Rorate Caeli

Pope's 3rd "conversation" with Italian liberal journalist E. Scalfari
- Vatican spokesman blames Scalfari, Repubblica criticizes the Vatican
- Don't shoot the Messenger

Dosso Dossi
Jove, Mercury and Virtue

Wawel Castle, Krakow

¡Qué lío! - what a mess!

First, the account of the media commotion (there seems to be one every single day) involving declarations by the Pope through unofficial means. The summary in English is by La Repubblica, the secularist newspaper co-founded by Italian liberal and atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari himself -- our comment at the end.


Francis says 2% of priests are paedophiles

Once again, Pope Francis appears to be out of step with conventional wisdom in the Vatican. In his third conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, La Repubblica’s founder and former editor-in-chief, the pontiff implied that there was room for manoeuvre on the issue of celibacy, that there were paedophiles among the cardinals, and that not enough priests condemned the mafia. But the Vatican immediately issued a statement suggesting he had been misquoted.

The Pontiff recalled that celibacy for priests was not instituted until the 10th century, “900 years after Our Lord’s death”, something which the church usually prefers to overlook. He also recalled that clerics could marry in some Eastern Catholic Churches. There were solutions to the “problem” of celibacy, “and I will find them.”

This unusually open approach to the issue follows on from his comments in May, when he told reporters on the plane returning from Israel that “celibacy is not a dogma”. He added: “It is a rule that I appreciate very much… but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.”

This is the third time that Scalfari has met Francis since the pontiff first shocked the paper’s newsroom last September with his open letter to the paper’s eminence gris. A few weeks later, he invited the confirmed atheist for an extensive and unprecedented interview.

This time Francis wanted to address two main issues: the problems of paedophilia within the church, and the mafia. These two themes have been much in the news in Italy in recent weeks. The papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic was defrocked in June, the highest Vatican official to have been condemned for sexual abuse. Italy was then shocked when a religious procession in the town of Oppido Mamertina in Calabria took a detour in order to pay its respects at the home of a ndrangheta boss currently under house arrest.

Last week the Pope referred to sexual abuse within the church as a “sacrilegious cult”. This time he said it was like a “leprosy” infecting the Church and, according to Scalfari, added that two per cent of paedophiles are clerics [Rorate note: the Italian translator inverted the order of words; it is, obviously, as the headline explains, "two percent of clerics are paedophiles"], including bishops and cardinals.

Regarding the mafia, Francis has already excommunicated its members, but some priests have defied him and continued to allow mafia prisoners to attend mass. According to Scalfari, the Pope admitted that some clerics tended to overlook the phenomenon of the mafia, saying that although they condemned individual crimes, those who openly and consistently denounced the mafia were rare.

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”
Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but – curiously – the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

So, what do we take away from it all? That the time for blaming the media is over. The Pope is a highly intelligent media-savvy nearly-80-year-old man, not a dimwit. For some reason, which we would not venture to guess, that is the way he wishes to operate with a part of the media - Scalfari certainly did not enter the Vatican through a secret passage. Why would a pope have another unrecorded conversation with the same man who is alleged (without any evidence of the allegation, may it be clear) to have fabricated the content of the previous interview, the man who is the founder and former editor-in-chief of the most anti-religious large daily in Italy, if the Pope did not consider him to be a faithful conduit of his opinions? Following the enormous repercussion of his first main interview with Scalfari in 2013 (which was even hosted in the Vatican website for months before removal*), the Pope wanted to send messages (to whom?) through him once more. And that is what was done. One more time.

Just as it is often said that, by his own words, Our Lord was either God or a completely insane man, Pope Francis, by his own actions, is either a highly shrewd smooth media operator who uses the media in order to advance and anticipate his positions or the very epitome of gullibility - tertium non datur.

[*Update: the 2013 Scalfari interview, first published, then removed, is now fully back in place in the Vatican website -- just in case anyone doubts their general veracity.]