Journalists perplexed about the Pope’s communications

Source: FSSPX News

On July 13th, returning from Latin America, the Pope took questions from the journalists travelling with him on the plane. His answers were so disconcerting that American journalist John Allen wrote on Cruxnow that Francis has taken up a new doctrine: that of pontifical fallibility.

(…) The pontiff seems utterly unabashed about admitting mistakes, confessing ignorance, and acknowledging that he may have left himself open to misinterpretation.

Whether such candor is charming or simply confusing, leaving one to wonder if the pope actually means what he says, perhaps is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, it’s become a defining feature of Francis’ style.

A classic, almost emblematic case in point came during the pontiff’s airborne news conference on the way back to Rome on Sunday after a week-long trip to Latin America.

During a 65-minute session with reporters, Francis embraced his own fallibility at least seven times:

-   Asked about a border dispute between Bolivia and Chile, Francis said he wouldn’t comment because “I don’t want to say something wrong” — an indirect admission that he’s capable of doing precisely that.

-   On a controversy in Ecuador over what he meant by the phrase “the people stood up,” Francis replied that “one sentence can be manipulated” and that “we must be very careful” — an acknowledgement, perhaps, that he hasn’t always shown such prudence.

- Asked about tensions between Greece and the Eurozone, Francis said he has a “great allergy” to economic matters and said of the corporate accounting his father practiced in Argentina, “I don’t understand it very well.” For a pontiff who’s made economic justice and global finance a centerpiece of his social rhetoric, it was a fairly breathtaking acknowledgment.

-   Also on the situation in Greece, Francis said he heard a year ago about a United Nations plan to allow countries to declare bankruptcy, but added, “I don’t know if it’s true,” and, remarkably, asked reporters traveling with him to explain it if they happened to know what he was talking about. (Francis may have been referring to a UN debate in 2014 over an international bankruptcy law.)

-   On blowback in the United States about his rhetoric on capitalism, Francis said he’s aware of it, but declined to react because “I don’t have the right to state an opinion isolated from dialogue.”

When challenged about why he speaks so much about the poor, but relatively little about the middle class, Francis bluntly conceded, “It’s an error of mine not to think about this,” and “you’re telling me about something I need to do.”

- Asked whether he’s concerned that his statements can be exploited by governments and lobby groups, Francis said “every word” is at risk of being taken out of context, and added: “If I make a mistake, with a bit of shame I ask forgiveness and go forward.”

To be clear, it’s hardly as if Francis was backing away from his stinging critique of what he termed in Bolivia a global economic system that “imposes the mentality of profit at any price” at the expense of the poor. (…)

What he added, however, was a dose of personal humility in acknowledging a lack of technical expertise and a capacity for error when he speaks on such matters, both in the substance of his positions and in the way he formulates them. (…)

In a sense, this personal dogma of fallibility fits with Francis’ overall style. For example, he refers to himself as “bishop of Rome” rather than “Supreme Pontiff,” and rides around in a Kia or a Ford rather than the traditional limo. It’s another chapter, in other words, in an ongoing “de-mythologizing” of the papacy. (…)

Such a “de-mythification” of the papacy, about which J. Allen does not seem very converned, is in fact a weakening of papal authority discredited by numerous approximate or contradictory statements. This is what can be clearly seen on Chiesa, July 29th, where Sandro Magister quotes the words of Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press Office, in an interview granted to August’s National Geographic, under the title “Will the Pope change the Vatican? Or will the Vatican change the Pope?”

Fr. Frederico Lombardi.

American journalist Robert Draper, author of this article, quotes a few sentences from the conversation Fr. Lombardi held with one of his colleagues, Argentinian Federico Wals, in Rome, who was the press attaché of Jorge Maria Bergoglio during his time in Buenos Aires. “How do you feel about working for my former boss?” inquired Wals. And Lombardi answered, “Disoriented.”

There is no team quite like the small, compact group that works in the personal and direct service of the Pope. Lombardi explains that each one of Francis’ collaborators, including those closest to him, is only aware of a part of the decisions and actions of the Sovereign Pontiff. For instance, Fr. Lombardi refers to a meeting at the Domus Sanctae Marthae between Francis and 40 Jewish leaders (in all likelihood the September 18, 2014 meeting held with 40 representatives of the Jewish World Congress – Ed.) whose press office and his own only connected after the meeting. “No one is aware of everything the Pope is doing,” explained Lombardi. “Not even his own personal secretary. I always have to call around: one person knows one part of his schedule, another knows another part…”

From all this it seems that Bergoglio makes use of one or another of his most trusted people according to what he wants and to their respective abilities. Among those closest to him, some are Argentinian:

-Fabián Pedacchio Leaniz, his personal secretary

- Guillermo Javier Karcher, pontifical master of ceremonies, responsible for protocol, in the service of the Secretary of State through whose hands all the documents of the Holy See pass;

- Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies for the Sciences and for Social Sciences;

- Víctor Manuel Fernández, rector of l’Universidad Católica Argentina de Buenos Aires and intellectual acting in an advisory capacity to the Pope, even though his efforts in this realm have been far from brilliant.

Others are Italian:

- Antonio Spadaro, Jesuit and editor of La Civiltà Cattolica;

- Dario Edoardo Viganò, director of Vatican Television and also prefect of the Secretariat of Communications, a recently created group

- Battista Ricca, director of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, promoted by Francis to the post of prelate of the IOR (Institute for Religious Works) in spite of his scandalous antecedents, especially during his tenure of the nunciature in Montevideo, across from Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata.

The structure of the Curia is no longer clear

In any case—still according to Fr. Lombardi—even with the Curia itself the Pope acts in an uncoordinated manner, relying on one employee or service, then on another: “Francis has drastically reduced the power of the Secretary of State, especially in the realm of the Vatican finances. And there is another difficulty: the structure of the Curia is no longer clear. The process (of reform) is in course and no one knows what will be the end result. The Secretariat of State is no longer the centre of everything, as it used to be, and the Pope has many contacts who are directed by him alone, without any intermediary.”

And nonetheless, Lombardi adds, this disorder itself is not without its advantages: “In one way, it is a good thing, for in the past critics complained that certain persons wielded too much power over the Pope. This cannot be said at present.”

Fr. Lombardi also de-mythifies the strategy of Pope Francis in the geopolitical domain. He compares what Benedict XVI would tell him, after a meeting with some world leader, so that he could draft a communique summarizing the interview, and what Francis tells him nowadays: “It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, “This is what we discussed; I agree on these points, I have objections with regard to these other points; here is the goal for our next meeting.” In two minutes, the content of the meeting was perfectly clear to me. When I am with Francis, [he tells me]: ‘This man [I just met] is wise; here are the interesting experiences he has lived through.’ For Francis, diplomacy is not so much a strategy as something like, ‘I met such and such a person, now we have a personal rapport, now we will try to do good for people and for the Church.”

On the other hand Fr. Lombardi—still in the article published in National Geographic—insists that Francis is “totally spontaneous” even when he makes outrageous gestures such as the salutation that the pope, the Moslem imam Omar Abboud and Jewish rabbi Abraham Skorka, who are two of his Argentinian friends, carried out in Jerusalem before the west wall.

But the idea that Bergoglio is an entirely instinctive personality, drawn to improvisation, has been denied, in this specific case by Rabbi Skorka. He said that he had discussed the idea of the salutation with the Pope before they even left for the Holy Land. In a general way, there are numerous descriptions of Bergoglio from people who have known him for a long time, as a “chess player,” a subtle and calculating character, whose every day is perfectly organized and each movement carefully studied.

On the other hand, here is what Francis himself told La Civiltà Cattolica (19 September 2013 ; see DICI n°282, 04/10/13) in an interview which is the most significant of all those granted since he has been Pope: “I always second-guess my first decision, that is the first idea that comes to my mind when I have a decision to make. In general that idea is erroneous. I have to wait, to make an interior evaluation and take the time that requires.”

At the same time it is difficult to attribute his behavior among crowds, smiling and extroverted, uniquely to a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and newly acquired following his election to the pontificate, as he himself has sometimes claimed. All those who have known him for long and who are his friends—the most recent to comment on this subject is Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, in a long interview granted to Critica marxista (Italian magazine whose goal is “Rethinking the left” –Ed.) published in June 2015—speak of him as “someone extremely serious, who never laughed, never.” Such a sudden change in external behavior cannot not result also from a rational evaluation of whether or no it is opportune.

And the same can be said for the Pope’s obvious preference for spoken communication over written. In the Osservatore Romano of July 15th, Bishop Dario Vigano—a communications specialist (appointed prefect of the new Secretariat for Communications on June 27, 2015—Ed.) has shown that this preference is not deprived of any relation with a conscious evaluation on the Pope’s part of the advantages of the spoken word.

An excessively flippant oral communication

However, it can be added that the Pope is also beginning to consider the inconveniences of an excessively flippant oral communication. When, for instance, Francis insisted on the necessity of subjecting his own words to a correct “hermeneutic”—as he did during the press conference given in the plane bringing him back to Rome on his last trip—he was also thinking, perhaps, of the colossal gaffe he made on July 11th in Asunción, in an improvised address to the secular leads and highest political authorities of Paraguay.

At one point, he said in these very words: “There are two things I would like to mention before finishing, since there are politicians present here—including the president of the Republic—I am speaking fraternally, is it not so? Someone told me: “Listen, such a person has been detained by the army, do something.” I am not saying it is true or not true, or that it is just or injust, but one of the methods of the dictatorships of the last century, of whom I spoke earlier, was to eliminate people, through exile, or prison, or the Nazis’ and Stalin’s extermination camps through death, is it not so? So that there may be true culture amongst a people, a culture of politics and of the common good, [it is also necessary that there be] swift trials, transparent trials. And another type of stratagem does not work. Justice, transparent and clear! It will help all of us. I do not know if that exists here or not, I say it with all due respect. I was told of this when I came in. Someone told me here. And I was asked to pray for someone. I did not hear the family name very well.”

The name that Francis had not heard very well was that of Edelio Murinigo, an officer who has been held for over a year, not by the regular army of Paraguay, as the Pope had understood, but by a so-called “Army of the Paraguayan People” (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo), a terrorist Marxist-Leninist group that has been active in the country since 2008. And even though he declared and emphasized that he was not familiar with the situation, Francis was not afraid to use the slight and vague information that he had poorly heard shortly beforehand to accuse “fraternally” the president of Paraguay, who was innocent, of a crime which he actually assimilated to the worst atrocities of Nazism and Stalinism.

There again is a situation which bears out Fr. Lombardi. In this case, impulsiveness and spontaneity overcame reflection, and it seems indeed that Pope Francis concretized “the first idea that came to mind.”

(Sources: Chiesa/Cruxnow – trad. Ch. Pehchpeyrou – Benoitetmoi – DICI no. 319, 07/08/15)

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Papal journey to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, July 5-13, 2015
The Pope's trip to South America, through the eyes of an Argentinian Catholic