A follow-up on the Ecclesiology of Doublethink…

[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?

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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8 Responses to A follow-up on the Ecclesiology of Doublethink…

  1. Murray (mgl) says:

    Thanks for pulling all these strands together. I was in the comments over at the Fr. Z post you linked, and I got pretty irritated at his eagerness to lay the whole thing at the feet of The Rogue Scalfari, when as far as I know there’s no evidence Scalfari’s done anything wrong at all. It seems we’re expected to adopt radical credulity towards whatever speculative exculpatory evidence someone can dream up, along with radical skepticism towards the large pile of official statements and circumstantial evidence lending credibility to the interview.

    Judging from Father Z’s commenters, it does seem like fewer Catholics are willing to exert the major effort of will required to believe the increasingly desperate and implausible excuses on offer. If we suddenly, as of 16 months ago, lost our ability to translate reliably from Italian to English, why are the Italians also in a tizzy over the same statements? Did they forget their own language? And how is it, exactly that a highly talkative man with his own press office and the world’s attention has so much trouble getting his undiluted message out?

    On the other hand, there are yeoman efforts like this one, just published over at Catholic World Report: It’s Time To Rethink the Constant Papal Interviews, by Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille. As the title may indicate, this one is of the paternalistic Pope Magoo genre, with the Holy Father portrayed as a bumbling naif who just needs to be sat down by a responsible adult and gently informed of the wicked ways of the world. Watch and learn how it’s done!

    … the whole thing was apparently a jerry-rigged reconstruction by an atheist journalist of what he thought the pope said. Such a situation can only lead to disaster as the pope’s trust is wantonly exploited. (Emphasis mine.)

    In his adorably condescending way, DeVille checks off all the familiar items: Don’t trust the media, Holy Father, they have an agenda. You’re unwittingly creating problems for faithful Catholics.
    You know, you
    do have many formal means of communication at your disposal. People will think you’re speaking magisterially. And then he offers some helpful advice, along with a Homeland Security-style color-coded warning system for ranking of papal utterances! The color-coding is actually pretty good from a catechetical point of view, but DeVille’s assumption that this is all just one huge, compounded, multi-month, inexplicable cascade of random bad luck is … well, it’s wearying.

  2. Murray, I saw that thread and wrote this post precisely to aid you.

  3. Piedade says:

    1st Scalfari interview removed from Holy See website again !

  4. According to Martina Ball Martinez, originally ecclesiology had zip to do with the study of the nature of the the Church for up until the 1940s, the Church understood herself as a perfect society.

    Ecclesiology had to do with the architecture, art, etc of the Church.

    So, ecclesiology is just another example of revolution within form. The word is the same but its definition has undergone a radical transformation,

    Click to access UnderminingOfTheCatholicChurch.pdf

    Oncet, everyone, (pagans, proddies, Jews) knew what the Catholic Church was; it had clearly defined borders so one knew who was in and who was out of the Church.

    Not anymore; thanks modernists and new theologians.

    The Church of today is, um, well, who knows what it is anymore? Owing to the idea of the anonymous Christian and claiming that proddies are now somehow part of the Church and even more monstrous ideologies that conceive of the Church as but one of many churches searching for unity blah,blah, damnable blah; The Universal Solvent, Ecumenism, has dissolved the Church to such an extent that it only exists here:

  5. Look at the vague (heretical) and evanescing ideology of the modernist’s ecclesiology and compare their definitions of what constitutes the Catholic Church with the Roman Catechism


    The only way ABS can maintain his sanity is to stick with the Roman Catechism for today’s ecclesiology is a heretical departure from Tradition for now we are supposed to believe that those formerly formally excluded from the Church are now actually members and we are supposed to join with those heretics to search for unity.

    Lord have mercy

  6. Branch says:

    Well, even though some will say otherwise (http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-word-of-advice-do-not-ignore-what.html), I think we can take genuine solace in the fact that interviews can safely be ignored as they do not appear in this categorized list of authoritative documents:

  7. Tony Jokin says:

    The problem is, as long as there are men willing to use those ideas expressed in interviews, and in my experience there are plenty, the interviews just can’t be ignored. “Who am I to judge?” for an example is thrown around frequently to condemn any Catholic who asks to take a stand against heresy, error or immorality.

    I think that single phrase alone has done quiet the damage.

  8. Branch. Mr Price is very good to read when it comes to this matter. He has been quite prescient re Humane Vitae as Doctrine but then the absence of any on-the-ground follow-up and certainly no discipline which renders it, essentially, a dead letter

    The world knows the Pope is infallible even if they have no clue what that means but for the world, when the Pope speaks THAT is infallibility if he says it – or ESPECIALLY IF – it contradicts Tradition.

    ABS was spectacularly wrong about his decision not to oppose the Pope publicly and it is thanks to Mr Price and B.C. that he has seen the light.

    Not only is it not wrong to oppose the Pope and the Church when it acts as they have been acting, it is our Confirmational duty as the Church Militant to do so.

    ABS would have hated to have died within the last year and to have stood before the Judgment Seat of Christ and had to explain why he kept his mouth shut when error was being sold as compassion

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