Monsignor, a film made in 1982—in the midst of a very pro-business administration in Washington, D.C.—depicts a Vatican steeped in matters of finance centering around a priest whose degree in finance makes him a prime candidate to be groomed for the Curia. That cleric, Father John Flaherty, helps the Vatican operating budget during World War II by involving the Holy See in the black market through a mafia. In the meantime, he sleeps with a woman who is preparing to be a nun and subsequently keeps from her the matter of his religious vocation. The twist is not that Flaherty is a deeply flawed priest, or that the Vatican he serves is vulnerable to corruption inside, but that those clerics who mercilessly go after him are devoid of the sort of compassion that their savior preaches.
The pope, exquisitely played by Leonardo Cimino, demonstrates how upper-echelon leadership can transcend the managerial foci that so preoccupy partisans. Put another way, the social distance that tends to come with organizational figure-heads can give “the big picture” characteristic of “having perspective” some role in seeing to it that narrow organizational politics do not have the last say even in terms of what the criteria are to be. I suspect that too many CEOs go with the advice from their subordinates, and thus unwittingly buy into the managerial criteria charged with garden-variety one-upmanship. In such cases, organizational politics triumphs over what is really important from the standpoint of organizational mission statements.
In the film, the pope presides over the traditionalist cleric’s castigation of Flaherty . The pope later reads of Flaherty’s sordid deeds, and then speaks with the man presumably condemned. Rather than defend himself, Flaherty says, in effect, “guilty as charged!” Rather than take Flaherty’s misconduct as the most telling facet of the case, the pope observes that the traditionalist’s tone was that of jealousy, without any hint of sympathy for his brother in faith. The traditionalist’s utter lack of brotherly love stands out in retrospect to the pope as further from Christ, hence more serious, than Flaherty’s corruption. This prioritizing of values is made known to the viewer with the sight of Flaherty’s mentor, rather than the head traditionalist, as the next pope. In fact, the mentor reinstalls Flaherty in the Vatican after the contrite yet corrupt priest has spent some years in exile at a monastery. The film ends with the two men embracing, with facial expressions revealing true brotherly love—a real contrast from the cold, stern expressions of the traditionalists who had been so confident that the “prosecution” of Flaherty would result in one of their own as pope.
The message presented by the film is therefore that in a religion in which God is love, hardness in place of brotherly love is without any legitimacy whatsoever; it is worse than unethical conduct. This is one way of saying that religion does not reduce to ethics because more important things are involved. This is not to excuse corruption in the Vatican; the hypocrisy alone is repugnant to anyone who takes the clerics in the Curia at their word that they are following Christ in their living out of the Gospel. Even so, going after such hypocrisy without even sympathy for the human nature, which we all share, evokes the Pharisees whom Jesus goes after in the Gospels. A Church run by Pharisees does more than unethical conduct to undercut the faith espoused by Jesus because matters of the heart are more deeply rooted than conduct as far as Jesus’s preaching is concerned.