Saturday, July 12, 2014

No. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki did not say that!

UPDATE: A later interview with the Cardinal was found, taking place about 6 months after this dust-up, and has been translated by Richard Chonak.  I discuss it here and provide a link to the translation.

I know little about Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, recently named to head the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany, but I'm fairly certain that a scandalous quote attributed to him is false and I'll explain why.

So, what's this all about?  First, please read the brief news piece offered by Catholic Culture yesterday as I think it has helpful information.

Now to the heart of the matter. A story was put out, I think back in 2012 in German press, that made it's way into English language (and others, I'm sure) in which the Cardinal allegedly said:
"If two homosexuals take responsibility for each other, if they are loyal to each other over the long term, then one should see this in the same way as heterosexual relations."

One blogger, reacting yesterday to the news of Cardinal Woelki's transfer from Berlin to Cologne used the misguided headline, "Putting the Homo-Heretics in Charge."  Pitiful. I'm not a fan of shock-jock reactionary blogging and reporting because there is nothing like being in the room when a cigarette ash drops on gunpowder.  I won't link to it because it's just distasteful. A number of combox warriors, predictably, presume it is authentic news. Needless to say, the blogpost comment section houses some pretty rash remarks about the Cardinal, and the Pope.  I left a comment there and saw that it had posted, so I thought.  Some 45 minutes later, I could not find my comment.   Hopefully, it was simply lost and not censored out.  I decided to make this post rather than try to comment there again. [confirmed it was in moderation cue]

So, it seems in 2012, secular media sources in the US, and Catholic bloggers -  including professional journalists who blog, ran with the line that Cardinal Woelki gave a green light to active homosexual relationships.  This despite the glaring conflict with Catholic teaching that should have had at least the Catholics checking the source, and the accuracy of the quote, even unto asking for a clarification from the diocese. Now it is getting recycled in 2014.

Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative, was one such person using the quote in 2012 but he at least precedes it with, "if the report is accurate."  To his credit, he updated his post twice, including one with a statement from the Cardinal's Press Secretary back in 2012, saying he was grateful to have the clarification (See "Update 2" here).  He writes:

UPDATE.2: A German-speaking reader, to whom I am grateful, translates Cardinal Woelki’s press secretary’s statement about the matter as follows:  Press Secretary Stefan Förner explained that media reports had severely truncated [the Cardinal's] words. It is the Cardinal’s desire that homosexuals are “not discriminated against.”

The press secretary then explained [the Cardinal's statements] word for word to KATH.NET: “Cardinal Woelki set long-term homosexual relationships in which two people have already made a life-long commitment to one another in relation to [certain] heterosexual relationships which indeed are not in any case “in [proper] Catholic order” (the unmarried, those lacking commitment, etc.). A comparison with sacramental marriage between man and wife was absolutely not the theme.”

Press secretary Förner explained in concluding to KATH.NET: “Sacramental marriage between man and woman retains its special role. I see no cause for confusion.”

EDIT: Because we are dealing with a translation, the word order may not be expressed the way we would in every day English.  My understanding of the one paragraph [in the translation quoted from Dreher's post update] is that the Cardinal was saying that long term homosexual relationships are not any more proper than heterosexual couples, living together, and not sacramentally married.  I understand that the the heterosexual couple's relationship is ordered in the way nature intended it and that a homosexual couple's relationship is not in the natural order. Therefore, the Catholic Church could thus never consider it ordered.  He seems to be saying that in either case, they are not in the [proper] Catholic order, but to my reading does not seem to be saying both are in the natural order.  [I had to edit this again to correct a double-negative that was misleading].  

Also, in common language we might refer to two people of the same gender, living together long term with sexual relations as having a "relationship" or having "loyalty."  Such a statement could be made as a matter of objectivity without condoning the nature of the relationship or loyalty.  Is it possible this is what Cardinal Woelki meant?

Falsehood spread on the internet is the gift that keeps on giving.  Unfortunately, many secular and Catholic sources probably never saw that updates.  Those using it today may not be scrolling down to read the updates, or they are getting the quote from others who did not know about, or did not care to share, the update, for whatever reason.

The English edition of La Stampa's, Vatican Insider website, rather than quoting the Berlin spokesman, simply stated, "The Diocese of Berlin’s press office hastened to clarify that Woelki did not mean to say that same-sex unions were the same thing as marriage."  This makes it look like he said the outrageous quote, but didn't mean it that way.  It's also lazy journalism suffering the effects of, "gotta get it out now; don't have time to do the homework"

What is happening to Cardinal Woelki with that distorted quote reminded me of the great story on St. Philip Neri where he tells a gossiper to bring him a chicken, but to pluck the feathers as it is brought to him.  The feathers scatter all over the town.  When the chicken is handed to him all plucked, he then orders the feathers all be collected again.  Of course, this is impossible. That was his point - you can't get gossip and falsehood back once it comes out. It is depicted in one of my favorite movies, Saint Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven, but on YouTube, you can only see a 3 minute clip in Italian with non-english subtitles. You get the idea.  I see that happening every time there is a swift reaction and a blogpost update.  Just because some news source or high-traffic blogger, or talking head tell us something, it doesn't mean we should run out and share it.

If we discover we were involved in the spread of falsehood there is a healthy remedy that is good for the soul.   Often times, there are other underlying sins preceding the spread of untruths, such as sins against prudence, but hold that thought for the moment, I'll come back to it.  It's good to ask a Confessor to judge if a case is venial or grave if one is unsure, but there are graces that come from expressing remorse in participation even when the conditions are not met for grave sin.  There is also the counsel of the priest that can be helpful in overcoming.  Gossip - in it's many forms, is one of the most addicting vices we can engage in. Our fallen nature enjoys it like prime rib.

How many times have we seen the words of our Catholic prelates truncated, snipped, and re-arranged in such a way as to put words into their mouths that they never said?   Have we learned nothing about how the Angel of Darkness wants to divide and conquer? Some want to blame the Holy Father and the prelates for the fact that others miscommunicate - either ignorantly or intentionally - what they say.  Others don't want them communicating with any sources other than through official archdiocesan or Vatican offices, thinking that will prevent such things.  I've seen those official press releases get twisted by major news suppliers, as well, simply by omitting a few key words.   I cannot imagine how the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ would have been filtered down through the kind of media machine we have today.  I do know that the sins and imperfections journalists, bloggers, talking-heads, and com-box warriors would not have stopped Jesus from proclaiming the truth everywhere he went and with whatever tools were available.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that rash judgment, detraction, and calumny are all sinful - sometimes gravely sinful (CCC 2477-78).  I think we are seeing many manifestations that Catholics do not understand sins against the 8th Commandment, especially as they can occur on the internet.

We, on the internet, need to slow down and start questioning sources and accuracy of quotes. What compels us to react the minute we hear something before we question it more discreetly so as not to scandalize others needlessly?  I can say this because I've been equally as guilty at times of jumping on something only to wish I hadn't offered an opinion so quickly.  When something sounds outrageous, it might be best to let some time pass before reacting to it.  Nothing requires us to blog today on something that happened this morning, or yesterday, especially if someone's good name is at stake.

Fr. John Hardon, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, defined sins against prudence by defect and excess.  What he says about imprudence by defect applies to situations like this.

Sins against prudence that are either by defect or by excess. Sins by defect against prudence are: rashness, which acts before due consideration has been given; thoughtlessness, which neglects to take the necessary circumstances into account; and negligence, which does not give the mind sufficient time for mature deliberation.

Here is something Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily on Palm Sunday 2010 for Youth Day XXV:

Jesus walks before us and towards the heights. He leads us to what is great, pure. He leads us to that healthy air of the heights: to life in accordance with the truth; to courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions; to patience that bears with and sustains the other.

Don't follow others over the proverbial cliff. 

Further reading:

*Picture at top: Pope Benedict XVI putting the red biretta on Cardinal Woelki on the consistory in February 2012. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

NOTE: I've gotten some notes from people trying to comment.  Comments have been closed on this blog for several months.   Blogger does not seems to allow me to prevent you from typing out a comment then seeing it go nowhere.  If I hide comments, it hides all comments on every post.  It also does not allow me to put a time limit on how long people can post comments so I was moderating comments to posts that were years old.  On some posts, moderation can be time consuming and this was interfering with other things I needed to do.  Blogger is a free tool which does have limitations.  My apologies for any inconvenience. 

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