Image: The late Joaquín Navarro-Valls, Director of the Holy See Press Office from 1984 to 2006.
Editor’s Note: In the following text, first published this morning at MarcoTosatti.com, veteran Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti reflects upon his own experience with the nature and credibility of Vatican denials at a time when they have become so prolific.
Food for thought as accusations of “fake news” are so casually tossed around. Our thanks to Marco Tosatti for graciously allowing us to share this, and for assisting with the translation.
How many beautiful denials this July brings us! We had the yellow hearing (the audience, surrounded by mystery) in which Cardinal Müller was dismissed; a reconstruction probably defective in some details, but solid in substance, made by OnePeterFive, based on several German sources who met the Great Sacked [Müller] himself straight after the dismissal, during a trip to his homeland, which first found a blunt denial from the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke. And then another denial, maybe a little more twisted, from Cardinal Müller himself. And in Germany, just to be sure they do not come out with news of the two days of the Cardinal at home, lawyers were put in play, with warnings and threats and penalties. How much effort and work for just some details! A nice cover on the story, reinforced by a hundred thousand euro of bolts. [One German Catholic has been threatened with a 100,000 Euro fine if he discloses, as he said he would, more information and sources about Cardinal Müller’s alleged conversations about his final meeting with the pope during his time in Mainz – Ed.]
Then there was the message of Benedict XVI for the funeral of card. Meisner. For those who do not remember, we quote: “What particularly impressed me from my last conversations with the now passed Cardinal was the relaxed cheerfulness, the inner joy and the confidence at which he had arrived. We know that this passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even if [sometimes] the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
I think almost everyone has read in these words a reference to the present. Myself included. On the contrary, we were all wrong. Benedict words were, as sources closely linked to the Third Loggia, and the penthouse in Santa Marta explain to us, a formal, normal reminder. A bit like — don’t laugh too much — Homeric places. Athena is always the “bright blue-eyed” for the blind Bard, and the Church is always at the mercy of the waves for the Pope Emeritus. How dare you imagine that he wanted to make a reference to the reigning Pontiff and to the actual situation of the Church. Benedict writes for history, not for the daily newspapers.
Of course this was followed by a denial. The heroic, faithful Msgr. Georg Gãnswein, said to the daily Il Giornale: “the pope emeritus was deliberately manipulated; with that sentence he was not referring to anything specific, but spoke of the situation of the Church today as in the past as a boat that does not sail in calm waters. Francis also says this. I understand that this may give rise to allusions or false impressions, but behind those words there is no attack.”
Far be it from me not to believe those denials. The above-mentioned persons are all men of honor, as (Marc) Antony spoke of the conspirators, in his speech over Caesar’s corpse. But I want to tell you why I retain some doubt, even offering all my trust and faith to the denials.
I remember how in September 1988, John Paul II was making a tour in Zimbabwe, Botwsana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. The latter was torn by civil war between Frelimo — the government — and the rebels of Renamo. We were based in Harare; the pope went too Bulawayo on a one day visit, and the majority of journalists, led by Vick Van Brantegen, followed him. There were many hours of travel by bus, in Shaka Zulu plains.
Some colleagues stayed in Harare. And the spokesman, [Joaquìn] Navarro-Valls, conversing with two excellent and experienced colleagues — Alceste Santini, from Unità and Federico Mandillo from ANSA — leaked big news. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who at the time served as unofficial ambassador of the Pope, was visiting the rebel leaders of Renamo. On the eve of John Paul II being in Maputo, such a visit constituted a diplomatic snub — and recognition for the rebels — of an incredibly strong nature. The colleagues wrote the news. There was an instant denial from the Holy See. I still remember that Federico Mandillo was playing his recorder, on which he had recorded the spokeman’s [Navaro-Valls] words the day before, saying: “But do you not hear? Listen, Gioacchino! It is your voice.” And poor Joaquìn denied and denied. He never said it, and Etchegaray had never gone to meet with Renamo.
Since then, I welcome with deep respect the denials. But I also wonder if the persons concerned could ever do anything but deny…