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Turf wars expose the rot within Holy See

I BEAR a personal grudge against the Vatican. At a time when I was briefly pursuing an ill-advised career as an ecclesiastical historian specialising in the 15th Century, I went one summer to research in its library. A priestly custodian judged that my frock -- which did not quite reach my knees -- was too short and turned me away.

Since travellers from the UK were allowed only a £50 travel allowance, and I had been warned to spend some of it on a good dinner for a priest who might help me get the records I wanted, I couldn't afford to buy clothes. At a time of short skirts, I had only one that met requirements. It was woollen, there was no air-conditioning and I sweltered all week.

I had already taken against the Vatican at school when the religious instruction nun failed to give me a satisfactory explanation as to why, if she was right that God ensured that the best person available became pope, such a huge majority of them were Italian (today's figure is Italians 175: Rest of World 90).

The conclusion I reached in my late teens was that the church's nerve centre was run by a crowd of old women. This was unfair to old women, most of whom are in touch with reality and not obsessed with power.

I would learn gradually that all institutions are dominated primarily by an instinct for self-preservation. Yet the Vatican is an extreme example. It governs almost 1.2 billion people worldwide, yet it is run by a tiny unrepresentative cabal who have so doggedly rejected any kind of reform that they imperil its very existence. Moral cowardice and cover-ups led to the scandal of child abuse. Now leaks of confidential documents are exposing the turf wars.

Read on



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