The Scalfari Interview Gaffe

Does anybody remember the brouhaha when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of wacky SSPX Bishop Williamson who turned out to be a right wing anti Semitic holocaust denier? The fact of the matter is the Pope messed up and the Vatican press people messed up. I reckon we will look back on Pope Francis’ interview with Scalfari as a similar public relations, communications disaster.

We’re now learning here that Scalfari did not record the interview or take notes. The interview was therefore not Pope Francis’ words, but Scalfari’s “reconstruction” of the interview. Insiders have already challenged factual details of the account, and even though Pope Francis is said to have approved the interview they are “unsure” how careful he was in reading it. Carl Olson has a frank and intelligent analysis of the whole debacle here.

  • David J. White

    I’m sorry, how exactly did Pope Benedict “mess up” in lifting Bishop Williamson’s excommunication? He was excommunicated for participating in an episcopal ordination without papal permission. Pope Benedict extended an olive branch to the SSPX by lifting the excommunications connection with the consecrations of the SSPX bishops. Is being a Holocaust denier and having other wacky opinions now to be regarded as an offense warranting excommunication? Is there now to be a political litmus test for membership in the Church? So it looks bad to the secular media. Well, so what?

    • jeff

      If Williamson’s excom-lifting had been accompanied by a strongly worded statement condemning his views and sternly stating that he would never be allowed to serve as a bishop should he ever seek to be readmitted to regular communion then it wouldn’t have been a gaffe.

      • Paul NY

        But remember that Benedict was unaware of the holocaust deniers wackiness until after the fact. Subsequently he wrote a long letter to the world’s bishops apologizing for the mistake and clarifying the reason for the lifting of the excommunication. He took total responsibility for it even though it was really the fault of the curia.
        It would be helpful if Pope Francis clarified the Church’s teachings in light of his recent confusing interviews.

        • Gerard

          That’s pretty hypocritical since the Pope himself didn’t make hay about any other historical matters or chastise people for differing opinions about Pius XII, The Crusades, The Trial of Galileo, the Inquisitions,the historicity of Jesus’ Divinity or the Creation of the World for that matter.
          It was all about political correctness.

      • Mark Nel

        Why? To placate the secular media and judgmental Catholics? His views on the holocaust do not warrant him being excommunicated and so they are equally not a factor when deciding to lift it. Period. Pope Benedict XVI did not mess up!

        • wineinthewater


          To make it clear to the faithful that the Church considers such demonstrations of lack of judgement to be incompatible with the episcopacy.

          The faithful already have a well-earned distrust of the competency and fitness of our bishops. Lifting the excommunication on Williamson without addressing the issue of his competency for the episcopacy in light of his views does little to reassure the faithful.

  • Nathan

    Bishop Williamson denies the holocaust? Source?

  • Columba William

    You are entirely correct in naming this as a gaffe on the lines of the Williamson affair, though I would go further and say it is much worse.

    The one difficulty here is that the pope apparently had an opportunity to review the text (and if he didn’t have the opportunity, he should have insisted on it) and it has been published by L’Osservatore Romano on the Vatican website.
    So, if there are things in the interview that the pope neither said nor approve of, why is it listed under his speeches on the website?

    • Illinidiva

      Why exactly is it much worse? It is sort of obvious that Francis meant everything he said in the interview. He has said that numerous times.

      The detail in question concerns the details surrounding Francis’ election. There appears to be a slight confusion over the details. However, even with that, it seems that Francis did have some sort of direct experience with God right after his election.

    • Chesire11

      It appears to me that the problem is primarily with the English translation of the original. Since His Holiness would not have reviewed the error riddled translation, but the Italian original, it is unlikely that any of the objectionable material in the text he approved.

  • Hernán J. González

    “Scalfari did not record the interview or take notes. The interview was therefore not Pope Francis’ words, but Scalfari’s “reconstruction” of the interview.”

    Exactly what atheists say… about the gospels ;-)

    Seriously, it’s painful to see such obsession (fear, I fear) about this. The words “gaffe” and “debacle” only reflect your desire that the pope should not have said what the pope (according to the interview) said.

    • Illinidiva

      Correct. Francis has said everything in that interview many times before. Anyone who has read his book would recognize the information about prostelyzation as being his long held belief. And this notion that Francis is confusing is getting tiresome. It is just that he is on the liberal end of the College of Cardinals and disagrees with conservative Catholics.

      • luisantonio

        What is ‘prostelyzation’, please?

    • Chesire11

      …of course, the Gospels were compiled by four authors, and accorded with multiple eyewitness accounts. The text of the Scalfari interview, on the other hand, was reconstructed from the memory of a single octogenarian witness.

    • Augustine

      The Gospels have one ultimate author: the Holy Spirit.

    • Mara319

      Scalfari’s version of the interview was presented to the Pope. The Pope approved it before publication.

  • Gerard

    If a person wants to know about Catholicism in its entirety and how to live a truly Catholic life, they would do better listening to Bishop Williamson than Pope Francis. “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake…”

    • Augustine

      Operating word: “untruly”. Williamson truly is an anti-semite, whereas the Pope untruly is a modernist.

      • Gerard

        Truly, you speak untruly. It amazes me how many people will lie without any fear of accounting to God for their false accusations against Bishop Williamson. I doubt you will give an actual and reasonable definition for “anti-semite” and have on hand quotes of Bishop Williamson that actually fit the definition. Pope Francis unfortunately is almost going by a checklist against Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

  • Rebecca Duncan

    “Vatican II, inspired by Pope John and Paul VI,
    decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to open [the
    church] to modern culture. The Council fathers knew that opening to
    modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non
    believers. After then very little was done in that direction. I have the
    humility and ambition to want to do it.” I wish I had the humility to say I have humility! plus ambition! ugh!

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    The Scalfari Affair has simply shown how ridiculous the Catholic Blogshere has become. The Eye of the Tiber is becoming more credible.

    A year ago, most blogs had excellent informative articles on sacraments, prayer, dealing with Protestantism, etc.. Now it’s just become a source of misinformation, scandal, hearsay, and tabloid drivel. I’ve got better things to do…

  • Augustine

    The sad part is that thousands of otherwise good Catholics have been trained by the likes of Voris, Wanderer, Oxford Review, etc, to be arbiters of whom constitutes a good bishop from their vantage point sitting on armchairs. While no bishop is perfect, the presumption of responsibility to correct bishops seems to be reaching a new stage when even the Bishop of Rome is seen as merely a human institution that ought to reflect the malcontents as a mirror in order to be worthy of their approval. Some popes seemingly reflected their image back to them, others, not so much. They never really bother to get to know the popes better, to read their pronouncements, just headlines, be them in the NYT or in the Rorate Caeli blog. It doesn’t matter, the arrogant posturing as if they had any authority to chastise bishops and the pope is devilish.

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      Sounds awfully like High Church Anglicanism…

  • windjammer

    “I am a really, really undisciplined person.”

    That sentence sums up the whole issue at hand with Pope Francis. Unfortunately, Pope Francis seems to reinforce this self description more often than
    unreasonably necessary. Question? What would a good spiritual director
    advise any of us to do if we were so personally undisciplined to the
    point where it diminished our effectiveness as adults in fulfilling our
    duties and responsibilities?

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    What’s most galling about all this is that the blogsphere is being, well, so Protestant about it. For, it seems that it’s the ex-Protestants, in particular, who are ‘reverting to type’, and it seems to be the more traddie the ex-Protestant, the more uppity they’re getting.

    This ‘cult of personality’ mindset of ‘the Papacy’ is exactly what I see time and time again with my Protestant friends when a new pastor arrives. But that is what Protestant Ecclesiology is all about. Groupthink, or Homophily, to give it its technical name, because they have no Apostolic Tradition, no Deposit of Faith, and so they’re desperate to protect, or cling onto, their own opinions and have them reinforced.

    This is exactly how I see Pope Francis being treated. It is congregationalism, not Catholicism. Congregationalism has no Divine Mandate, no guarantee of Divine Protection, so it needs to enforce its views on others and protect itself. That’s why Protestants see the Pope as like a ‘Super-Pastor’, a ‘dictator’. in other words, simply one of their own, writ-large.

    It was easier to get the Israelites out of Egypt than Egypt out of the Israelites, as they say…

  • Ma Tucker

    No I don’t remember you version of reality Father. What I do remember was the secular media judging the Pope Benedict’s actions as a gaff. It doesn’t take a great deal of intelligence to work out what lifting excommunication is about and the criteria for it. The secular media obviously do not judge Pope Francis’s statements as gaffs but warmly welcome them so obviously we Catholics know there is a problem. It is not a public relations disaster at all as you falsely claim. The public are widely acclaiming his words. Even Obama commends them. How do you manage to twist reality in so obviously a false way, or am I missing something?

  • Paul Morphy

    Bishop Williamson reiterates the traditional teaching of the church in spiritual matters.
    I wish there were more clergy with the same courage and insight and willingness to preach on spiritual matters.

    As for Bishop Williamson’s alleged views about World War II – those alleged views are completely extraneous to the issue at hand.