By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
The bureaucratic apologists are now in full scramble mode once again to interpret the Pope’s words as filtered to the whole world through the atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari and printed in the paper he co-founded, La Repubblica.
Yet again, we are informed, the Pope did not say what we are told he said. The fact that Pope Francis met with and spoke with Scalfari remains, however, and thus so does the confusion despite the best efforts of papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and others.
Scalfari’s manipulations managed to make the news on the Monday morning after the World Cup, despite the soccer obsessions of even the Vatican’s most eminent journalists.
Britain’s The Sun was emblazoned with the headline: “One in 50 priests is a paedo [pedophile] warns Pope,” in reaction to Scalfari’s report about the interview.
Great preparation for my Monday morning greeting to the parents and young people who arrived for our first-ever Summer Scripture Camp for youth! The headline came across sounding like Pope Francis was telegraphing a warning to parishioners everywhere against contact with their parish priest lest he be that “one of 50” malefactors.
Numbers are not helpful in the case of pedophilia because we are engaged in an all-out war to completely eliminate it from society and the Church.
But statistical numbers are also misleading because the two percent statistic of pedophiles among priests is not arrived at by measuring from among currently active priests but across generational spans of 40 or more years and including priests living, laicized, and deceased. So, as usual, numbers can be manipulated to mislead.
This is not the first time the Pope has consented to speak with someone who has a contrarian agenda and it is not the first time he has spoken to Scalfari who already once, though not a believer, did not hesitate to “confess” that he may have fibbed about what the Pope said to him in the first interview, as reported on November 11 by the National Catholic Register.
According to that article, “Editor Eugenio Scalfari has conceded it is ‘really possible’ that some of the Pope’s words he reported in the interview published in La Repubblica October 1 ‘were not shared by the Pope himself’.”
Even before this second interview, Scalfari had thus already publicly confessed to having a somewhat tenuous relationship with the truth.
Surely Pope Francis could choose from among the plethora of nonbelievers one with more integrity as interlocutor. For some reasons not shared with us, he obviously prefers to “seek the margins” through this particular individual. As Justin Staller pointed out on Twitter, he may be doing so “for the same reason that Jesus was a friend to publicans and sinners.”
This is all fine and good, but when we speak of the Pope, we know that his choices affect the whole flock for good or ill.
So, the question remains, why did Pope Francis put himself, and the Church, once again into the hands of a mendacious journalist? Perhaps he sees himself going to the margins, seeking the periphery, through these conversations with an atheist.
But the damage to the members of the Church through the resulting confusion does more harm than good.
The tradition for Popes when they have something to say is to use any one of a number of available teaching documents. The Pope doesn’t need me to tell him he can write down his teachings clearly for all; it has been done before.
As P.W. Johnson wrote on Twitter, “I don’t get why Pope Francis keeps granting ‘interviews’ to this ‘journalist’ who doesn’t even write things down.” Scalfari’s work is sloppy, and confusing.
The pastoral implication relates to the catechetical emergency about which Pope Emeritus Benedict had already warned.
The Pope should use a better means of communication of Church teaching to the members of the household of the faith, whose needs ought to come before those of atheists.
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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick, on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism. He blogs at apriestlife.blogspot.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)