[Please confer the update of this update about the updated status of the trustworthy interview-that-wasn’t.]
Hapless is the word of the hour.
When the first Scalfari interview hit the press, there was a rush among Catholics to gainsay it as inaccurate and biased. When, however, it came to light that the interview was by and large a faithful reporting of what Francis said to Scalfari (“the overall ‘trustworthiness’ of the Scalfari interview”), given further credibility by being published both in L’Osservatore Romano and on the Vatican website amongst Francis’s papal magisterium, the strategy morphed into defending, by any means necessary, the pope’s reported comments as technically (and even “deeply”) orthodox.
As always, however, facts get in the way of good intentions. If it feels like a disinformation campaign, ladies and gents, it probably is. Eugenio Scalfari submitted the text of the first La Repubblica interview to Pope Francis for review. This has been attested by Fr. Rosica and John Allen, and it has never been denied by the pope himself. (As we’ll see presently, all we have on that front is one Italian journalist’s hearsay against Scalfari’s own claim to the contrary, and, unlike Scalfari, that journalist has not been welcomed three times for a papal interview.) Fr. Lombardi has also stated that the interview was by and large faithful to the pope’s thoughts and words, yet, crucially, Lombardi could only know this is true if he consulted Pope Francis on the matter (or, as is the case, if he knew that Pope Francis had approved the text before it was published). As John Allen wrote on 5 October 2013:
Pressed by reporters on the reliability of the direct quotations, Lombardi said during an Oct. 2 briefing that the text accurately captured the “sense” of what the pope had said, and that if Francis felt his thought had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.
Ah, but how would Francis know he had been misrepresented, gravely or otherwise, if he had not reviewed the text? Curiouser and curiouser!
Nonetheless, Lombardi stopped short of saying that every line was literally as pronounced by the pope, suggesting instead that it represents a new genre of papal speech that’s deliberately informal and not concerned with precision.
Respected French Vatican writer Jean-Marie Guénois confirmed with Scalfari that he didn’t tape the interview, nor did he take notes, so the text was an after-the-fact reconstruction. Scalfari said he showed the text to Francis for his approval, but it’s not clear how closely the pope read it.
Note that the pope’s defenders seized upon Scalfari’s admission that he did not record the interview, yet become righteous skeptics about his claim that he showed the text to Francis beforehand. Moreover, as Allen notes, when the interview was released, the dispute was not whether Francis had read it before publication, but “how closely” he had revised it.
In a similar vein, the National Catholic Register reported on 7 October 2013 that:
“Eugenio Scalfari did not tape his interview with Pope Francis, nor did he take notes, so [based on Scalfari’s testimony] the text was an after-the-fact reconstruction. Such texts run the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview,” wrote Father Thomas Rosica, who helps the Vatican Press Office conduct its English-language business, on Oct. 5.
“Scalfari has stated that he showed the text to Francis for his approval, but [given this further testimony from Scalfari] it’s not clear how closely the Pope read it.” …
On Oct. 3, staff at La Repubblica told Jean-Marie Guénois, deputy editor of the French daily Le Figaro, that “the interview was not recorded, nor were notes taken. What is reflected in the interview is fruit of the memory of that which the Pope and Scalfari said during their encounter.”
La Repubblica continued, saying that “the text, once completed by Scalfari and before its publication, was sent to Pope Francis, who approved it.”
As always, we can blame the prevailing normalcy bias of well meaning Catholics for failing to follow the simple logic of the case. One cannot accept the testimony of Scalfari about how the interview was conducted, and accept Fr. Lombardi’s overall endorsement of the interview, while also choosing to reject Scalfari’s testimony that he submitted the text to the pope for approval. If Scalfari is reliable on the first point, he is reliable on the second. Indeed, having admitted, without duress, that he did not record the interview, what does he have to gain by lying that he showed the text to Pope Francis?
As much fun as it may be to villify the crafty, left-leaning, atheist, geriatric, etc., etc. Scalfari, he’s not the problem; rather, the problem lies with substance of the pope’s statements which Scalfari, as an experienced professional, reported. As always, the messenger must be shown no mercy. Strangely enough, though, not only has the credible-discredited-trusted-discredited Scalfari been granted two more interviews with the pope since allegedly twisting Francis’s words the first time around, but his accuracy has not been contested in those two more recent interviews, which adds inductive credibility to the first interview. Indeed, as one reader noted elsewhere, the specificity with which Fr. Rosica corrected one error in the interview adds relative credibility to the rest of it, since Rosica could have easily clarified what other points were dubious or inaccurate, but he did not do so. Only a few minor details have been challenged and no authoritative clarification of the numerous problematic statements has been offered. But hey, that’s the Golmar papacy for you.
Meanwhile, another common defense of the pope’s
logorrhea logorhaggia is that no pope can be expected to be aware of all that’s going on around him. How can we expect Francis to micro-manage every passing text about him? That’s reasonable enough, except that we have proof that Francis was indeed intimately involved in the reception and massaging of the first Scalfari interview. As CNA reported on 31 October 2013:
The Pope’s knowledge that he could be misunderstood is why – according to Socci – Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, was “told to maintain that the text of the interview had not been revised by Pope Francis and that it was penned by Scalfari after an informal chat.”
Are we really to believe, based on hearsay reported by the journalist Socci, that the first time Pope Francis ever had the chance, or took the time, to peruse the contents of his own interview was after it had been published in two different periodicals? (Where have I heard that kind of excuse before?) Are we to believe that he had no inkling of how upsetting the interview would be for readers until after it was published? I suppose we are to imagine that the first thing Francis did on October 1 was crack open a copy of La Repubblica (why would he have a copy in the first place?), drop his jaw in shock for having been “gravely misrepresented,” and then scramble to tell Fr. Lombardi to disavow Scalfari’s account–which Lombardi didn’t even end up doing anyway. On the contrary, Lombardi made pains to valorize the Heisenbergian obscurity of the interview as a new genre of papal teaching. That jaw-dropping scenario, animated only by Socci’s gossipy reportage, makes about as much sense as this papacy, so, in a perverse sense, I suppose it must be true. (Voila!)
In any case, the crucial question is this: if we are to attribute the removal of the interview from the Vatican website to Francis’s misgivings after it was published, then why are we not to attribute its sudden republication on the website to him as well?