Lying about Francis to Spite Benedict – UPDATED

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“Dear Lord, how come nobody ever gets offended by Anglican and Orthodox trappings?”

Several days ago I read a Facebook post by a Deacon I respect (no, not Deacon Greg, although I of course, respect him!) and in his post this cleric rather disappointingly — and, to my thinking, unwisely — recounted a malicious little tale about our new pope, to the applause of others.

He told the story approvingly, and was glad when it was greeted with applause among his flock; he seemed to have no sense of the cognitive dissonance that resounded throughout the tale and, ironically, made Pope Francis — its dubious ‘hero’ — look small and mean.

The story, the supposed reaction to the story and the fact that someone was happy to put it on Facebook bothered me a great deal; being sick and in the midst of trying to cover, in my meager way, the on-going goings-on here in Rome, I decided to leave my suspicions unspoken and let the corrosive little tale die.

The stupid and the shriveled want it to live, though, and so it will, in the little whispery corners where spite and malice get clung to by gollums in need of a ‘precious.’

By now you’re dying to know the story, but I will not repeat it, because that would be a backward obedience to the father of lies. I will tell you that the tale purports to be about a cruel and utterly bitchy remark, made by Francis (as he was vesting as pope for the first time) and directed to an underling only doing his job; moreover the bitchiness was understood to be a swipe against Francis’ predecessor, Benedict.

I am just sick enough, though, to suspend any last vestiges of tact and grace that still reside within me and call this vicious little rumor out as the Pure-D Bullshit I believe it to be.

The people still repeating this story need to ask themselves if anything we have seen of Pope Francis, who is preaching and teaching us about the underused, under-lived concept of tenderness toward each other, would really — in the first moments of his papacy — side-swipe an underling and devalue his purpose for the thrill of making a spitefully caustic remark among the men who had just elected him to be the spiritual leader of the church.

Nothing we’ve read about Francis, past or present, suggests that he is bitchy, spiteful, small or wounded. Quite the opposite; Francis showcases qualities that are manly, straightforward, large-hearted and secure — much, much, too secure in himself and in his Lord to need to debase himself, or an assistant; much too humble to offer snark and smackdown toward the man whose own heroic act of self-abnegation gave the Holy Spirit room to move when the church’s back seemed against the ropes, and put it back into the center of the ring, quickly renewed.

No, the snippy little remark we have seen attributed to Francis and repeated in sad places (to, apparent applause in sad pews) seems like the fantasy of a soured spirit — the thoughts of a craven kind of person — perhaps a Cardinal whose own career is cornered and against the wall, imagining what he would have said and done had he been elected, and loving it so much, he just has to share it.

Perhaps the sort of man who spent the first few days after the papal election swanking around Rome, and social media, dropping remarks that made him sound like a 14 year-old fashion reporter settling scores with an editor who banished him from further attempts at his own designs. So small and venal he was even content to misrepresent the point of the traditional red shoes of a pope — meant to symbolize the blood of martyrs that has propelled the church forward, all these centuries — by defining them down as a meaningless affectation.

Yes, that’s small and bitchy. From a “prince” of the church.

I don’t much care whether the pope wears red shoes or black. I’m a girl who ones one pair of shoes, and they’re crocs, so I clearly think a man should wear what is comfortable, for him. Like Pope Francis, I am not impressed with lace, prefer a pithier liturgy and don’t care whether a pope wears black pants that peak through his white robes, or whether or not he appears with a mozzetta on his shoulders or a warm camauro on his chilly, grey or balding, head — the deposit of faith does not rest on papal trappings. I have no issue with the fancier vestments, which recall Christ’s Kingship or the simpler ones that recall his Humanity — it’s all valid; it’s all good and it all has its time and place. But I care deeply when people who should know better, in both mainstream and church venues, ignore what is meaningful within those trappings, in order to foment division, because for them division is always more interesting than unity.

I’m weary of the non-stop chatter we’ve seen about papal vestments, which have never been about the man, but about the Office;

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Every Peter is led where he does not want to go and faces the upending crucifixions, real or metaphorical, of a world disoriented. Whether he follows the Lord in symbolic red shoes that pinch and hurt his feet (and possibly contributed to a bad fall) or in comfortable black shoes meant to travel the meaner streets in search of sheep, the job is hard; the trappings are accepted or rejected as suits the work he is understaking and he deserves better from his “princes” and his clerics than the spreading of malicious fantasies that only serve to shrivel, not to enlarge, the heart of the church.

Pray for the inventor of this tale, whoever you may think he (or perhaps she) is. His (or her) soul is warped and in trouble. And perhaps those so eager to believe and to repeat the slander ought to put their motives through an examen in honor of our Jesuit pope, and ask themselves whether they served their best selves, or Christ, or the church, by so enjoying the symptoms of sickness.

Let me end on a better note by saying how impressed I am with all the Catholic writers on Patheos (and even some non-Catholics bringing such interesting perspective). It’s really cool to see so many people writing so thoughtfully, honestly and passionately and getting tuned in to the clean-up and renewal amid us and before us. I love these guys.

UPDATE I: Seems yes, it was a lie

UPDATE II: I am tired of talking trappings but others are not and this piece is pretty fair and balanced about it.

Looking at Passion Sunday in light of our Jewish roots.

Yes, I know that seems unrelated, but really, it’s all of a piece.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Sherry Weddell

    Elizabeth – I know the story to which you refer, which was first repeated by the BBC. It is, as you sensed, an urban legend. Here’s the background which I put out on FB several days ago.

    It turns out the source is . . . roll the drums . . . the ever rumor-mongering Italian media (from the comment box over at the Pray Tell blog)

    “The account in the BBC originates in an Italian news item from a day earlier, specifically a piece in Corriere della Sera referenced in the BBC link above. The original Italian piece acknowledges that the tale about the “carnival” quote is a rumour making the rounds that may have no basis in fact.

    [Thanks, Sherry. I have a strong suspicion that the Italian press had it handed to them from a particular "prince." It certainly originated from a soul in trouble. -admin]

  • Bill M.

    Wow. I didn’t know Maureen Dowd was a cardinal!

  • Yae

    I admire your style and this current article. Thank you very much. I will pray for your recovery and hope that before you depart for home, you will catch a glimpse of our wonderful Papa Francis in his black shoes and white robes. I am amused by it all and think he is just adorable. I speak fluent Spanish and love the accent with which he speaks his Italian. It has a sweet tone to it. a hidden song that makes me smile every time he talks. I can almost hear his “Argentino” accent. Music to my ears. I always loved the way Papa Benedict spoke too.
    I no longer visit two websites where such ugly and divisive criticism of our dear Papa Francis was allowed to be spread. After the election and happy announcement, I went to the one I frequented most and was shocked at all the negative response. The next few days were even more unkind. Anyway, I remember feeling sad about it and when I prayed, I started crying as I could not understand the vitriol. Now, as the dust is settling and after having watched the Installation Mass and having left those two sites, I am in better spirits and remain grateful to our Lord Jesus for the gift of Papa Francis. I miss Papa Benedict and always pray for him but I know he approves and supports our new Holy Father. He would be scandalized at the uncharitable remarks made by so many who call themselves Catholic.
    I know the rumor of which you speak as it was repeated, as if fact, on one of the blogs I used to frequent. An ugly smear that is sad to know exists.
    I will remain grateful and hopeful and look forward to walking with Papa Francis and all who support him. I do not want to miss the adventure and the joys one bit.
    I thank you again for such a beautiful way of expressing your support for our new Holy Father! May your reward be heaven! Let’s pray for one another and I look forward to more from you!

  • Fr John Corrigan

    What a great post Elizabeth. A few people have contacted me privately and asked what I thought about the story. I lacked your eloquence however, and only wish I’d replied, “Pure-D Bullshit!”

    In any event, I can now direct them to this post!

  • Carol Salle

    I’m glad the story is a hoax. I feel strongly that any clergy or religious that bad mouth the Church or the Pope should be disciplined. We had a priest in my home town who used the pulpit to criticize the new translation of the mass. When it was carried on-line I wrote him and email and told him that as a priest which is his job he has no right to criticize his boss (Church.) I said, if I did that with my employer and they found out, it would be grounds for dismissal. Too many priests and religious have led countless souls astray because of their personal opinions which should have stayed persona.

  • Fiestamom

    I am so angry at the people who are making me choose between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. I love Pope Benedict, and to be honest I never paid attention to the clothes he wore. I love his writings, and his gentle manner. His trip to America in 2008 really touched me. And so far, everything I see about Pope Francis I love, too! What is wrong with people that within 2 hours of his appearance, they were sniping about his clothing, and a Prince of Church was dissing Pope Benedict. Well, too bad, because my choice is that i continue to love and pray for them both.

  • Mike Andrews

    Hooray for what you have written.

  • Rachel

    I think I know what story you’re referring to and I thought the same thing when I heard it – “Sounds pretty unlikely.” Glad to have it confirmed from you and others in the comments :)

  • Hatchetwoman

    When I first heard this tale, I asked why we hadn’t heard other stories about the new Pope being rude. There seemed to be no pattern, I pointed out, of this sort of behavior from him AT ALL. Until there was either corroborating evidence, or at least knowledge that the Pope tends to be just plain rude and mean, I wasn’t going to believe it.

    I also put the kibosh on stories about the Mass to close the conclave. Supposedly the Pope and Mons. Marini had words. Well, I watched the video, and they indeed were speaking to each other during the processional, but it ended with a smile from Mons. Marini so I doubt they had the kind of “words” the person telling the tale was implying.

    I verify as much as I can, always. I’ve learned never to take anyone’s word. Sad but necessary.

  • Sharon

    It really makes no sense to me why people get caught up in this. It’s just too junior high. I feel that everyone can have a bad day/hour/moment, especially under pressure. Did or didn’t say it doesn’t bother me.

    The whole vestment thing is tiring as well. We’re worried about the clothes? Really? I’m listening to his words. Reading his homilies. I am very hopeful that this man will change the world and the Church for the better. I couldn’t care less what shoes he is wearing while he does it.


  • M. Palmieri

    Great post. Thank you.
    I knew it was a horrible hoax because it came from the Italian leftist paper “Il Corriere della Sera” :(

  • Romulus

    The earliest report of the story I’m aware of was by an Italian tabloid-style site called “Il Fatto Quotidiano”. For the record, the best-known trad blog, which has not been shy about documenting its concerns relative to Cardinal Bergoglio’s history with the Extraordinary Form, stoutly rejected the opportunity to portray the new Pope in a bad light, dismissing the story as fictitious.

  • Maggie

    Like you I don’t care much whether he wears red, brown or black shoes, etc. or which of the vestments on offer he uses. In my own parish there are usually several sets available for each Mass and the celebrant of each chooses which one he prefers. And it would truly be deplorable if a Cardinal would spread a malicious and untrue rumor. However, I do think that it needs to be said that the very different preferences and style of Pope Francis Cowan lead to the appearance of being a critique of Pope Benedict, WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE MEANT THAT WAY. They are certainly being taken that way by many. How many news stories, both from secular and from Catholic media have included words like “in contrast with his predecessor”?
    Personally, I am finding the relentless emphasis on humility is getting tiresome. It seems to be focusing on the erong things. So far in my life, which has now seen six Popes, I have never seen one that wasn’t humble, though five of them were not as ostentatious about it. The trappings of a Pope are not about the man inhabiting the office for a short few years, they are about the Office itself. I think that to buy into a kind of cult of personality is to miss and distort the reality. A man, elevated to the Office who makes it all about himself and his preferences or his comfort zone is doing a disservice to himself to the Church and to God. I prayed very hard that God would give us the right man for the situation. I trust that He has, but I’ve now begun to pray that Pope Francis doesn’t get pulled astray by his very human feelings of discomfort. It just isn’t about him.
    Incidentally, I did not see the references to this rumor you mentioned, but I did see some sort of apparently angry exchange between the very new Pope

  • Gail Finke

    “Every Peter is led where he does not want to go and faces the upending crucifixions, real or metaphorical, of a world disoriented.” That is a beautiful and brilliant observation, worthy of a lot of meditation and prayer.

  • Birthday girl

    All this hoo-rah of dueling popes is just the flip side of the Rottweiler comments made about Papa Bene, who of course is nothing like … haters gotta hate.

  • Birthday girl

    Oh and as for Crocs … most comfortable shoes EVAH … my kids mock me for wearing them everywhere except weddings and funerals … I tell them they’ll be 50-something someday …

  • Mike

    Great post. I hadn’t heard about it but it wouldn’t’ve surprised me; there are so many haters out there with nothing better to do.

    PS Like this “Wow. I didn’t know Maureen Dowd was a cardinal!”

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  • Maggie

    Just want to complete the thought that got cut off when I accidentally hit the “send” button above and to apologize for my typos. I’m still getting used to the iPad keyboard,which seems far too sensitive.

    I did notice some kind of exchanfpge, whether angry or simply impatient, between the brand new Pope and Msgr. Marini just before Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony just following his election. It appeared to me that he was rejecting the suggestion that he should wear the red embroidered stole that every Pope wears. The result was that Msgr. Marini ended up carrying it until the moment when it was needed for the Urbi et Orbi blessing. This resulted in a somewhat cumbersome moment when the action had to be paused while the Pope put on the stole, some thing that would have been unnecessary if he had agreed to wear it in the first place. Zeal for anything, including simplicity and humility can sometimes be misplaced.

    In addition, so far (and granted, it’s only been a little over a week) he seems to be doing everything himself, whether it’s picking up his bags, or calling his dentist or his newspaper seller. That’s very touching, but not too practical. If he continues the “do it all yourself” mode for such details when will he have the time to tackle the stuff that everyone expects him to do — such as cleaning up the mess in the Curia or effectively presiding and preaching? The “honeymoon” will soon end and the day to day slog will begin and then we will see. Until then it’s best not to focus so much on the petty details, most of which are very similar to actions performed by Pope Benedict in his first days (I.e., going back to his apartment to collect personal stuff, even petting the dog of one of the blind reporters) though, of course, he had his residence in Rome and an existing staff. The differences are actually not that great.

    [I didn't think there was anything "angry" in that exchange. I expect His Holiness told Marini he'd put the stole on for the blessing -- which he did, and he respectfully kissed it when he removed it. None of it seemed awkward to me, btw. Also see this. -admin]

  • Yae

    “I trust that He has, but I’ve now begun to pray that Pope Francis doesn’t get pulled astray by his very human feelings of discomfort. It just isn’t about him.
    Incidentally, I did not see the references to this rumor you mentioned, but I did see some sort of apparently angry exchange between the very new Pope”

    And you know this how? Were you made privy to the supposed conversation/exchange that you post as “apparently angry exchange?”
    Then, your other comment, “by his very human feelings of discomfort,” did he tell you himself he is uncomfortable?
    The negative and “knowing” commentary by certain folk, as to what, how, when, and why the Holy Father does, says, does not do, is so boring and so without charity. I for one, will continue to hope against hope that all of this negativity stops.
    I suggest to those who continue to throw stones read today’s reading and reflect on them. We all are in need of God’s mercy. May Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Amen.

  • The Hermit

    “The stupid and the shriveled want it to live, though, and so it will, in the little whispery corners where spite and malice get clung to by gollums in need of a ‘precious.’”

    The latest winner of my Best Line In The Whole Wide Blogosphere Award.

  • Maggie

    I never said he was angry only that “I did notice some kind of exchanfpge, whether angry or simply impatient, between the brand new Pope and Msgr. Marini”. Please read what I said, not what you think I said.

    I also have end intention of throwing stones at anyone. What I am trying to say is that some of the cheering is overdone and everyone should take a big deep breath and wait. If you read my comments in the context of the Ms. Scalia’s article you will see that I am agreeing with her of goodness sake!

    Popes and newspeople are human beings after all. It’s the office not the man. Perhaps you should read my own blog comments before jumping down my throat

  • Pippa Bianco

    Thank you for this beautifully written article. Papa Francis is a wonderful man, there sure are some nasty people in Rome/Vatican City. I guess they are running scared, what with Holy Week upon us ;)

  • Stefanie

    I didn’t know and haven’t read this particular story. It is the beginning of an attempt to try to divide the last 30% of Catholics who DO attend Mass, IMHO.

    That also goes with the rumor last week that Papa Francis ordered Cardinal Law out of St. Mary Major last Thursday. Mean, spiteful people in the Church are spreading these lies.

    Really, people. Don’t react — pray for understanding and the wisdom given to you at your Confirmation by the Holy Spirit.

  • Manny

    I don’t know the story you speak of, but I knew it was BS right away based on your comments: There were no underlings in the Room of Tears when the Holy Father suited up for the first time. He was alone.