paul II.

    I noticed even then how the standard of liturgy and in particular the standard of singing had deteriorated badly. But what disturbed me the most on several occasions as a just an observer with no knowledge or interest in Vatican and curial machinations, was Archbishop Marini’s off hand, dare I say at time flippant manner with Pope John Paul. I saw this in the way he pushed on the Pope’s mitre or took it off in a rough manner. Also some I recall some very ugly vestments which he then forced on Pope Benedict XVI, the worst example being those blue and yellow vestments we saw on the Papal visit to Austria.

    Some people may not have liked some of the vestments Mons Guido Marini chose for BXVI however one could see and feel his enormous respect and love for Pope Benedict and the caring and discreet manner he always displayed toward the Holy Father.


    1. Yes, Martin, Marini’s approach was often, shall we say, cavalier. In his last few years of course, Bl John Paul was in no position to call him to order. Benedict did; and he Marini did not like it, or so it appears. Looking back on his tenure, it seems Marini operated on the principle that liturgical tradition began in 1970.



    2. I couldn’t agree more; it is almost beyond understanding that the liturgy under blessed pope John Paul was allowed to deteriorate in such a manner; especially the poor singing. Having said this, I admire blessed John Paul very much, especially his courageous fight against communism, which he, more than most, brought to a collapse. I am convinced he was a very holy man.
      True;I have also noticed, how respectful Mons. Guido Marini always was in his attending to Benedict XVI, and the apparent love for him.
      It saddens me very much to read that Mons. Guido Marini will no longer stay in his position as liturgical master. He gives such a humble and gentle impression. Even friends of mine, non catholics, have noticed this.
      The mere thought that someone like archbishop Marini would be his successor is a thought so REPULSIVE that I shudder.
      NOBODY who displays such utter nonsense as archbishop Marini and, worse, attacks pope Benedict XVI- who is suffering from the ailments of old age, as we all know- is worthy of respect!
      It is absurd trying to picture Benedict as less humble; even pope Francis himself thanked him for his “humility”, so obvious to anyone with eyes and ears and a receptive and open heart, not filled with dark envy and hunger for calumny.
      This was cowardly and disgusting; yes, only an embittered man could speak like that about a holy man like Benedict.
      I will pray for archbishop Marini nad, as always, for our very beloved pope em. Benedict. Naturally for pope Francis, as always, that he may follow in the foot steps of his predecessor, regarding the liturgy, not giving in to pressure from the gay lobbyists all around, but constantly continue to demonstrate his unconditional support for traditional marriage and family.


      1. Hi Margaret. Thanks for taking time to comment.

        Firstly, I have not heard that Mgr Guido is in fact to be replaced as papal MC. It is my great fear, but no more than that at the moment. Unless you know something I do not!

        Unfortunately, in both JP II and Francis we have two very un-liturgical popes. It is not that they abuse liturgy (er… on the whole) but that they have no liturgical sense or instinct. It is not the end of the world, but it does mean that they are not alert to the abuses that might seem small but have such a detrimental effect. Communion in the hand is one such – it is more often irreverent than not. Francis, to be fair, seems not to be undoing that oractice of Benedict, if only because he seems not distribute Communion himself.

        As for Piero Marini, I suspect he may have inadvertently signed his retirement letter with than interview. Well, I hope so anyway!



  2. Benedict XVI treated P. Marini with great kindness; he made Marini an archbishop after he removed him from the M.C. position. Maybe Benedict XVI was too kind? It will be interesting to see if Pope Francis exercises a little discipline in this case. (I am not holding my breathe.)


    1. Hi Susan.

      Yes, Benedict did not deal badly with Marini at all. But Marini knew that his approach was no longer in vogue. What worries me is this audience he had with Pope Francis. Did they talk about this? Is Marini flying this up the flag pole to see who salutes? I do not know what to make of this stream of people who say that in Buenos Aires Francis was open to recognising civil unions. Ideally, it would be good if it were definitively refuted, that the Pope clearly re-affirmed the Church’s teaching on the subject as told those noisy prelates to speak the Faith or speak not at all. But will he?

      I fear you are right not to hold your breath.



  3. I think there may be a nuanced connection between Abp Piero Marini’s same-sex comments and his being President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. So many Catholic clergy world-wide know and seem to do nothing about (meaning educate/catechize) people about sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion regarding their use of contraception or not having been to Confession over a long period of time. Some parts of the Church are calling to allow practising adulterers (aka “divorced and remarried”) to receive Communion and there could be a call to allow practising gays to receive as well (er, did that happen at those scandalous Soho Masses?). This is just a result of many bishops decades-ago rejection of Humanae Vitae. The “Pastoral Solution” is going AWOL and has recently been pointed out on James Preeces blog thread regarding divorced EMHCs and then there is Card Schonborn allowing a practising gay man to be on a Pastoral Council. (I see E&W Bishops now seem to think it admissable for Catholics marrying into the Royal Family not to bring their children up as Catholics – and to think the Church once advised against mixed marriages.) Surely practicing adulterers/hardened mortal sinners should not be visibly doing parish jobs at a Sunday Mass? How are those Catholics who do bother themselves and teach their children to lead sacramental lives supposed to feel or (even worse to contemplate) consider that their Catholicism no longer “fits in”?

    I think the homosexual issue is, now in these times, a watershed issue for the Church. If the Church doesn’t teach rightly on homosexuality and disciplines or roots out homosexualist clerics, then, well, I think were lost. How the Church could bury its head in the sand after homosexual priests abused Catholic children, I don’t know. if there’s any swamp-smell, it’s got to be the sexual sinning in the modern Church.

    Low comments from Marini regarding Benedict XVI, but, inadvertently he’s just shown what he’s made of without knowing it.


    1. Hi DR and welcome.

      As it happens I tend to agree with you about unworthy reception of Communion, be it in the case of who receives, or how it is received. The desire to be “inclusive” seems to entail a total abandonment of logic. How a free for all in receiving the Church’s most sacred gift and responsibility would glorify God is beyond me. St Paul must be spinning in heaven. Bit by bit Catholic identity is being eroded even as the young are discovering its fullness. I just enough of us remain to keep it alive for them.

      So it was with joy I read the Pope’s homily yesterday and his bold statement that one cannot find Jesus outside the Church. If Benedict had said it, imagine the howls of indignation. Since Francis has said it, there is just an uncomfortable and even pained silence.

      Hopefully Pope Francis might get some of his reforms (not necessarily curial) underway in the Autumn. He will have had a summer to think and plan, and pray. But we do need some action soon.

      Bless you!


  4. I am so sorry that I was not more careful in checking when Piero Marini was made an archbishop. I think I made an assumption that an archbishop would not be a Master of Liturgical Celebrations, and therefore he became an archbishop when he was moved to the position of President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. Actually, I am rather relieved to learn that Benedict XVI did not appoint Archbishop Marini to that rank. On the other hand, I thought that Marini was very tender with JPII during the Holy Father’s long illness … it must have been very difficult and draining to see the pain and the decline in the abilities of JPII.


  5. Well, I know Piero Marini – and the sentiments posted above do not represent the man. You may disagree with him; you may not like his style; but the hatchet job is unworthy.


    1. Well, Paul, I wonder how well you know him. Meeting someone at a few conferences, for example, is not really knowing someone. Marini has shown himself a servant of self first, and his actions make that clear. And to be honest, if you do not liker what you read here, don’t read it. I am not changing my views, nor my service of the Catholic Church, which I invite you to join. Criticisms from those within the Church have far more weight and relevance than those from without. You are obviously fascinated by the Catholic Church. Are you being called to surrender something more to her than your fascination?



      1. I know him. Smart comments are apparently okay for you to make, but others are not afforded the same charity.
        Of course, like any Christian, I am fascinated by the Roman tradition. But for forty years I have worked ecumenically – locally, nationally and internationally – and I remain a Protestant because I am convinced that the Reformation made a protest that still has to be heard.
        I respect you in your tradition; please do the same for me in mine!


      2. I said nothing to disrespect your tradition; I did make it clear I think it wrong. If that is disrespect, then the problem is yours, not mine. If you wish to remain a Protestant, that is your affair but you will get no support for it from me. Error remains error even after 400 years, or 40. That “any Christian” is fascinated by the Catholic Church (and I am not convinced they all are in fact so fascinated) suggests to me they recognize the original truth in it.

        You can be as ecumenical as you want, and go to as many conferences as you want, but for me ecumenism is about one thing only: bringing the lost sheep back to the one fold. It is also the Church’s understanding of ecumenism. At Douai we gladly offer hospitality to those not of the Faith, but do not expect us to accord their doctrines an equality they do not have. I would hope that they would not abuse our hospitality, and most do not.

        This is not the forum for your personal grievance against me. It ceases here with this reply. Further comments in this vein will be deleted.


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