I am absolutely fed up.
I am fed up with being lied to, fed up with surreptitious manipulations, fed up up with casuistic non-denials posed as denials from
the Iraqi Information Minister Fr. Lombardi, fed up with all of it. I am equally fed up with being told that I have to interpret things that are clearly un-Catholic (or even anti-Catholic) in a “charitable light” because they are said by this reckless pope.
Yesterday, I reported to you the inexcusable comments on marriage made by Pope Francis – who said that he believes that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” As one might predict, the firestorm that has followed these comments is significant.
At some point since yesterday, the transcript of those remarks quietly changed. The Catholic Herald‘s Luke Coppen tweeted the following this morning:
— Luke Coppen (@LukeCoppen) June 17, 2016
A small fracas broke out Friday over the Vatican’s “editing” of remarks made by Pope Francis on Thursday during a convention of the Diocese of Rome – an event which was broadcast on Vatican TV, and which can easily be found on Youtube.
At one stage, the pontiff was asked a question about how to prepare young people for marriage today when they have a “fear of the definitive,” meaning an aversion to lifetime commitments of any sort.
Among other things, Francis unmistakably says that due to a contemporary “culture of the provisional,” a “great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because [couples] say, ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they don’t know what they’re saying.”
In the official Vatican transcript released Friday morning, that remark is changed to “a part of our sacramental marriages are null.”
Predictably, the retouching has elicited howls of outrage, with some charging the Vatican with attempting to rewrite history and others suggesting Vatican officials, or Francis himself, were cowed into making the change by blowback to the remark that unfolded on the Internet.
[A] Vatican spokesman said Friday it’s normal practice for the pope or his aides to review transcripts of his impromptu remarks, and to make small changes before releasing an official version.
In the past, the problem with this sort of thing was that it wasn’t always clear it was really the pope making the changes. Famously, an anonymous editor at l’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, admitted in a 1962 interview with Time to taking the edge off the words of Pope John XXIII’s speeches about the Second Vatican Council whenever the pontiff said something the editor worried might stir controversy.
Under Francis, however, there’s little question of anyone “censoring” the pope, and it’s equally clear that changes to his transcripts wouldn’t be made if they didn’t basically reflect his will. This is, after all, a highly “hands-on” pope.
In other words, there’s nothing objectionable about a pope correcting what he said, as long as we’re sure it’s actually the pope, or someone who truly knows his mind, making the corrections.
Here’s what the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said on Friday.
“When it’s a matter of topics of a certain importance, the revised text is always submitted to the pope himself. This is what happened in this case, thus the published text was expressly approved by the pope.”
Just how stupid do they think we are? If he misspoke, he needs to issue a public clarification, not a quietly falsified transcript that doesn’t even match up with the video.
In fact, I’ve caught this kind of transcript tinkering before, if not on the part of the Vatican itself, then with those agencies most invested in carrying its message. In a plane interview on his return from Greece this past April, Pope Francis responded to the Wall Street Journal’s Francis X. Rocca’s question about whether there are new concrete realities for the divorced and remarried, post-AL. In his response he said, “I can say yes. Period.” At the time we first reported this, there was no English translation of his Italian comments, so we provided our own.
But the Catholic News Agency, America Magazine, and others (including Vatican Radio, if I recall correctly) ran a different translation, one in which the pope said, “I can say yes, many. But it would be an answer that is too small.”
So I went back to my translator and asked for a complete English transcript, which I then sat for hours and painstakingly used to subtitle the video of the presser. I then had that work double-checked, and then I published the video. A video which simply cannot be refuted, because it’s absolutely clear.
Within a few days, the CNA link we provided showing the discrepancy in the translation was instead using a version that matched our own. You will note that no correction was issued, and the transcript was not notated in any way to show that a change had been made.
The bad translation — which mitigated the severity of his comments — just went down the memory hole.
This is Orwellian, it is deceptive, and it is unbecoming of the Vicar of Christ – or his surrogates.
I’ve explained the Vatican communications strategy in the past. I’ve explained how Francis uses foils like Eugenio Scalfari to float his stalking horses in the public eye with plausible deniability. But even those examples are less overt than this.
Holy Father, when you make a public mistake, please be enough of a man to apologize for it and correct it in public, like the rest of us have to do. This sneaky, dishonest manipulation is why nobody trusts the Vatican to tell the truth. And considering Who the Vatican represents, that’s simply unacceptable. For my part, I choose not to believe he approved this change until I hear him say so.
I’d like to make one final point here, on the honesty front, before I step down off my soap-box: I saw a theologian today say we shouldn’t “freak out” about what Francis is saying on marriage. I’m really not interested in being told anymore that the problem is my interpretation of what he’s saying. It’s not me, it’s him. My response to the theologian in question was as follows:
It seems we’re past clarification at this point and into correction. If a man calls green grass gray, as Chesterton would put it, there’s no honest way to try to fit a “charitable interpretation” around it until we’ve convinced ourselves that he really meant green.
Our first duty as Catholics is to the holy and inviolate teachings of Our Lord and His Church. That applies even more strongly to the Vicar of Christ, who is not the originator of what we believe, but the guarantor.
Theologians breathe rarified air that the average pewsitter does not. The layman is not surrounded by colleagues with whom he can discuss such matters at length, seeking precision and nuance. He does not have a deep grounding in what the Church teaches, and is in fact at the mercy of his catechesis, such as it is. He knows mostly what he hears from the pulpit and the news, and that may as well be gospel to him.
The idea that people shouldn’t “freak out” revolves around the axis of “stay cool, the teaching hasn’t changed.” But nobody is freaking out (if they are at all) about that. They’re upset because people they know who are struggling are going to take this and run with it, straight to the wrong conclusions. Because once again, this pope leads the faithful toward perdition rather than away from it.
And if good men who know the faith in theology departments around the world don’t start speaking up to correct this, who will? People don’t need reassurances that there’s nothing to see here; they already know that’s not true. They need reassurances on what they’re supposed to believe, and how they are to live the faith correctly in accordance with God’s will.
Fortunately, the number of theologians and philosophers who are speaking out is growing, and most of their fire is directed at the post-synodal apostolic exhortation. In fact, I think I’m going to compile a list. You’ll have to give me a little time, because it’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’ve got things going on that don’t involve being hunched over my keyboard for hours at a time, but I’ll get to it. I think it’d be handy to have a single place to find links to all the best critiques that have been made so far of Amoris Laetitia.
If you have any favorites along those lines, please feel free to leave them in the comments along with your regularly-scheduled exasperation.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.