Vatican dismisses Italian news report on papal interview

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News)— The Vatican spokesperson said that the pope’s words as reported in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica cannot be considered with certainty to be Pope Francis’ actual words.

Father Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press Office questioned whether there is an “explicit acknowledgment” in the interview of “a manipulation of naive readers.”

On July 13, La Repubblica published an article by its founder Eugenio Scalfari, reporting about a conversation he had with Pope Francis July 10. The conversation is about the two hot topics of mafia and clergy sex abuse of minors, which Pope Francis recently discussed.

“Pedophilia, mafia: the Church, the people of God, priests, community, will be entrusted, among other things, with these very important issues,” Pope Francis reportedly said.

Pope Francis met with victims of clergy sex abuse in the Vatican July 7, asking forgiveness of the victims for the abuses and for the omissions of the hierarchy. He reiterated the excommunication of the mafia July 5, during his one-day trip to the small diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, Calabria, southern Italy, in one of the territories most infiltrated by the mafia.

According to Scalfari, in their approximately one-hour conversation, Pope Francis addressed the “leprosy of pedophilia in the Church,” and emphasized that he will address the issue “with the severity required.”

Furthermore—commenting on a Madonna statue in front of the house of a mafia boss during a July 6 procession—Pope Francis reportedly assured that “Our denunciation of the mafia will not be once in a while, it will be continual.”

According to Scalfari, Pope Francis also addressed priestly celibacy. The pope reportedly told Scalfari that “celibacy was established in the 10th century, 900 years after Our Lord’s death,” and reminded that “the priests of Eastern Catholic Church are already allowed to marry.”

“There is a problem, but it is not a great deal. Time is needed, but there are solutions, and I will find them,” Pope Francis reportedly told Scalfari.

Pedophilia

Returning to pedophilia, Pope Francis reportedly stressed that “the corruption of a child is … the most terrible and dirty one can imagine.”

The pope allegedly also stressed that “this frequently happens within families, and it is practiced by relatives, grandparents, uncles, family friends. Often, the other members of the family are conscious of that, but they do not intervene, taken by interests or by other forms of corruption.”

“Many collaborators on my side provided me reliable data which estimate a rate of 2 percent of pedophilia within the Catholic Church,” the pope reportedly said.

The Roman pontiff allegedly said that “this data should reassure me, but it does not. I find it very grave. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And other people, even more numerous, know but are silent, punish without saying the reason. I find this state of things unbearable, and I intend to face it with the severity it requires.”

Pope Francis has already proved severity in addressing the priestly pedophilia. This last week, it was announced that Msgr. Luca Lorusso, number two of the apostolic nunciature to Italy, has been expelled from the diplomatic service of the Holy See and sent back to his home diocese of Taranto.

Msgr. Lorusso has been deemed guilty because he defended as a lawyer the former priest Patrizio Poggi, who had been sentenced for pedophilia and laicised, and for supporting Poggi’s accusation against nine priests of the Diocese of Rome. Poggi’s accusations were considered unfounded by judges.

Recently, Pope Francis ordered Father Mauro Inzoli to retire to private life, with no possibility of publicly celebrating Mass and delivering sacraments, because he was investigated for pedophilia. And Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, has been defrocked after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith court found him guilty of sex abuse of minors.

Mafia

Focusing on the mafia, Pope Francis reportedly confessed he “does not know the issue in depth. I know what they do, the crimes they commit, the huge interests the mafias manage. But I cannot see at all the way of thinking of mafia people, of their bosses, of their second fiddles.”

Pope Francis reportedly said that “in Argentina there are many criminals, thieves, assassins, but not mafias. I want to go more in depth this issue, and I will read the many books written on the issue and the witnesses.”

According to Scalfari, Pope Francis also spoke about the distorted way the criminal organization lives religion, and underscored that “the major part of women linked to mafia because of bonds of kinship, wives, daughters, sisters, assiduously take part in the celebrations in towns where the mayor and other local authorities are often mafia people. Do those women think God will forgive the horrible crimes of their relatives?”

Pope Francis reportedly addressed the omissions of some priests, who “are inclined to pass over the mafia phenomenon,” since they “condemn the individual crimes, honor victims, help families the way they can,” but “the constant denunciation of mafias is uncommon.”

Father Lombardi’s reaction

However, Father Lombardi, the director of the Holy See Press Office, underscored in an official note that while Scalfari reports the pope’s words in quotation marks, they are reported on the basis of his memory as an experienced journalist, not on the precise transcription of a record nor of a revision by Pope Francis himself.

Father Lombardi affirmed that “it is not possible to speak about an interview in the common sense of the word,” since even if the article “reports the sense and the spirit of the conversation between the Holy Father and Scalfari,” it is also true that the quotes of the pope, “in the way they are worded, cannot be attributed with certainty to Pope Francis.”

The director of the Holy See Press office focused on “two affirmations” that “have gained much attention” but that are not “attributable to the pope”: which are the claims “there are cardinals among pedophiles and that Pope Francis firmly stressed, for what concerns celibacy, ‘I will find the solutions.’”

Father Lombardi noticed that Scalfari “clearly attributed these two sentences to the pope,” but “strangely, the quotation marks are opened, but not closed.” “Did Scalfari forget to end the quote or was it an explicit acknowledgement that he was making a manipulation of naive readers?”

Background

This was the third meeting between Pope Francis and Scalfari.

The latter wrote that “Pope Francis wanted these meetings, because, among the many people of every social condition, faith and age he meets in his daily apostolate, he wanted to share ideas and sentiments with a non-believer,” and Scalfari asserted that he ultimately is “a non-believer who loves the human figure of Jesus, his preaching, his legend, the myth he represents in the eyes of those recognizing him a high rank humanity, but no divinity.”

Scalfari published another conversation with Pope Francis Oct. 1, which was the first “interview” Pope Francis granted.

On that occasion, Father Federico Lombardi maintained that the text was overall faithful to the pope’s thought, even though it could not be considered part of his magisterium.

The interview was first inserted among the pope’s speeches on the Vatican’s website, translated in six languages, and later removed from the Vatican’s website because “the information in the interview is reliable on a general level, but not on the level of each individual point analyzed,” Father Lombardi said Nov. 15.

One month after the publication of that “interview,” in a meeting with journalists of the Foreign Press Association of Rome, Scalfari conceded that it was “really possible” that some of the pope’s words he reported “were not shared by the pope himself.”

On that occasion, Scalfari explained his modus operandi: his interviews are conducted without a recording device, nor taking notes while the person is speaking.

“I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that, I write his answers with my own words,” Scalfari explained.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.