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This Time It Was Recorded

Pope Francis was interviewed by the editor of Corriere della Sera who brought a number of recording devices to the interview.

It has been published in its entirety in Corriere as well as in L'Osservatore Romano. There are many topics covered that will elicit much commentary. The fullest account in English I've seen is the report by Gerard O'Connell in Vatican Insider.

Here is one personal observation the Pope makes:

“I like to be among people, to be with the one who is suffering, to go into the parishes”, he stated. But he denied that he has gone out at night to feed the down and outs near the Vatican. He made clear however that he detests being depicted as a kind of superman or star: “Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression. To depict the Pope as a kind of superman or a star seems to me offensive”.

And on Humanae Vitae Francis said:

When asked whether the Church would again revisit the question of birth control, some 50 years after Humanae Vitae, Francis recalled that, at the end, Paul VI “recommended that confessors should be very merciful, and be attentive to the concrete situations”.  Francis praised his predecessor for being “prophetic” and for “having the courage to go against the majority, to defend the moral discipline, to exercise a cultural brake, and to oppose present and future Neo-Malthusianism.”   But, he said, it is not a question of changing doctrine, rather “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons”.  This will be discussed at the synod, he added.

Boycott (?)

The Archdiocse of New Orleans has called upon Catholics to refuse to patronize (boycott?) contractors involved in building a new Planned Parenthood facility. 

There were rumors that the NFL might refuse to patronize (boycott?) the state of Arizona for the Superbowl, if the governor signed a law that expanded rights of business owners to refuse to patronize (boycott?) customers if doing so violated their religious beliefs. 

A gay hairdresser refused to cut the hair of the governor of New Mexico (boycott?)  because he didn't agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.( HT Deacon's Bench)

What, exactly, is a boycott? Does refusing service in a particular case, for whatever reason, count as a little boycott? Or do you need to try to organize? How do we analyze the morality of boycotts? Is that analysis entirely reducible ot the morality of the underlying cause?

Can we distinguish between boycotting something and impermissible cooperation with evil? It may not be impermissible cooperation with evil to shop at a big box store, but I may choose to boycott it anyway, in order to change (say) child labor practices of its suppliers.

Any thoughts on how we should think about boycotts? They are not just a liberal, or a conservative tactic. They can be used by both sides in any controversy. Though: 1) in order to be necessary, you'd need to be trying to change the majority culture in some way; and 2) in order to effective, you'd need to have a substantial minority on your side. 

What do you think?


Pope Francis wants you to enjoy the gardens he's not using

Maybe it's because we're in the middle of another cold snap. Or because I was stuck inside for most of the day with a baby who's teething and a two-year-old having one of those days. Or maybe it's because our heat went out this morning and it was getting awfully chilly indoors by the time the repairman came with the (expensive) new part we needed. Whatever the reason, I'm thinking a stroll in a Mediterranean garden would suit me very well right about now. So, this morning's news that the pope has opened the Castel Gandolfo gardens to the public struck me as especially welcome.

Last summer, Pope Francis broke with tradition by not spending the season at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat 15 miles outside of Rome. (He didn't leave his post in Buenos Aires for holidays, either.) The villa is also where Pope Emeritus Benedict lived for a few months after he resigned, while his retired-pope digs were being readied in Vatican City. (See this breathless writeup for some details about what's there, or this much drier (but very detailed) account of how each pope did or did not use the property. And then there's this rundown of significant moments in CG history.)

Now, another "exceptional" act from Pope Francis, allowing the general public to tour the Barberini Gardens. Make your arrangements here.

No word on how long this arrangement will last -- though it seems safe to assume the pope will spend this summer, like the last, at the Vatican, so summer vacationers may be able to count on access to the gardens on their holiday this year. Are you curious? Would you go out of your way to visit, if you could?

Telling Vatican 'Secrets.'

Did you catch this week's episode of Frontline, "Secrets of the Vatican" (you can watch online right here)? Probably not the best title, given that the subjects it covers have been pretty well reported: Benedict's resignation, curial dysfunction, sexual abuse, Maciel's crimes, a gay clerical subculture in Rome, the Vatileaks scandal, corruption at the Vatican Bank. If you've been keeping up with those stories, you probably won't learn a lot viewing this film.

The first time I watched "Secrets of the Vatican," I found it slightly annoying.

The music: Is there some law requiring documentarians who cover the Catholic Church to score their work with spooky chant or cheese-ball action-movie music? It's distracting, especially when played behind the film's powerful interviews with victims of sexual abuse--including Maciel's son Raul Gonzales. (N.B.: When the film turns to Pope Francis's election and his focus on the poor, the music takes an appropriately humbler turn, replacing pipe organs with pan flutes. Cue Carson Zamfir joke.)

The reenactments: In the segment on the Vatican Bank scandals, the narrator describes the Italian authorites' surveillance operation, just as the camera pans across a roomful of official-looking men intently staring at computers, holding on a young man wearing headphones, leaning in toward the screen as though the thing was about to whisper the location of Jimmy Hoffa's body.

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Bergoglio the reformer, or: If you think the Vatican's finances are a mess...

I've been reading Paul Vallely's papal biography Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to know more about Jorge Mario Bergolio's background and development. Vallely's research into Bergoglio's career as a Jesuit superior and as a bishop in Argentina is deep and very revealing.

When I heard this morning's news about Francis's plans for fixing the Vatican's finances -- read David Gibson's report for the details -- I immediately recalled a story Vallely tells to illustrate the archbishop's willingness to resort to "unilateral executive action" when it was called for:

When he took over as archbishop the diocese of Buenos Aires was facing not just a financial crisis but a banking scandal. His predecessor, Cardinal Quarracino, had been very close to a prominent family of Argentinian bankers, the Trusso family -- of which the Argentine ambassador to the Holy See was a member.

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Francis on the Chair of Peter

On this Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Pope Francis held his first consistory to appoint nineteen Cardinals. A historic feature of the event was the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict at the liturgical ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica. As a number of writers have speculated: in the Basilica were not only the present Pope, but a former and, perhaps, a future Pope. Be that as it may, there is only one Chair and one Successor of Peter called to "confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith."

In his homily Pope Francis struck a chord particularly dear to him:

“Jesus was walking…”. This is something striking about the Gospels: Jesus is often walking and he teaches his disciples along the way. This is important. Jesus did not come to teach a philosophy, an ideology… but rather “a way”, a journey to be undertaken with him, and we learn the way as we go, by walking. Yes, dear brothers, this is our joy: to walk with Jesus. And this is not easy, or comfortable, because the way that Jesus chooses is the way of the Cross.


"Heaven is thrilled over this"

Robert McCullough at the CNS blog has posted a video message from Pope Francis to a gathering of Pentecostal pastors in the United States. It's a wonderful message, and well worth watching. Very affecting, and well-chosen to reach his intended audience.

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Catholic Schools--The Next Casualty of the Culture Wars?

Professor Robert P. George has responded to this post of mine over at Mirror of Justice. 

A couple of points:

1. Professor George  made an authoritative  pronouncement about how a hypothetical Muslim school should decide an internal personnel matter. But making those sorts of pronouncements really does require the extensive knowledge and training of a  mullah—a common term for a Muslim scholar who is an expert in Islamic law and theology, just as making an authoritative pronouncement about an internal personnel matter in a Jewish day school really requires the extensive knowledge and training of a rabbi.  My point was that a Catholic really can't be a mullah—or a rabbi—and shouldn't act as though he or she is. One has to wonder why George would automatically conclude that the term “mullah” is itself an insult.

2. Is there a difference between questioning Professor George and attacking him? But let’s push through the fulminations and focus on the answer to my question. He writes:

If [the teacher] were repentant, then I, as her fellow sinner, would support keeping her on. I’d even host the baby shower. The example being set for the school children in that case would be one of repentance and forgiveness—loving the sinner, even while rejecting the sin. Of course, if her intention is to flout the Church’s teachings, then it’s a different story. That’s what is going on when a teacher, say, moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex—or goes into the strip club business.

So...the baby shower sounds good. (Don’t forget the gift.) But let’s think about this analysis. How would we know she’s repentant? Would she have to publicly repent? (If so, we’re getting a little too close to the Scarlet Letter here for my taste.) How would you communicate to the kids that she had sinned? Wouldn’t that disclose too much information, at least at the elementary-school level?

George writes: “If her intention is to flout...” But "flouting" generally connotes some form of open and public contempt. Can one disagree with a particular communal norm, not follow it in one’s own life, and yet still not be guilty of "flouting" that norm?  Looking at the polling data on these matters, we may have a situation where a) the unmarried woman doesn't think the norm about premarital sex holds in her particular case and relationship, but b) has no intention of publicizing her view in any way at work. But she gets pregnant. She's not flouting the norm—but her body is definitely revealing a violation of it. You might say the baby is flouting the norms!

When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”

In the end, I think there are four points to be considered in this controversy.

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Pitchers, catchers, and cardinals report

It's a big week of meetings for Francis -- his first big chance to follow through on expectations that he will be collaborative and consultative in his exercise of power, and that he will effect some much-needed reforms in Rome. Catholic News Service was tweeting updates bright and early: "Next Monday and Tuesday, meetings of the secretariat of the synod of bishops and the 15-member cardinals’ council on economic affairs.... 15-member council of cardinals on Holy See economic affairs will meet 8-member council of cardinals THIS Wednesday 19 February.... 'Extraordinary consistory' with all cardinals starts Thursday at 9:30 am."

[Update: Read Joshua McElwee's comprehensive report on the agenda for the coming week at the National Catholic Reporter.]

Cardinal Kasper will be giving the opening presentation at the Council of Cardinals: Francis X. Rocca reports on that for CNS here. With preparations for this fall's synod on the family underway, there is much speculation about what Kasper might say regarding divorced Catholics and communion, given that he has favored some changes to church regulations in the past. When it comes to "pastoral challenges in the context of evangelization," that's certainly a big one.

That "8-member council" mentioned above, the eight cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to advise him on reform, are meeting for the third time. That includes the one American member of the gang, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. Make no mistake, all these councils serve only in an advisory role, as Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi made clear at this morning's press briefing this morning. The pope is still the pope, after all. And it's up to the individual cardinals to keep the press informed, or not. Stay tuned.

This seems like a good time to mention that I'll be appearing on a panel next month at the American Bible Society (in NYC), responding to a presentation by the aforementioned Cardinal O'Malley. Since he'll be just back from all that meeting and advising, I'm looking forward to whatever updates he has to give. The event is free and open to the public: 6:30 p.m. on March 19. Ken Woodward, R.R. Reno of First Things and Matt Malone of America will be there too. Mark your calendars, and I'll remind you as it gets closer. And tell me, what would you ask Cardinal O'Malley if you had a chance?

Survey says.

Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.

The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)

The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

The abortion results are more interesting.

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If I didn't know better, I'd say Pope Francis is making George Weigel nervous

George Weigel's syndicated column is called "The Catholic Difference," presumably because in it Weigel lays out the proper way for Catholics to view the world -- and corrects the errors of those non-Catholics (or inadequately formed Catholics) who keep getting things wrong.

I often find that my view of things does not quite line up with what Weigel insists is the "Catholic" position. For example, the January 15 column, "What Popes Can and Can't Do," features this illustrative anecdote:

At an academic conference years ago, a distinguished Catholic philosopher remarked (perhaps hyperbolically) that “If the pope said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I’d believe him.” An even more distinguished Catholic philosopher gave the correct, and far more Catholic, response: “If the Holy Father said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I would say publicly, ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood His Holiness’s meaning.’ Privately, I would pray for his sanity.”

I, meanwhile, would have said the "correct" and "Catholic" response is "Sorry, Holy Father, but that's not right." I probably wouldn't be all that private about it, either.

With this little story, Weigel is attempting to explain that popes can't go around changing established church doctrine on a whim, which is true enough. (He also says, "it is very difficult for those who see Catholicism through political lenses to grasp this." Which of course is why we need George Weigel -- now more than ever!) They do have a little more influence on church doctrine than they do on basic math, but we'll set that aside. Weigel is also taking this opportunity to throw more cold water on the hopes so many non-conservatives have been nurturing since Pope Francis's election. But the occasion of Weigel's warning is odd -- and not just because it follows his proclaiming the Wall Street Journal "America's best newspaper" and praising "the openness of the Journal's op-ed pages to serious Catholic argument on numerous issues." (I've been waiting for their Francis-inspired editorial "Trickle-Down Economics Reconsidered," but I think I must have missed it.)

What has Weigel worked up is a one-sentence description of Pope Francis in a space-filling listicle that ran in the WSJ, "People to Watch in 2014."

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The Rock Star Pope

When it comes to cashing in on Pope Francis Fever, Rolling Stone has one-upped Esquire, with its silly "best-dressed man" designation. They didn't even have to make a joke, like the New Yorker, when they made Francis their cover model. The Rolling Stone cover is essentially a joke come to life: Francis, the Rock Star Pope.

The article, though, is no joke. I've seen some dismissive sniffing and some references to "hate-reading" among fellow pope-watchers, but Mark Binelli's piece is not the superficial profile you might be expecting. In fact, there's a lot to admire in it.

Its main flaw, and I will grant Fr. Lombardi this, is its over-the-top dismissal of Pope Benedict, and its occasional resort to what Lombardi aptly called "crudeness." He said "surprising crudeness," but given the venue, there's no surprise; crudeness is an essential element of serious journalism in Rolling Stone, a kind of self-conscious tic, like the gratuitous shots of topless women in HBO's prestige dramas. Hence, this, a few paragraphs in:

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When you get your picture on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone

Someone may yet do a more substantial post on Mark Binelli’s Pope Francis cover story in Rolling Stone, but for the moment I thought I’d pull out quotes from three of the people interviewed. Context-free, maybe, but how much is needed?

Thomas Reese: “The people Francis is going to have the most trouble with are the ideologues. They’re basically like the Tea Party. They’ve made up their minds. They don’t get it. And unless they go through some major conversion, they ain’t gonna get it.”

Cornell West: “Pope Francis is a gift from heaven, a prophetic voice willing to be a critic of capitalism and imperialism. I don’t want to fetishize the pope. He heads a deeply patriarchal and homophobic organization that I’m critical of. But I love who he is, in terms of what he says, and the impact of his words on progressive forces around the world.”

Unnamed street vendor outside St. Peter’s, when asked if the increased crowds under Francis have been good for business, answers in “perfect, New York-inflected English, ‘Naw, this guy, all he does is talk about the poor, and so he’s bringing in these poorer tourists from places like Argentina. They ain’t got no money, these people! When Ratzinger was pope, Germans would pull up on a bus. They’re organized, they spend! Now, everyone wants a discount.’”

UPDATED Melinda Henneberger to speak on Pope and Politics (Fordham)

UPDATE: event to be rescheduled due to weather and campus closing on February 3.

In the past month, several major news outlets have raised the question of whether Pope Francis is having an effect on political figures in the United States. Kathleen Hennessey's A1 story in the Los Angeles Times reported on how and why President Obama, for example, had come to quote the Pope.

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"Pray for Them!"

from this morning's homily by Pope Francis, commenting on the anointing of David:

But, Father, I have read in a newspaper that a bishop has done such a thing, or a priest who has done this thing.’ Oh yes, I read it, too. Tell me, though: do the papers carry news of what great charity so many priests, so many priests in so many parishes of the city and the countryside, perform? Of the great work they do in carrying their people forward? No? This is not news. It is the same as always: a single falling tree makes more noise than a forest that grows. Today, thinking about this anointing of David, it will do us good to think of our brave, holy, good, faithful bishops and priests, and pray for them. We are here today thanks to them.

Prayers as well for the Ursuline Sisters on this feast of Saint Angela Merici!

Shrugging toward St. Peter's.

Last August, just five months after Pope Francis was elected, Damon Linker emerged from the balcony of St. Wieseltier's to dump a vat of cold water on the gathering masses anxiously awaiting the doctrinal liberalization of the Catholic Church. Progressives who thought Francis's pastoral gestures heralded the end of the celibate priesthood, or the reversal of church teachings against contraception, birth control, and sex outside of marriage, were deluding themselves, Linker argued. "Even an analyst normally as sober and sensible as John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter," he wrote, "has gone so far as to conclude that nothing less than a Vatican 'revolution' is underway. It isn’t."

Perhaps the New Republic's editors thought Linker's observation that a new pope wasn't about to upend Catholic doctrine amounted to big news. For my part, I don't know anyone who's expecting Francis to abrogate Humanae Vitae. So I found the piece largley unobjectionable, apart from Linker's misperception of the extent to which a pontiff can remake the Curia in his preferred image. "A new pope," Linker claimed, "has comparatively little freedom to remake the ideological cast of the Roman Curia." He "must choose new appointees solely from the existing ranks of cardinals and archbishops, all of whom will have been promoted to their positions by his predecessors." Well, yes. But that doesn't mean the world's bishops are carbon copies of the popes who appointed them. After all, the man who made Bergoglio archbishop of Buenos Aires was John Paul II.

Of course, Linker's TNR piece was written five months ago. Today at the Week, he's back with a reassessment of liberal Catholic hopes for the new pope. Have the past five months changed his opinion of them, or of Francis's pontificate? The shakeup at the Congregation for Bishops? The Vatican's attempt to get parishioners to weigh in on controversial church teachings like gay marriage and contraception? The fact that almost none of Francis's first cardinals are professional theologians, and most are from the global south? What about that time he baptized the baby of a couple who were married outside the church--a first for a pope? Not really.

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What do people see when they see Francis?

The question posed in that headline is a paraphrase of one used by James Carroll in a new interview in which he discusses how Pope Francis is effecting a potentially “radical” change in how the Church is viewed by the world. “What do people see when they see you?,” according to Carroll, is the question Francis has, at least figuratively, put to his fellow clerics in seeking to emphasize simplicity and draw attention to the plight of the poor – and in the process do some much-needed image improvement at the institutional level.

Is it working? And are the pictures, images, and accounts of this papacy perhaps more carefully crafted and less spontaneous than they seem?

The answer to the first question, at least according to Carroll, is yes—mainly. There are tangible innovations like the survey on family life being conducted in advance of the synod this coming fall, which in asking for information on issues like contraception and divorce and remarriage “signals a shift already underway” in the way power may be exercised. There are the less tangible qualities attaching to the man himself—whose capturing of the world’s attention, Carroll says, can be explained by the fact that he “represents an ancient human need, an ancient human longing for symbols and signs of the mysterious experience we all have of life on this planet.” The only thing marring this picture is Francis’s response to the sexual abuse scandal, which Carroll describes as a disappointment and quantifies as “all too little.”

The answer to the second question is also yes, says Mary E. Hunt in a piece at Religion Dispatches titled “The Trouble With Francis: Three Things That Worry Me.” Things one and two are what she sees as the immutable hierarchical structure of the church and the status of women and gay people. Thing three is what, in an otherwise unsurprising critique, caught my attention: “the remarkable, even enviable public relations success, not to say coup, that the papacy of Pope Francis represents.” 

I am not suggesting that there is no substance to Francis’ agenda, that change does not underlie it. Conservatives would not be so hot under their collective collars if that were not the case. But I am cognizant of the very powerful public relations machine that has turned an ecclesial ocean liner on a dime, transformed an all but written-off patriarchy into one of the most inviting, benevolent monarchies the world has seen in modern times….

Surely some of the “credit” for this PR blitz goes to former Fox News and Time writer, Opus Dei member and Midwestern Catholic, Greg Burke. He became senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in June 2012, well before the new pope took over. Mr. Burke is commonly associated with moving the papacy toward a more hip, social-media savvy approach to getting out its word. It works. Papal tweets are new. But more important than 140 characters at a time are the remarkable visuals, photo ops that don’t quit, moving gestures of a humble, caring man projected for the world to see and imitate. Only a craven critic would pass over these as trivial.

David Gibson wrote here about Burke and Pope Benedict’s then-new Twitter account just over a year ago, noting the early growing pains and concluding that “there’s no better communications strategy than having a good product to sell.” How much has changed since then? Many would say there’s a better product to sell. How much is a communications strategy helping in selling it? And how much faith should be placed in, or attention paid to, images like the one in this post? What are we seeing when we see this pope?

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem: "Mass" or "Meeting?"

In an anticipated moment for ecumenism with the eastern churches, Pope Francis will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during his three-day trip in late May. He made the announcement today, the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras.

Visits to Bethlehem in the West Bank and Amman, Jordan, had already been revealed. The announcement of his plans in Jerusalem was what many were anticipating. A few weeks ago Israeli officials were concerned that Pope Francis might not celebrate Mass in Jerusalem during his trip. Now in today's reports there seems to be ambiguity about the function of the meeting at the Holy Sepulchre.

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"The God who Afflicts and Consoles"

It’s not possible to exaggerate the influence that Eugenio Scalfari has had on the Italian journalistic and political scene for over forty years. He is the founder of La Repubblica, certainly one of the most influential newspapers in Italy, friend of key political figures, such as President Giorgio Napolitano, and recent, enthusiastic admirer of Pope Francis and the “revolution” he sees Francis undertaking in the Church.


He, of course, conducted the famous “interview” with Francis (discussed here) which he later admitted was based on his recollections after the fact and not on notes taken during the session. Indeed, he even went on to confess that he had attributed some statements to the Pope which Francis had not said and probably would not fully endorse.


A week ago Scalfari, clearly fascinated with Francis, offered what I called a “creative interpretation” of Evangelii Gaudium: namely, that the Pope had, in effect, “abolished  sin” – admittedly a first for a Roman Pontiff (discussed here). That assertion drew a swift disavowal from Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson. Scalfari responded by giving a somewhat tortuous exegesis of his own words in which he affirmed both his own view and that of the Vatican on the question. I think it’s called having your cannoli and eating it too.


In today’s La Repubblica Scalfari is back at it again (he regularly writes the paper’s Sunday “Editorial”). But I now sense a somewhat different dimension to Scalfari’s concern. He begins by saying that he had never meant to suggest that Francis had abolished sin – the which he had not only suggested, but actually headlined. What he now seems to be saying, however, is that, even if humans sin, God’s mercy will prevail. And this from a self-professed “non-believer.”


The “editorial” is entitled “Il Dio che affanna e che consola:” “The God who distresses and consoles.” The line, quoted by Scalfari in the editorial, comes from a poem by the great Italian novelist, Alessandro Manzoni, also beloved of Pope Francis. Can Francis’ tenderness and mercy be leading Signore Scalfari to a new realization? Speriamo.

Poor little rich Catholics

Eduardo Penalver has already flagged my favorite holiday report on the Francis effect (published just in time to influence year-end charitable giving). And as we ring in the New Year, let's spare a thought for the persecuted rich. It's bad enough Francis keeps talking about the poor all the time, but now he's suggesting that someone other than those same poor people may be responsible for their poverty -- and worse, that Catholics are called on to work for a more just distribution of the world's goods. He wants us to change the system, but has he given any thought to how that might affect the people who currently benefit most from that system? CNBC is on it:

[Home Depot founder Ken] Langone said he's raised the issue more than once with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, most recently at a breakfast in early December at which he updated him on fundraising progress."I've told the cardinal, 'Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don't have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don't act the same as rich people in another country,' " he said.

One of the things that makes this story so jaw-dropping is the presumption -- on the part of Langone, and as ever on the part of CNBC -- that those who see or read it will sympathize with the petulant wealthy. Do you really want to make things harder for people who are so much wealthier and more successful than you? CNBC constantly asks its viewers. Do you think we can afford to let them get upset?

I do feel for Cardinal Dolan, caught between the demands of fundraising in a wealthy city and the clear teaching of a very popular pope. I wouldn't want to be explaining Evangelii Gaudium to any prospective donors over breakfast. Still, I'd like to think that, if pressed, I could do a little bit better than "The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people. He loves people, alright? He's not into the condemning game."

I do not think CNBC's reporting on this story was motivated by a desire to get people thinking about how relying on the goodwill of wealthy donors compromises the integrity of the church. But that's where this story left me. What might it mean if bishops like Dolan had to square off with a few sulking multimillionaires and tell them, Look, here's the social teaching of the church, and here's a chart demonstrating how income inequality has increased, and if all that makes you feel less generous then I'll just have to ask someone else? Historians of the church in New York often point out that its many beautiful parishes -- which some now consider an embarrassment of riches -- were built by immigrants giving from what little they had. And hey, maybe that wasn't such a bad system. The widow's mite doesn't go quite as far, but at least it doesn't carry with it the obligation of downplaying the spiritual risks of wealth and soft-pedaling the cry of the poor. The widow, unlike her seven-figure-donor coreligionists, would probably like what the pope has to say.

There are, of course, great minds working hard to make sure it doesn't come to that.

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