I’ve already discussed (here on 3 Nov. and here on 14 Nov.) why this rollercoaster of Orwellian retractions is a major problem for soft ultramontanists. They defended the contents of the interviews as perfectly orthodox and befitting the papal office, yet now Pope Francis and the Vatican have vindicated long-standing worries about the “off-the-cuff” malapalisms. Once again, with typical Humpty-Dumpty dexterity, the soft-ultramontanist ethos is vindicated: it doesn’t matter what Pope Francis says, as long as it’s Pope Francis saying it.
In the span of a few days Pope Francis has corrected or brought about the correction of [at least three features of his public image. …
The first concerns the conversation that he had with Eugenio Scalfari, set down in writing by this champion of atheistic thought in “la Repubblica” of October 1.
… [T]he interview was immediately confirmed by Fr. Federico Lombardi as “faithful to the thought“ of the pope and “reliable in its general sense.” … A few hours after it was published in “la Repubblica,” the interview was reproduced in its entirety both in “L’Osservatore Romano” and on the official website of the Holy See, on a par with the other discourses and documents of the Pope.
This gave birth to the idea that Jorge Mario Bergoglio had intentionally chosen the conversational form of expression … as a new form of his magisterium, capable of reaching the general public more effectively.
But in the following weeks the pope must also have become aware of the risk that this form entails. The risk that the magisterium of the Church might fall to the level of a mere opinion contributed to the free exchange of ideas. This in fact led to the decision, on November 15, to remove from the website of the Holy See the text of the conversation with Scalfari. …
Louie Verrecchio has already noted what makes this latest adjustment problematic.
On November 21, interviewed at the Roman headquarters of the foreign press, Scalfari … said that the pope, at the end of the conversation, had consented that it should be made public. And to Scalfari’s proposal that he send him the text beforehand, he had replied: “It seems like a waste of time to me, I trust you.”
… [Scalfari] sent the text to the pope, accompanied by a letter in which he wrote among other things:
“Keep in mind that I did not include some of the things that you said to me. And that some of the things that I attribute to you you did not say. But I put them there so that the reader may understand who you are.”
Two days later – again according to what Scalfari claims – the pope’s second secretary, Alfred Xuereb, telephoned to give the go-ahead for publication. …
Scalfari commented: “I am perfectly willing to think that some of the things that I wrote and attributed to him are not shared by the pope, but I also believe that he maintains that, said by a nonbeliever, they are important for him and for the activity he is carrying out.”
But even the calibrated and thoroughly studied interview with Pope Francis in “La Civiltà Cattolica” – published on September 19 by sixteen magazines of the Society of Jesus in eleven languages – has in recent days been taken into the shop of things to be corrected. …
This has been made clear by a passage of the letter written by Francis himself to Archbishop Agostino Marchetto on the occasion of the presentation on November 12 of a volume in his honor…. A letter that the pope wanted to be read in public.
The passage is the following:
“You have demonstrated this love [of the Church] in many ways, including by correcting an error or imprecision on my part – and for this I thank you from my heart – but above all it has been manifested in all its purity in your studies of Vatican Council II. … I consider you the best hermeneut of Vatican Council II.” …
The hermeneutic of the Council upheld by Marchetto is the same as that of Benedict XVI: not of “rupture” and “new beginning,” but of “reform in the continuity of the one subject Church.” And it is this hermeneutic that Pope Francis has wanted to signify that he shares, in bestowing such high appreciation on Marchetto.
But if one rereads the succinct passage that Francis dedicates to Vatican II in the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica,” one gets a different impression. “Yes, there are hermeneutical lines of continuity and of discontinuity,” the pope concedes. “Nonetheless,” he adds, “one thing is clear”: Vatican II was “a service to the people” consisting in “a reinterpretation of the Gospel in the light of contemporary culture.”
… [I]n receiving Pope Francis at the Quirinale on a visit on November 4, the president of the Italian republic, Giorgio Napolitano, thanked him precisely for making “resonate the spirit of Vatican Council II as a ‘reinterpretation of the Gospel in the light of contemporary culture,’” citing his exact words.
And praise for these same words of the pope has come – for example – from the foremost of the Italian liturgists, Andrea Grillo, a professor at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm, according to whom Francis has finally inaugurated the true and definitive “hermeneutic” of the Council, after having “immediately put in second place that diatribe over ‘continuity’ and ‘discontinuity’ which had long prejudiced – and often completely paralyzed – any effective hermeneutic of Vatican II.”
… [I]t is no mystery that “service to the people” and a reinterpretation of the Gospel “brought up to date” are concepts dear to the progressive interpretations of the Council and in particular to the “school of Bologna,” which has repeatedly declared itself to be an enthusiast of this pope.
But evidently there is someone who has personally pointed out to pope Bergoglio that reducing the Council to such concepts is at the least “imprecise,” if not “mistaken.” And it was precisely Marchetto who took this step. … Pope Francis not only listened to the criticisms of his friend, he welcomed them. …
It is to be presumed that in the future Francis will express himself on the Council in a way different from that of the interview in “La Civiltà Cattolica.” More in line with the hermeneutic of Benedict XVI. And to the great disappointment of the “school of Bologna.”
The third correction is consistent with the two previous ones. It concerns the “progressive” tone that Pope Francis has seen stamped upon the the first three months of his pontificate.
One month ago, on October 17, Bergoglio seemed to have confirmed this profile … when in the morning homily at Santa Marta he directed stinging words against Christians who turn the faith into a “moralistic ideology,” entirely made up of “prescriptions without goodness.”
But one month later, on November 18, in another morning homily the pope played a completely different tune.
He used the revolt of the Maccabees against the dominant powers of the age as the point of departure for a tremendous tongue-lashing of that “adolescent progressivism,” Catholic as well, which is disposed to submit to the “hegemonic uniformity” of the “one form of thought that is the fruit of worldliness.”
It is not true, Francis said, that “in the face of any choice whatsoever it is right to move forward regardless, rather than remain faithful to one’s traditions.” …
In deploring the advance of “this spirit of worldliness that leads to apostasy,” the pope cited a “prophetic” novel from the early 20th century that is among his preferred reading: “Lord of the World” by Robert H. Benson, an Anglican priest, son of an archbishop of Canterbury, who converted to Catholicism.
With the exception of a few Catholic outlets, the media of the entire world ignored this homily of Pope Francis, which in effect starkly contradicts the progressive or even revolutionary framework within which he is generally described.
But now it is part of the record. And there it remains.