An Italian newspaper founder, who caused a sensation after publishing a controversial interview Oct. 1 with Pope Francis, has made the remarkable admission that he neither recorded nor took notes of the exchange, it has emerged.
Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist founder of the Italian daily La Repubblica, said he did show the text to the Holy Father for approval, but the Vatican says it isn’t clear how closely the Pope read it.
In a statement, the Vatican stressed that the text was an “after-the-fact reconstruction” and so “run[s] the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview.”
The Vatican has nevertheless attested to its overall "trustworthiness" of the interview which covered a wide variety of topics on the faith, the Church and society. Most controversially, the Pope said in the interview that proselytism is “solemn nonsense” and that he had no intention of wishing to convert Scalfari.
The carefree reporting came to light after Le Figaro’s Rome correspondent, Jean-Marie Guénois, contacted 89-year-old Scalfari to ask how the interview was conducted. He felt prompted to enquire after passages of the text failed to withstand scrutiny.
The disclosure has surprised some in the Vatican. “I find it totally crazy that you go to an interview with the Pope and you don't record it,” one senior official told Newsmax. “Anybody intelligent would take two tape recorders, but this is the Italian way.”
One particular error concerns Scalfari’s account of a supposed mystical experience that Francis had. He implies that Cardinal Bergoglio, overwhelmed by the election, left the Sistine Chapel and entered a room in order to reflect on what had happened before accepting the papacy.
But the Vatican said cardinals who witnessed the events “have categorically stated” that the Pope did not do so, but went into a room to be vested. “There was never any indication of hesitation, a need for serious reflection on the election that had taken place, or rethinking what had befallen him,” the Vatican said.
The obvious question arises as to why the Pope was not better advised, even if to check that the interview was being properly recorded. Both this interview, and a longer one with a Jesuit publication published the week before, have raised many questions and concerns over the confusion they have caused, even if much of their content has been welcomed.
The interviews are part of the Pope’s efforts to engage those outside the Church or who have lapsed.
But the picture emerging is of a Pope who does whatever he wants with little or no consultation with his closest aides. “The irony is that the Pope is very much into consultation, and consulting across the globe,” said one Vatican source, referring to the international advisory council of cardinals on curial reform that met earlier this week. “But he’s clearly not consulting too much here.”
Officials say the Pope is also totally unpredictable, preferring to do things arbitrarily and on his own. His attitude to interviews is especially surprising as he has traditionally shunned them. “Journalistic interviews are not my strength,” he once told his biographers, and repeated his dislike for them when en route to Rio in July.
Bergoglio only gave a handful while Archbishop of Buenos Aires but has already given two major ones as Pope, plus a lengthy press conference on the plane back from Rio.
It’s not clear if the Pope has definite plans for more interviews, although he has told La Repubblica that he wants to do one on the subject of women.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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