So imagine you’re 81 years old, and tired after a tense visit to Ireland to reassure faithful Catholics distressed over sexual misconduct by priests there (and elsewhere). How can your day get that much longer? By having a former Vatican diplomat (Carlo Maria Vigano) issue an 11-page letter accusing you of knowingly failing to take action against a now disgraced American cardinal (Theodore McCarrick). Even worse, the media will have you at close quarters during the flight back to Rome when you attempt some version of a press conference aboard the papal plane.
You’re Pope Francis, and what does your face show?
There’s consternation, for sure. Notice the rise of an inner eyebrow and the eyebrows pinched together, both expressions a sign of surprise and anxiety. Is Francis guilty of participating in a cover-up and therefore nervous? It’s possible, though the timing of Vigano’s letter—as if to stymie any progress the Pope might have made in Ireland—also surely amounts to a sneak attack.
More pronounced is anger. One eye is drawn tight and narrow, a sure sign of anger, and the raised upper lip joins with the eyebrows knitted together in carrying traces of anger. That emotion can range from focused attention (Francis knows he better choose his words carefully in answering Vigano’s allegation) to outrage. Anger involves wanting to move forward and control your circumstances. Vigano’s letter is an attempt to topple Francis, and with him a progressive agenda offensive to Vigano’s fellow conservatives. Power, policy pronouncements and money are all at play here, with contributions to the Church falling as disappointment and dissent mount among parishioners and church officials alike.
Most of all, though, Francis’s face signals disgust and contempt given the wrinkled nose that dominates the left-side photograph and the slight sneer evident in the photo to its right. Something—maybe everything—stinks, a stench the Pontiff’s can really only easily evade by resigning, like his predecessor Benedict XVI did (the first resignation of a Pope in almost 600 years).
Francis took away Vigano’s job as nuncio to the United States two years ago, and now the former diplomat is eager to return the favor. Contempt is about a lack of trust, which is what makes the Pope’s statement aboard the plane so interesting. “I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalist ability to make your conclusions,” the Pope told the assembled media: “It’s an act of trust.”
Here we are at a moment in the Catholic church’s long history where the Pope is placing more faith in investigative reporters than in many of his own current, and former, top officials. How this will all unfold, nobody knows. But forget the celibacy rule supposedly in place for priests. In this scandal, there aren’t any virgins left to be found.