Vatican flag (8583012024)It seems Pope Francis’s own handlers within the Vatican are having difficulty keeping him in line. He recently had another interview with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and today they published an article on it (WebCite cached article). (A Google translation of this article is available (cached).

This interview covered a lot of ground, but among the topics covered were pedophiles within the priesthood, and celibacy for clergy. First, on pedophilia within the Church (both quotes from the interview below are automated Google translations into English, so pardon the poor language):

Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the Church at the level of two percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, more numerous, they know but they keep silent, punish, but without saying why. I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires.

About clerical celibacy, the Pope said:

“Maybe she does not know that celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord. The Eastern Catholic Church has the power right now that its priests to marry. The problem certainly exists but is not of great magnitude. It takes time but there are solutions and find it.

Now, almost anyone would consider both of these remarkable. For the Pope to say that even a low-sounding 2% proportion of priests being pedophiles is “intolerable,” is certainly strong language. Also, for him to say that there may be “problems” with clerical celibacy and that he’s willing to “find solutions,” is also unprecedented. To date the Church has consistently dismissed priestly pedophilia, at best acknowledging it as an unusual and marginal phenomenon — when they’re even willing to admit it exists (they frequently deny it outright). Also, the Church has repeatedly declared there is absolutely nothing wrong with clerical celibacy and that the practice dates to the beginning of the Church. That it might cause “problems” with it, is something the Church has never once conceded.

But no sooner did the ink dry on the pages of this morning’s La Repubblica, than the Vatican machinery cranked out objections to it. The paper’s own English-language blog goes over their complaints (cached):

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”

Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but — curiously — the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

That’s the way to go about it, Fr Lombardi! Quibble over possible typos (e.g. the missing/misplaced quotation marks) in an effort to suggest La Repubblica published fabricated quotations of your Pope. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

If the interview, as published this morning, does accurately reflect the Pope’s own thinking — and right now, no one has any reason to think it doesn’t, Fr Lombardi’s accusations notwithstanding — then Pope Francis clearly is at odds with his own bureaucracy in the Vatican. How long is that going to last? Is he going to bend to suit them, or is he going to crack down on them and whip them into line? It will be interesting to find out, although given the Catholic Church’s vast machinery and its almost crippling institutional inertia, I suspect it’s the Pope who will have to give in, before Vatican functionaries do.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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