Saturday, February 23, 2013

{UPDATED} Holy See takes aim at reports, "often unverifiable or not verifiable"

From Vatican Radio (emphasis mine in bold)
(Vatican Radio) Please find below a Vatican Radio translation of a Secretary of State communiqué on conclave, issued Saturday:
“The freedom of the College of Cardinals, which alone, under the law, is responsible for the election of the Roman Pontiff, has always been strongly defended by the Holy See, as a guarantee of a choice based on evaluations solely for the good of the Church. 

Over the centuries, the Cardinals have faced multiple forms of pressure exerted on the individual voters and the same College, with the aim of conditioning decisions, to bend them to a political or worldly logic. 

If in the past the it was the so-called superpowers, namely States, who sought to condition the election of the Pope in their favour, today there is an attempt to apply the weight of public opinion, often on the basis of assessments that fail to capture the spiritual aspect of this moment in the life of the Church. 

It is regrettable that, as we draw near to the beginning of the Conclave when Cardinal electors shall be bound in conscience and before God, to freely express their choice, news reports abound which are often unverified or not verifiable, or even false, even subsequent damage to people and institutions. 

It is in moments such as these, that Catholics are called to focus on what is essential: to pray for Pope Benedict, to pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the College of Cardinals, to pray for the future Pope, trusting that the fate of the barque of St. Peter is in the hands of God". 

Admittedly, I fell into the trap of reading stories about these reports which originated in Italy.  The article lead readers to believe that someone actually saw what was in a dossier that went to Pope Benedict XVI on December 17.  It was a report submitted to the Pope by three senior Cardinals charged with investigating the infamous "Vatileaks."  Secular sources around the world are telling readers that this is *why* Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down.

EDIT: Inserting this report from Vatican Insider (of La Stampa) - "Vatican: Public opinion is being exploited to condition the Conclave".  In it, is a translation of an editorial by Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, given to Vatican Radio (emphasis mine in bold):

Fr. Lombardi’s statement  

The last couple of weeks of Benedict XVI’s papacy - before the sede vacante period begins and a new Pope is elected in the Conclave - have not been easy as this situation is quite new to the Holy See. Fr. Federico Lombardi remarked this in an editorial for Vatican Radio.

“We do not — and we rejoice — have to carry the pain of the death of a much-loved Pope, but we have not been spared another test: that of the multiplication of the pressures and considerations that are foreign to the spirit with which the Church would like to live this period of waiting and preparation,” the director of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Press Office said. “There is no lack, in fact, of those who seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the Church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander, or exercising unacceptable pressures to condition the exercise of the voting duty on the part of one or another member of the College of Cardinals, who they consider to be objectionable for one reason or another.”

“In the majority of cases, those who present themselves as judges, making heavy moral judgments, do not, in truth, have any authority to do so. Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else, even in the Church, because they are unable to gaze toward the heights or descend to the depths in order to grasp the spiritual dimensions and reasons of existence. This results in a description of the Church and of many of its members that is profoundly unjust,” Fr. Lombardi went on to say. 

“But all of this will not change the attitude of believers; it will not erode the faith and the hope with which they see the Lord, who promised to accompany his Church,” the editorial continued. “According to the indications of Church law and tradition, we want this to be a time of sincere reflection on the spiritual expectations of the world and on the faithfulness of the Church to the Gospel, of prayer for the assistance of the Spirit, of closeness to the College of Cardinals that is preparing for the demanding service of discernment and choice that is asked of it and for which it principally exists.”
“In this,” the editorial concluded, “we are accompanied first and foremost by the example and spiritual integrity of Pope Benedict, who wanted to dedicate to prayer, from the start of Lent, this final stretch of his pontificate — a penitential journey of conversion toward the joy of Easter. This is how we are living it and how we will live it: in conversion and hope.”

Continuing with original post:

Reports in English about reports in Italian do not allow for an objective reading unless one knows Italian.  Even Dr. Robert Moynihan, caught up in the fact that the story was not in some scandal rag, but in a reputable paper, gave it perhaps more credibility than it deserved.  But he followed up in another e-letter before that statement from the Secretary of State's office was released  From 2013, Letter #19: Stop, he says:

Perhaps the key phrase in the La Repubblica article of February 21 is the following: “La Relazione e esplicita. Alcuni alti prelati subiscono ‘l’influenza esterna’ — noi diremmo il ricatto — di laici a cui sono legati da vincoli di ‘natura mondana.’” (“The Report is explicit. Some high-ranking prelates are being subjected to ‘external influence’ — we would call it blackmail — by laypeople to whom they are linked by ties of a ‘worldly nature.’”) 
This is the phrase which gave me the basis yesterday for my title, “Blackmail.”

He then explains:

"...the article claims that the Report includes testimony about a number of past incidents in which Vatican officials were allegedly involved in some type of sexual activity, and asserts that the three cardinals delved into these incidents in their report in detail. 
But how does the author of this article know this?
Nowhere in the article — nowhere — is there any indication that the author has actually seen the cardinals’ Report. 
And, if one reads the La Repubblica story a 3rd and 4th time, one finds that there are only four quotations, that is, only four sourced sentences, in the entire article."

Moynihan then highlights each of those four quotes. He concludes that the first three quotes have, "nothing to do with the report that went to the Pope." When he gets to the fourth, he writes:

The fourth quotation (column 3) is from “a man very close to the man who drafted the Report.”(!) 
This is at best second-hand information. 
And this is the only source even close to the Report that is cited in the entire article, and un-named, of course. 
And what does this source say? “Tutto ruota attorno alla non osservanza del sesto and del settimo commandamento.” (“Everything [in the Report] centers on the non-observance of the 6th and 7th commandments.”) 
The entire 4th column of the article is a series of “vignettes” or allusions to old cases which the author of the La Repubblica piece, Concita De Gregorio, says were “explored” by the three cardinals in their investigation, and summed up in their Report. 
But no evidence is given that this actually occurred; that is, no evidence is given that the Report actually contains material related to “a villa outside Rome” or other places where meetings or parties allegedly occurred. 
In other words, this article contains no sourced evidence whatsoever, except for the (alleged) statement of “a man close to the man who drafted the Report” that “everything centers on the non-observance of the 6th and 7th commandments.” 
That sentence is the only “semi-sourced” sentence in the entire article. 
Everything else is assertion.

Near the end of that e-letter, Moynihan explains what cast further doubt on the Italian news report:

And, interestingly, at the end of the article, there is a very odd little paragraph, which I noticed the first time I read the article, yesterday at noon-time. It says that “on the last day of his pontificate [February 28], Benedict XVI will receive the three cardinals who composed the Report in private audience. Immediately afterward, next to Tomko [who is from Slovakia], he will see the bishops and faithful of Slovakia in St. Mary Major. His last public audience.” 
The point of this was to show how much respect Pope Benedict has for Cardinal Tomko, enough that he will meet with Slovakians on his last day as Pope. 
And Benedict undoubtedly has great respect for Tomko, who is now 89.
But it is simply not true that the Pope will meet with Slovakian Catholics in St. Mary Major, or anywhere. 
This sentence is simply, totally, untrue. 
The Pope will not go to St. Mary Major on the last day of his pontificate. 
Indeed, the effort to get a Pope across the city of Rome from the Vatican to another basilica is a major one, requiring weeks of pre-planning. Such a trip never happens without weeks of advance notice. And there has been no notice of such a planned trip across town.
Frankly, anyone who knows anything about the Vatican, any Vatican journalist, from the newest to the oldest, would have, and should have, known that this statement, that the Pope would go across town to St. Mary Major on the last day of his papacy, is impossible and silly. 
Yet this statement ends the article. 
Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., the director of the Vatican press office, noted this at a press conference yesterday, just a couple of hours after the La Repubblica article appeared.
He said that this evident error at the end of the article should be reason for anyone who reads the article to take the rest of it with a grain of salt.

What you see Moynihan going through is an objective thought process as he re-reads the news report he initially reacted to without an objective reading.

Dr. Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican Magazine has since come out with Letter #20, which continues the discussion by sharing the Secretary of State's message I offered at the beginning.  It is not yet online, but will be at the homepage for The Moynihan Letters soon.

I do hope that something I saw yesterday is true: That the cardinals heading into conclave will be briefed on the contents of the dossier in question by the three cardinals charged with investigating.  A house-cleaning is needed and by giving the conclave a briefing on that dossier they would know what skill sets to look for in a new Pope.

My initial thoughts when I saw the headlines based on the Italian news report was to keep my head down in prayer and not get distracted by it.  I regret that I didn't - having passed along the reports in Tweets, Facebook and email.  Human fallen nature will have us pursue scandal, especially at a time when prayer is needed.  In the end, all of our reading, discussing, and sharing of these things will  not get us a better pope.  We should be compelled to do as the Israelites did before entering a great battle, knowing they were outnumbered: Fast, pray, do penance and trust God to hear us.

My suggestion is to let go of this kind of stuff and place your trust and hope in God.  It's true that Original Sin affects even the highest members of the Church.  However, so does God's grace, especially at a time when the Church needs it most.  Let's just pray and be hopeful for the future.

Additional Commentaries and Updates:

  • Phil Lawler, a man who has worked hard reporting on the priest sex-abuse scandal, shares some common sense on the matter. 

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