Trapped but not inactive – the pope fell to a new role as the moral voice of the world in the pandemic. Slowed in many activities, he sketched visions that endure beyond the crisis.
The first two months were only foreplay. Trips and conferences were planned, the Pope published his letter on the Amazon Synod and prayed for the victims of the "Wuhan virus" in faraway China. The plague reached the Vatican in early March. Francis switched his weekly pilgrimage meetings to video. Since then, 2020 was also for the Holy See what it was for the rest of the world: the Corona Year.
The height of the crisis coincided with the end of Lent. The pope as he walks along the deserted Via del Corso in central Rome on a Sunday in March to pray before an ancient plague cross in the church of San Marcello. The Pope raising the Blessed Sacrament on a rainy evening in St. Peter's Square to implore protection and comfort for the city and the world in the pandemic – these are images that will stay with us.
Pope sees world community at crossroads
Francis, who loves so much the closeness to people, preaches lonely compassionateness. In video addresses, at the Easter feast without the faithful, in his encyclical "Fratelli tutti" published in the fall and the book "Dare to Dream!", which emerged during the summer months, he urgently calls for solidarity – between states, religions, social classes: There can only be one global solution to the global crisis. No one should be left behind. It will be his basic message of the year. Pope sees world community at a crossroads.
For the first time since 1979, a church leader did not make any foreign visits. Trips to Malta, Hungary and the Asia-Pacific were canceled, plans for South Sudan and Iraq put on hold. Such pastoral visits are an important instrument for strengthening local churches and relations with governments and other religious communities.
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and the foreign envoy, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, took over some appointments, of course with far less public visibility.
China agreement and curia reform
The biggest and most controversial diplomatic event was the renewal of an agreement with China governing bishop appointments. Hong Kong's aged Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who sees the 2018 deal as a surrender of the Catholic Church to the communist government, traveled to Rome specifically to diade Francis; he was not even received. On ies that could anger Beijing, such as the democracy movement in Hong Kong or the oppression of the Uighurs, Francis remained steadfastly silent. Instead, a report of a spying attack by Chinese hackers on Vatican computers made headlines in July.
Slowed down by the Corona crisis, the reform of the Curia went ahead. The new Curia's "Praedicate evangelium," already expected in 2019, entered a final editing phase in late fall. The relevant council of cardinals, which includes Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx, has since grown again to seven members with the addition of Congolese Fridolin Besungu.
Vatican and finances
Reform efforts were most visible in the area of finance. A leadership crisis at the Vatican's financial watchdog, which temporarily led to its exclusion from Egmont Group's international information platform, appears to have ended. The pope ied stricter rules for internal contracting and use of funds. The Secretariat of State experienced a severe cutback: It had to relinquish control over its considerable assets. Investment management now handled centrally by papal asset management agency Apsa.
The background is the affair about a real estate investment in London, which has been going on for more than a year and is now being dealt with by the courts, and which has taken on some scintillating features in the news coverage. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, former chief of staff at the Secretariat of State, lost his post as canonization prefect over it.
The fact that the new CFO Juan Guerrero presented balance sheet figures for the first time since 2016 can therefore be seen as a vote of confidence. The Spanish Jesuit succeeded Cardinal George Pell – who has since been rehabilitated from sexual assault allegations – as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in January, resuming his vigorous reform course.
Encyclical "Fratelli tutti"
The past few months put the Vatican under even more financial prere. Revenues from museums and rentals of Roman properties plummeted, Vatican State governorate called for rigorous hiring and spending freeze. Secretly, some curates were relieved the papal trips were off: Money saved.
For example, Francis' last trip for now was to Assisi, when he left on 3. October signed its doctrinal letter "Fratelli tutti". In it, he sketches a utopia for a post-Corona world community. It will endure beyond this year and beyond the pandemic.