Rorate Caeli

Under Bergoglio, Christianity Matters Less - A Contradictory Pope
- A Major Interview with Sandro Magister

The Pope is confusing many bishops

Sandro Magister, interviewed by Goffredo Pistelli
Italia Oggi
November 13, 2014

This year Sandro Magister celebrates 40 years as a Vatican journalist. His first articles in L’Espresso in fact, date back to 1974.  And today, from those columns and also from the site of the weekly magazine, he still continues to report Vatican and Church news, everything very well-documented without bowing down to anyone.
Born in 1943, a native of Busto Arsizio, with degrees in Philosophy and Theology from the “Cattolica”, Magister has followed many Roman pontiffs. His articles regarding the present Pontiff, Pope Francis, are distinct from the mainstream Vatican journalists, unhesitatingly noting contradictions.  
Question: Magister, Pope Bergoglio, has been basking in worldwide success these past months, but some of his decisions have given pause for thought. For example, he has presented himself as Bishop of Rome but at the Synod for the Family, he evoked the Codes of Canon Law confirming Petrine power.
R: It’s true. He did that in his closing speech.
Q: He outlined a shared and open vision in the governing Church, yet he appointed an outside commissioner with rather tough methods to the Franciscans of the Immaculate and also de facto put a bridle on the bishops conferences.
R: Some, like the Italian one, have effectively been destroyed.


Q: When speaking to the popular movements he seemed to echo some of Tony Negri’s analyses on work, as you wrote on the blog Settimo Cielo. But then he accepted the “layoff” of 500 workers, among them, calligraphers, painters and printers of which the Office of Papal Charities decided it had no more use for.
R: In fact that incident is a bit jarring…
Q: …as jarring as his harsh ultra-libertarian positions on justice and prisons by having the ex-nuncio to the Dominican Republic jailed in advance of judgment on accusations of pedophilia.
R: That’s right.
Q: So, you have been a vaticanist for a long time, what do you think of all this?
R: That there are contradictions inherent in the character of Jorge Bergoglio. This is based on observations of valid evidence over many months.
Q: What conclusions have you come to?
R: Throughout his life he has been a person  who has acted on different fronts contemporarily and does the same thing now as Pontiff;  he leaves passages open, and on first reading, there are many contradictions. Anyway, those you mentioned are not the only ones.


Q: Tell us about some others…
R: He is a very talkative Pope and  has  telephoned and approached all different kinds of people both near and far, but has been silent about the Asia Bibi case.
Q: The Pakistani lady who has been in prison a long time, condemned to death for apostasy…
R: Exactly. Pope Francis has not uttered a word about her. The same goes for the kidnapped Nigerian girls and that unbelievable act of a few days ago in Pakistan when a Christian married couple were burnt to death in a furnace.

Q: These are stories connected to relations with Islam, which we’ll return to later. Some are beginning to define these contradictions as “Jesuitism” in the sense of a ‘multi-way of thinking’.
R: This is a disparaging and unacceptable estimation, even if it’s true that Jesuit spirituality historically has shown itself able to adapt to the most diverse situations, at times even contradictory among themselves.

Q: …as the organization of the recent Synod appeared contradictory…
R: An organization precisely calculated by the Pope, not left to chance as was lead to believe; there were other contradictory elements as well.

Q: For example?
R: Bergoglio has said repeatedly that he didn’t want to make compromises with doctrine, that he was with the tradition of the Church. But then, he opened discussions, like the ones on Communion for the divorced and remarried, which effectively touch the very foundations of the Church.
Q: Why?
R: Because it is inevitable that Communion for  the divorced and  remarried will result in the acceptance of second-marriages, and so to the dissolution of the sacramental bond of matrimony.

Q: I’m not a vaticanist, but the sense from the outside is that bewilderment is growing and not only from the hierarchy. What’s more, also in sectors you would certainly not define as traditionalist…
R: This is undeniable. We have leaders in prominent positions, not Lefebvrians, who are making this clear, even if they don’t express it in drastic and antagonistic terms. Not even Cardinal Burke, recently removed from his position as  the ex-Prefect of the Apostolic Segnatura, did so, because there isn’t a prejudicially hostile tendency against the Pontiff. Certainly there are evident manifestations of uneasiness.

Q: What about an example?
R: Take for example the Episcopate in the United States, that is, the bishops of one of the most numerous Catholic populations in the world. In recent years, that Episcopal Conference expressed a coherent and combative line in the public arena, even regarding certain decisions by Barack Obama on ethical issues. A line shared by many prominent prelates. A collective, more than the sum of singles, a management team, we could say…
Q: And so the Americans?
R: They are somewhat uneasy. The Cardinals and Archbishops, like Timothy Dolan from New York, Patrick O’ Malley from Boston, José Gomez from Los Angeles or Charles Chaput from Philadelphia, are all uneasy. This is the episcopate that Burke himself comes from and is certainly not restricted to the marginal traditional circuits, but continues to be part of one of the most solid national Churches.
Q: And also the Italian Episcopal Conference as you said before, appears to be a bit in difficulty.
R: Yes, there are many difficulties in trying to keep up with this Pope. The President, Angelo Bagnasco seems to be the one in most difficulty.
Q: Also since his successor Archbishop of Perugia, Gualtiero Bassetti has already been indicated. He was made a Cardinal by Bergoglio.
R: But, as far I know also Bassetti is among the Italian bishops who are uneasy.

Q: Among the Italians, the most explicit were perhaps the Milanese, Angelo Scola and the Bolognese, Carlo Caffarra.

R: Yes, they were with their  interventions before and during the Synod. But it was all inevitable considering the Pope’s decision to assign the opening of the discussions to Cardinal Walter Kasper, and so this basically was the start of the hostilities .
Q: Why?
R: Because Kasper is proposing again today exactly the same theses defeated in 1993 by John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, the latter being the Prefect of the Holy Office at the time.

Q: Yes, the Pope launched Kasper, he made Abp. Bruno Forte special Secretary to the Synod and who  carried weight during the work itself, so much so as to provoke reactions from some Synod fathers. But then, finally, Francis intervened scolding both sides - almost like an old Christian Democrat against opposite extremisms.

R: It’s another recurring practice of this Pontificate: reprimands to one side and the other. However, if we want to make an inventory, the scoldings aimed at the traditionalists, the legalists and the rigid defenders of doctrine appear to be much more numerous. On the other hand, whenever he has something to say to the progressives you never understand who he is really referring to.
Q: The Synod also launched even further Father Antonio Spadaro ,the director of Civiltà Cattolica-
R: Yes, he’s posing now as if he were spokesman for the Pope, and the Jesuit magazine, which had started to decline (with him as director involved on the web and social network) but now he is expressive of the highest summit in the Vatican – especially after the big interview with the Jesuit Pope. While Francis’ ghostwriter is Manuel Fernandez, the Rector of the Catholic University in Buenos Aires whom the Pope made an Archbishop. It was with Fernandez that Francis wrote Evangeli Gaudium, as he had written the document of Aparecida in Brazil with him in 2007 when the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires organized successfully the Latin American Bishops’ Conference; many think that that document is an anticipation of this papacy.  

Q: In the face of a large consensus, there are those, like writer Antonio Socci, who are contesting even the validity of the Pope’s election.  Have you read his book “It’s Not Francis” (Non è Francesco, Mondadori)?
R: Yes, I read it all in one evening. It’s a real page-turner, even if there are more than 300 of them. And not for the theory of the invalid election: the result of the cancellation of a ballot in the conclave because there was an extra blank ballot-card.  In my view it’s an inconsistent theory.
Q: Why then did you think it was interesting?
R: Because of what’s creating the book’s success; so much so that it has reached the top of the best-sellers list, exceeding the books of and about Bergoglio. That’s because it reconstructs, in uncontestable facts and words, the contradictions we have been talking about.

Q: It’s a book that nobody talks about, almost as if it might risk injuring Francis’ popularity, which is enormous. Despite this consensus, however, religious practice has not increased; on the contrary the aversion to Catholicism is increasing, also publically. Begoglio, yes, the rest,no.
R: Also the popularity of his predecessors was very strong. John Paul II experienced world-wide success and not only during the years of his illness. Also Benedict XVI between 2007 and 2008, reached the highest levels in the polls, even if this has been forgotten.  His trip to the United States was the peak, where he received a great  welcome even from secular public opinion.
Q: And so what’s the difference?
R: That the predecessors were mostly popular inside the Church, even if they were harshly criticized from strongholds of non-Catholic public opinion. Whereas Francis’ popularity is more conspicuous outside the Church, even if it isn’t eliciting waves of conversions. Actually, with him there seems to be a certain pleasure in outside culture, even hostile, to Christianity.


Q: In what sense?
R: In seeing the Head of the Church shifting towards their positions, which he seems to understand and even accept. The repeated conversations with Eugenio Scalfari illustrate this: the Pope accepts Scalfari (once the toughest opponent of pontiffs) publishing anything he wants from these conversations.

Q: In fact, Scalfari himself stated that he had published things that Bergoglio hadn’t said.
R: Exactly. But, in all of this, he hasn’t drawn near to Christianity. The Christianity from the mouth of Bergoglio is no longer provocative, does not create problems as in the past, it can be treated with courtesy, superiority and detachment.  Christianity matters less. You only need to look at the Prime Minster, Matteo Renzi, a Catholic. He doesn’t care a whit about what the Italian Episcopal Conference is doing.  In other words, we have passed from a situation of confrontation and conflict to one of disinterest.  

Q: Pope Francis has been silent about the Muslim world.  Also the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin was very prudent intervening recently at the United Nations. Some speak of great caution and, when they do, they cite Benedict XVI’s lecture at Regensburg, which incited reactions and even deaths.  
R: It’s caution pushed to extremes though.  Concretely, I don’t see any advantage to it.  It seems to me that it hasn’t resulted in any help, even minimal or partial, for the Christians in those regions. Caution is understandable, if it’s measured in proportion to the effect. It’s valid if it produces lesser damage. The situation reminds me of the silences of Pius XII on the Jews.  
Q:  Historical controversy, also recent…
R: Pope Pacelli did everything he could to save the Israelites, even at personal cost in the Vatican; now we know this. But he hesitated in open condemnations, fearing the same thing would happen as in Holland, where, after the condemnations of some bishops, worse persecutions followed.  
Q: But this silence continues.
R: Apart from Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, Prefect for Inter-religious Dialogue, who is unsparing in his stern condemnations.
Q: And the point is?
R: We have a power like ISIS and we are too fast in saying that Islam has nothing to do with it; that they are instead nurtured by radical Islam, which doesn’t resolve the question of rationality and the relationship between faith and violence. That is exactly what Pope Ratzinger had addressed in Regensburg. In fact the only true dialogue between Christianity and Islam came about after that lecture with the subsequent letter to the 138 Islamic scholars.
Q: Even if the visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul a year later, was thought of as an amend by Benedict XVI.
R: Ratzinger was able to do that because he had said those things at Regensburg. His criticism was not enigmatic. It was well understood. He was crystal-clear.


Q: And is Francis clear?
R: At times, no. When he was in Bethlehem, he stopped in front of the wall that partitions the territory from Israel and stood there in absolute silence: we don’t know what he meant by this.  And in Lampedusa when he shouted “Shame!” it wasn’t clear who should be ashamed and what they should be ashamed of.  Italy? That has saved thousands and thousands of lives? Why doesn’t he say it then?  Often there are words and actions that are purposely left open-ended.
Q: We have no time to talk about Vatican issues, like the case of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi who was removed from the IOR by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, but whose honesty has been repeatedly demonstrated. Even from the dismissal of the case by the Italian Judiciary.  
R: He has been denied reinstatement. He had asked for a meeting with the Pope but was refused it.
Q: The “field-hospital” Church then sometimes has its doors bolted
R: That’s the way it is.
[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana. Main points added between brackets in translation to identify major portions of the interview. / Source, in Italian / Update note: thanks to S. Magister for linking to our translation of his interview in his personal blog.]