Growing up as an American Catholic in the 1980s made Rome feel infinitely far away. John Paul II was not just a pope, but a media celebrity, more akin to a rock star or a president than some approachable religious figure. And perhaps that’s how it always was. Before popes were pop stars, they were royalty, carried about in the finery of their office, seated atop a sedia gestatoria. They, and the retinue that surrounded them, were untouchable, mysterious, and hidden away from the common man.
It’s always an odd experience, therefore, to realize what a small world it has become. From Pope Benedict’s alleged response to a story written in these pages to Cardinal Pell’s response to synod walkout petition that originated with myself and some of my colleagues, it never ceases to be a little bit surreal to have things we do an ocean away be acknowledged by the powers in Rome.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when, earlier this week, I found it happening again. On Tuesday morning, a friend tagged me into a post on what appeared to be the official Facebook page of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, secretary to Pope emeritus Benedict the XVI and Prefect of the Papal Household to Pope Francis. My friend made note of the fact that a link had been posted on Gänswein’s page that would take readers to an article on the website of Novus Ordo Watch (NOW), a sedevacantist publication, discussing the purported heresy of Father Arturo Sosa, the recently elected Superior General of the Jesuits who said that the devil is not real but rather a symbol invented by man.
Being my usual (extremely mature) self, I responded simply with a piece of Internet slang: “lolwhut”. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is exactly what it looks like — a portmanteau of the abbreviation for “laugh out loud” and an intentionally misspelled version of “what” — an expression of dumbfounded laughter, surprise, and confusion. It is, in other words, a silly term. To be fair, it was very unexpected to see Gänswein posting a link to NOW, and it was first thing in the morning when I replied, incredulous, not thinking much of it. I took a screenshot of the post, decided to leave my exchange at the bottom (out of some combination of laziness and amusement), and posted it on my Facebook page as well as emailing it to one of my colleagues.
Then, I more or less forgot about it.
Well, one thing led to another, and before I knew it Catholic News Agency (CNA) reporter Paul Badde was interviewing Archbishop Gänswein about this very topic. And lo and behold, linked in the CNA news story was the screenshot I took of that very conversation, including my ridiculous comment of “lolwhut”:
The whole thing was mostly just funny. For his part, Gänswein handled the questions lightly, and with good humor.
Unfortunately, he also missed a golden opportunity to deal with the question at hand. See if you can find the omission in the following brief interview text (translated by Google from German with some gentle corrections by me):
CNA: Archbishop, on your Facebook page you shared an article in which Father Arturo Marcelino Sosa Abascal, S.J., the General Superior of the alleged “apostate” Jesuits, is accused of “heresy” because he denies the existence of the devil.
Georg Gänswein: I do not run a Facebook page and a Twitter account and write nothing there.
CNA: And still have 30,000 “followers” on Facebook?
GG (laughs): Only 30,000?
CNA: You’re laughing. But what do you say about your original Bishop’s coat of arms on this page and your correct title in Spanish?
GG: What can I do but laugh? This is a fake coat of arms on a fake page.
CNA: Who or what is behind it?
GG: How should I know? A fake person maybe? These are – really – fake-news. I only know this: this is the handiwork of someone who wants to split and confuse. In any case, this has nothing to do with me.
CNA: And how do you intend to proceed against this?
GG (laughs again): With laughter! At least until I have 3 million followers. Until then only with laughter – and with the wisdom of the old Viennese: “We dont’ even care to ignore this.”
It’s perfectly fine for Gänswein to laugh this off. It’s not his page, not his circus, not his monkeys.
But this entire story revolved, on a deeper level, around the question of Father Sosa and his denial of the existence of the devil. I really wish the Archbishop would have at least made a comment about this bizarre deviation from the doctrine of the Catholic faith on the part of the so-called Black Pope. At the very least, he could’ve said something along the lines of, “I have a hard time believing that the head of the Jesuits would say such a thing, and I prefer not to believe it until I hear his clarification.” (Sosa’s spokesman, incidentally, has clarified, and it’s an equivocating mess.) It would have been helpful to have something to help correct this error from a man like Gänswein, who is in such an important position and acts as the bridge between two living popes.
This post has been updated.