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A stern Messori on the Pope, Scalfari, Vatican Denials, and equivocations on Priestly celibacy: “We must pray for them”.

Messori and Cardinal Ratzinger during one
of their famous meetings that would lead to
the landmark book "The Ratzinger Report"
Libero Quotidiano , July 15, 2014

The latest controversial “interview” given by Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari, published in La Repubblica on July 13, has provoked what is by now a ritual of refutations/denials by the Vatican. In this conversation, the Pope seemed, among other things, to have maintained that “celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord”, as if he wanted to lessen its importance and to put it into the category of discipline rather than theology. And in fact he allegedly added: “The Eastern Catholic church has had the authority right to the present time to have priest get married”. As for the future, Francis is said to have declared that “the problem certainly exists but there are solutions to it and I will find them.”  But are these words really part of the conversation between the Pope and Scalfari?  We asked this question to the journalist and writer Vittorio Messori.  

Did you read the interview given by Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica on July 13?

M:  Of course.  Given the thicket of denials and refutations,  what we have to figure out is how much is the work of Scalfari and how much of Bergoglio.  This is not the first time that Scalfari has shown imagination. Last year he maintained that ‘just a few days before, the Jesuit Bergoglio had finally beatified the founder of the Order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola’. He was wrong by just four centuries.

The Holy Father seems to have relativized the vexing question of clerical celibacy, an obsession of all the “liberal” clergy.  Francis replied that celibacy had been established only in the tenth century, ‘that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord’

M:  I would not presume to give lessons to a Pope!  But I have examined the problem from an historical perspective some years ago.  The facts of the matter are not what was said. Abstention from marriage is traceable back to Apostolic times.

But Saint Peter was married.

M:  But he was married before he knew Jesus.  We do not know what happened after.  Actually, we should use the broader term ‘continence’, which includes not only the renunciation of marriage, but also choosing not to have marital intercourse if one is already married.  In the ancient Church, the majority of the clergy were made up of men that, with the consent of their wife, were admitted into Holy Orders after leaving their family.  Jesus promised “one hundred-fold on this earth and in the world to come to those who, for love of Him and his Kingdom, ‘ left their home, parents, brothers, wives, sons.’

Even the great preachers of the Middle Ages insisted on the superiority of the celibate state with respect to that of the matrimonial state.

M:  Let us reflect on this fact:  Jesus never took a wife.  Benedict XVI reminds us of this in Sacramentum Caritatis: ‘The fact that Christ himself, the eternal Priest, lived his mission right up to his Sacrifice on the Cross in the state of virginity is the point of reference to understand the tradition of the Latin Church on this subject.’

But apparently even the Bishop of Rome is said to be convinced that priestly celibacy is a matter of contingency, without any theological rationale.

M:  After the Protestant Reformation, after the French Revolution, and then after Vatican II, there was a mass exodus of clergy who left to get married.  They protested priestly celibacy on the grounds that it was derived only from an ecclesiastical decision.

But Francis himself had said that “the Eastern Catholic Church has the authority even up to today to allow priests to marry.”

M:  That is not quite true.  Cardinal Alfons Stickler, a most learned Salesian, in his work, Celibacy in the Church, actually begins his historical analysis from the Eastern Church.  From the beginning, he tells us, the Western Church has been reproached for being less liberal and more strict than the Eastern Church

But excuse me:  Is then the Pope a liar? Or ignorant?

M:  Let’s be careful here.  Not only are we dealing with a private interview and not a magisterial document, but more importantly we do not even know what the Pope said.  We know what Scalfari said, or better, what he understood, palming these things off on the Pope.

We are going around the question:  two interviews and two refutations.  But is it a good thing for the Pope to allow himself to be interviewed by Scalfari?

M:  Look, I prefer to not express myself on that point to avoid polemics against the Pope.

Bergoglio gave an assurance that the problem of celibacy of priests “exists but it is not that big a problem.  It will take time but there are solutions and I will find them.”

M:  I fear that these ‘problems’ and these ‘solutions’ exist only in the minds of the heads of secularists and of radical 90 year olds like Scalfari, not in the minds of the great majority of priests and lay Catholics.  Still even less in the mind of the Pope.

Some say that allowing priests to get married would keep them far away from sexual abuse.

M:  Yes, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has discussed this matter at length.  With the disconcerting data we have, it would not be obvious that having married priests would prevent sexual abuse..  Nearly all of the cases of sexual abuse that have been investigated as having been committed by those in consecrated life were not committed on prepubescent children but on adolescents.  All of these were male.  This means three things:  that the problem is not pedophilia but ebophilia; this is the direct result of pederasty; therefore if we are dealing with pederasty I do not see how having a wife would have had an effect.  The problem is not celibacy. The problem is that liberal spirit that reigned in the ‘80s among the clergy, and threw wide open the doors of the seminaries to more or less explicit homosexuals.  The results were seen in the successive decade:  scandals dealing with abuse and pedophilia.  All of this has a basis in homoeroticism.  It is a datum of fact, not a prejudice.

Scalfari, a fierce atheist, seems to be obsessed with the person of Francis.  To be more precise:  he seems unable to stop talking about him, writing to him.

M: Another such one is Corrado Augias.  I look at these people with curiosity, with a smile on my face, but I am not surprised by this phenomenon.  Having arrived at the threshold of the ultimate mystery that is death, they either act like Augias, a disciple of the Marxists right up to his old age, who are looking for theologians who deal with “adult issues”, who will give them peace, telling them that either there is nothing or everyone is saved.  And then there is Scalfari:  thank goodness that he has a Pope who has abolished the very notion of sin.  Think about the contradiction:  they wax enthusiastically about “mercy”, forgetting that mercy supposes, in fact, sin.  If there is no sin, what need is there for mercy?  They have this anxiety for reassurance that does not make me angry but elicits my compassion.  I do not wish to seem edifying, but it should at least be said:  they are to be prayed for.

Translated by Father Richard G. Cipolla