Amidst the raging debate over what was at best a syncretistic (and at worst an overtly pagan) opening ceremony for the Amazon Synod, an early push for ending clerical celibacy from Cardinal Hummes, cringe-inducing virtue-signaling from members of the Catholic media, and the jaw-dropping brazenness of a key synod organizer — Bishop Erwin Kräutler — openly supporting women’s ordination, a bomb has been dropped that has overtaken even the wildly controversial opening days of the synod itself.
According to papal friend and repeat interviewer Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, Pope Francis told the Italian atheist that he believes that “Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, though a man of exceptional virtues, was not a God at all.” (“Sono la prova provata che Gesù di Nazareth una volta diventato uomo, sia pure un uomo di eccezionali virtù, non era affatto un Dio.”)
The editorial itself, published on October 8, can viewed in Italian at La Repubblica. It is currently behind a paywall. Our translation of the section in question is provided by Giuseppe Pellegrino:
Pope Francis has never spoken of the Ego as the determining element of man. Whoever has had, as I have several times, the fortune of meeting him and speaking to him with the maximum cultural trust, knows that Pope Francis conceives of the Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, man, not God incarnate. Once he has become incarnate, Jesus ceases to be a God and becomes a man up until his death on the cross. The proof that confirms this reality and that creates a Church that is completely different from others is proven by several episodes that are worth recalling.
The first is what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went after the Last Supper. The apostles, who were just a few meters away from him, heard him pray to God with words that were in time reported by Simon Peter: “Lord,” said Jesus, “if you can take this bitter chalice away from me, I pray that you do it, but if you cannot or you do not want to I will drink it to the last drop.” He was arrested as soon as he left the garden by the guards of Pilate.
Another episode that is also well-known took place when Jesus was already crucified and there one more time he repeated and was heard by the apostles and the women who were kneeling at the foot of the cross: “Lord, you have abandoned me.” When I had the opportunity to discuss these phrases with Pope Francis, he said to me: “They are the proven proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became man, was simply a man of exceptional virtue, he was not quite [affatto] a God.”
Those familiar with the controversy over the pope’s various interviews with Scalfari, none of which have ever been corrected — and some of which have been published in official Vatican outlets — will recognize a well trod pattern here.
First, the pope says something outrageous to this uniquely unreliable source. Scalfari is known for his atheism, for his age (he’s 95), and for his penchant for reconstructing interviews from memory rather than from recordings or notes.
This lays down a basis of deniability, while nevertheless ensuring that these boundary-pushing ideas spread rapidly around the globe.
When Scalfari goes to print with these outrageous statements, a predictable period of controversy ensues. After a sufficient amount of time for the news to spread and spark debate, the Vatican steps in with an artfully constructed non-denial. Something like, “What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the textual words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”
Note how many words in this prior Scalfari “denial” are deployed, all to avoid saying, “The Holy Father flatly denies he ever said this, and actually believes [INSERT ORTHODOX PROPOSITION HERE].” Instead, we are treated to a circumlocutory semantic dodge that amounts to saying that what was reported wasn’t a verbatim transcript of the pope’s words, which was obvious in the first place.
As I’ve documented multiple times before — perhaps in greatest detail regarding the several times Francis has allegedly told Scalfari that he does not believe in the existence of Hell — this is a shell game with the truth, and the Vatican knows it. Back in the days when Fr. Lombardi was the papal spokesman, questioned on one of the earliest Scalfari interviews, he made the matter clearer than it has been at any time since:
Pressed by reporters on the reliability of the direct quotations, Lombardi said during an Oct. 2 briefing that the text accurately captured the “sense” of what the pope had said, and that if Francis felt his thought had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.
If Francis thought he had been gravely misrepresented, he would have said so.
So when he doesn’t say so, he mustn’t believe he was gravely misrepresented.
With that in mind, we return to the matter at hand.
There are only two options: either Francis denied the divinity of Our Lord in his conversations with Scalfari — which would amount to heresy and apostasy — or he was “gravely misrepresented.”
If he was misrepresented, he has a clear moral duty to correct the record. Scalfari is not just some random blogger making a claim. He has interviewed the pope on more than half a dozen occasions. The two see each other as friends. He has access. He has published the pope’s remarks on a number of occasions, and the pope has never — not even once — said his old friend had mistaken something he’s said.
In other words, Scalfari, despite his inherent credibility problem, is actually more credible than he might otherwise be considered to be when he reports on the words of the pope. His credibility is bolstered by the pope’s evident trust in him, by their repeated interactions, and by the fact that he has never suffered a rebuke or correction from Francis. Francis vouches for his accuracy by never calling it into question, and by going back to him again and again, even after prior controversies were never resolved.
So to repeat: Either Francis said it — with all that it entails — or he did not. There are no other options.
If he said it, that fact must be dealt with. How, I do not know.
If he did not say it, he must correct the record. The scandal of leaving this grave error, proclaimed in his name, is not something he can ignore without gravely harming the faithful. If he “won’t say a single word,” there is no reasonable conclusion to reach except that it is true.
The diabolical genius of this entire episode is that as before, the pope likely will just ignore this. He’ll have effectively planted the seed of Arianism anew, will be guilty of grave scandal, but won’t be able to be pinned down on the obvious heresy and apostasy such a statement represents.
Experience indicates that the papal apologists will almost certainly offer the predictable rebuttal that Scalfari is an unreliable source and that nothing he says can be trusted. They will ignore the import of the sheer number of interviews Francis has granted him, their personal closeness, and all previous non-corrections. They will treat anyone taking this seriously as a hopeless rube.
This means that despite just how massively bad this is, it will be glossed over as though it’s silly and not worth troubling about. And those who see it for what it is will be left stammering, wasting their time arguing with people who call themselves Catholic but don’t give a damn about the Catholic faith, as the debacle in Rome blazes on.
Make no mistake: this is a calculated attack, timed to decimate the morale of those resisting the agenda of this diabolical synod while leaving the pope free to continue swinging his atomic sledgehammer at the structures of the Faith.
It will leave even more people asking, “Can he really be the pope?” or “How can he be deposed?” or “What can be done about this now?” at a moment where all evidence points to the fact that we have no recourse. There are no cardinals who will take steps, whatever those steps might be. They don’t even know how. There will be no “imperfect council.”
I’ve been on record, a lot, saying that what we know about infallibility and universally accepted papal elections means Francis must be the pope. But even if you fully disagree with me — and no, I can’t blame you for wondering at this point — it doesn’t matter at all, practically speaking. He’s still in the office; all the bishops and cardinals of the Church pay him the respect of being the boss; he still has the power over official Church structures and instruments; he’s still running the synod; and none of us was going to follow him into error anyway, pope or not.
Nevertheless, I expect we will argue even more intensely amongst ourselves about what it all means, and what the Church teaches, and how infallibility works as regards the papacy, and conclaves, and whether Benedict is still the pope, and whether there has been any pope since Pius XII, and on and on and on. Chaos will reign among those few of us who actually care about what is going on, dividing us further, weakening our response, tempting some us to give up on all of it.
We’ve already been building to this. This just makes it that much worse. Every straw that is added brings the camel’s back that much closer to snapping. And this isn’t just a straw; it is a bale.
We get to decide how we react. Arguing over moot points is a waste of time, so I hope we can rise above it.
Because whatever we believe about the status of the papacy and what this all means, we are stuck with this man, and he can do whatever he wants, and he wants us to know it, wants to grind it into us like a boot to the neck, and he wants us to feel utterly powerless to stop it.
And you know what? He’s right. We are.
But God isn’t powerless, and the only thing left for us to do is to turn to Him and beg him to save His children and His Church.
If prayer and penance are the only weapons left, we’d better wield them as if everything depends on it. I promise you it will get worse before it gets better. False optimism at this moment will only lead to despair. Expecting the Second Coming to be right around the corner is not a basket in which to place our eggs. We have to deal with what is in front of us. There’s still almost three weeks left of the synod and all the damage it will do. There are who knows how many years left of this papacy, and the deck is stacked for the next conclave to elect Francis II.
Hold fast. As though you’re about to be swept overboard in the storm. Hold on for your life. The rosary. The Eucharist. Confession. Adoration. Whatever it takes. Spend more time with your family, and less of it watching the horror show. Yes, I’m advocating that if it’s a problem for you, don’t spend your time here at 1P5. Knowing everything you can about the disaster is not worth your soul. I’ve already come to recognize that it isn’t worth mine.
I suspect that God, too, wants us to know how powerless we are, but for a very different reason from why Bergoglio does. He is subjecting us to utter desolation, such that we will finally come to understand and accept that no human solution is possible. We will very likely be branded as schismatics merely for holding on to the authentic teachings of our faith. This has already begun, and it will intensify. A time may come when we can no longer have access to the sacraments, or the true Church is even driven underground, as it was in the early days in Rome and in various other circumstances since.
And when all seems lost, and God at last sets things aright, it will be to His glory, and we will praise Him, because truly, only He can deliver us from an enemy like this.
UPDATE: No sooner did I hit publish on this piece than I came across the Vatican’s non-denial of this latest piece. Please note, again, the exact semantic game I described above:
“As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears completely evident from what is written today regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ.” —Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See’s press office
There is no refutation of Scalfari’s assertion that the pope denied Christ’s divinity in his presence.
UPDATE 2: We have replaced the Google translated section of the Italian text with a human translation provided by Giuseppe Pellegrino.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director 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 seven children.