Re: What the Pope Did and Didn’t Say

by Nicholas Frankovich

In both tone and substance, Pope Francis in his recent remarks about homosexuality only echoed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as Kathryn patiently explains. His views on the subject are mild, but the topic is spicy, at least by the standards of journalists with deadlines that don’t permit them to study the Catechism in depth or to immerse themselves in Catholic culture generally before they file. They hear a word of benevolence toward gay people and imagine they hear something new: Catholic approval of sexual behavior that the Church has always taught is bad for the soul. To some extent their misunderstanding is probably willful. Like the Dalai Lama, the pope makes a distinction that those who disagree with him on this issue pretend to find incoherent. “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Yeats asked. The question, rhetorical and poetic, is wittier than the answer, which is only logical and dry (though true): through a process called thought.

Making the further distinction between a gay person and “a gay lobby,” Francis said that “the problem” is the “lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.” Masonic lobby? I wish the media were more curious about that part of his comment. We’ve all heard the rumors about palace intrigue at the Vatican. “The pope has many masters,” Francis recently confided to Jorge Milia, a journalist and former student of his.

Here evidently is the genesis of the sensational and inaccurate headlines, including the popular “‘Who am I to judge?’ pope says of gay priests.” (In all accounts that I’ve read, Francis was speaking broadly — the word “priests” is being supplied by headline writers.) Toward the end of an 80-minute interview with reporters on the plane back from Brazil, the pope was asked about Monsignor Battista Ricca, whom he has selected to reform the Vatican bank. The Vatican’s announcement, in mid June, that Ricca was the new prelate of the Institute for Works of Religion, as the bank is officially known, was soon followed by the publication of rumors that he frequented gay bars, had a male live-in companion, and so on while serving in the nuncio’s office in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1999–2001. Vatican press secretary Father Federico Lombardi was swift to dismiss the story as “not credible.” According to John Allen, those who have met with Francis since Sandro Magister detailed the rumors in L’Espresso earlier this month say the pope has no intention of revoking Ricca’s appointment. Allen suggests that curial forces opposed to reform might have been working to smear Ricca and that, in turn, Francis is signaling to them that his resolve to clean house remains firm. 

Notes and quotes from various sources reporting on the pope’s interview are scattered. One-liners that have been attributed to him are hard to place in context until we have a full transcript. The Vatican press office has promised to produce one soon.

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