Re Translating Francis’ Interview with Eugenio Scalfari – UPDATED

Pope Francis called Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist editor of La Repubblica, and said, “how about an interview” and Scalfari, no fool, took him up on it. Reading the first English translation found online this morning, I cursed my poor Italian and kept thinking, “this must be a sloppy translation — some of this isn’t even making sense.”

Well, “Nunblogger” Sister Anne Flanagan, a Daughter of Saint Paul, saw issues too, and since she reads Italian well, she has become a piecemeal translation that offers clarity:

If “everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” is the Pope saying that there is no such thing as objective truth, or objective right or wrong? This is where it is really, really helpful to know Italian: “Ciascuno di noi ha una sua visione del Bene e anche del Male. Noi dobbiamo incitarlo a procedere verso quello che lui pensa sia il Bene” is more literally (and helpfully?) translated as “Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees as the Good.” The Pope is not leveling the difference between truth and untruth, right and wrong: he is saying that we all have a duty to encourage people to pursue the Good, knowing that the true Good will not fail to manifest himself, even if “through a glass darkly.”

I will stop here for a second, because someone has already complained to me that this translation is still not enough — that people need more explicit instruction as to what defines good and evil, but I disagree, and I think Aquinas would, too. If Francis seems to be trusting the Holy Spirit to lead people Christ-ward once he encourages them to walk toward the good, it is likely because he knows the sacraments — especially baptism — orient us toward being able to find our way (even if we have been detoured) toward the good, and then toward the light of All Goodness. I do understand the concern that people will take this incorrectly, and call evil good or slip into relativism. But again and again we’re seeing a stripping down to fundamentals in what Francis is saying.

Pope Francis says he is no mystic, but I think he is, and people have to come to grips with mystics. Mystics think this way. They walk and live this way. We get the pope we need. Benedict, bless him, was a catechist when we needed a catechist. Now, as the world seems to make less and less sense and the veils seem to be thinning, perhaps we are in need of a mystic. Mystics have an economic way of teaching; they jump right to the soul, when the soul is willing.

It bears repeating: this Pontiff is continuing a lesson in trust that was begun the moment his predecessor announced his resignation. There is a sense that both Benedict XVI, and now Francis, are quite comfortable tossing everything into the path of the Holy Spirit — and seemingly taking great risks with their words or their actions — and trusting that the Holy Spirit will see it all to rights.

That we need these lessons modeled for us so starkly suggests to me that we are being made fit for something. Perhaps they are only trying to teach us to trust even in what can seem like a benign day-to-day, but I wonder if we are not being prepared for a time when we will, as Catholic Christians, have to run on trust, alone.

These weekly meltdowns people are having over every word Francis utters, seem to me to be the product of having spent too much time (these past couple of decades) giving primacy to our emotions over ordinary reasoning and feelings over a little critical thinking. We’ve become a culture unable to really hear, really listen — our feelings are churning always, and much to the fore, and we’re trained to honor those feelings and let them out, let them out, let them out and then wallow in them. It’s not good for us. It keeps us forever reacting instead of responding. It keeps us easily diverted, unfocused, constantly looking for consolation, reassurance and parenting when in fact it may be time for us to climb out of the abyss of suffocating sentiment and gird our loins a bit. Our spiritual big boy and big girl pants may need putting on.

It is important — in fact necessary — to be confident that the Holy Father is representing our faith and teaching it well. We should be looking at what he is saying. But there is scrutiny and then there is scrupulousness, and sometimes it seems to me that people are bordering on scupulousness, unwilling to allow the movement of the Holy Spirit to speak to and pierce any soul whose understanding is not their own.

Perhaps we need to examine ourselves in all of our reactions. Perhaps we’re supposed to be discerning just how woeful we are in trust — how little we actually do trust the Holy Spirit — and how much we depend upon others to be the church (and define the church) to the world on our behalf — when in the end that responsibility may rest upon our shoulders (or may be about to fall onto our shoulders) in ways we cannot even imagine right now.

Suppose all communication is wiped out due to grid failures and solar blips — or because tyranny has descended upon us with a jackboot of suppression (or at least severe marginalization) — then you and I may have nothing to go on but faith in God, and in his Savior and in the Advocate, and in each other. We’ll do a lousy job of things if we have no developed interior habit of trust, or if we cannot let go of all the ideas that have kept us cocooned and comfortable in our Catholicism.

Ponder it. Ponder Will Duquettes words about being made fit to bear fruit. We are being made fit for something. Here is more from Sister Anne:

Here’s another whopper: “The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood.” Um, the Son of God did not become incarnate in souls. He became incarnate in human nature, in his own human flesh and blood. The Italian is “Il Figlio di Dio si è incarnato per infondere nell’anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza”: “The Son of God became incarnate to infuse into the soul of men [could say "the human soul"] the feeling of brotherhood.”

Sister Anne suggests taking the rest of the interview with a grain of salt before a better translation is available. I concur.

Thankfully, there is another translation — a “work in progress” — coming together over at In Caelo et in Terra blog, where Mark de Vries is putting a good Dutch translation from Father Roderick into English.

One of the first complaints I read this morning was echoed by, among others, the Crescat, taking exception to the idea that young people out of work and the lonely elderly were the greatest evils:

. . .that right there leaves me speechless. Unemployed young people and lonely elderly are the worst most serious evil that afflict the world?!“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not be lonely and have a job.” [Narcissus 3:16]: “young people out of work and lonely elderly? THAT’S the greatest evil?

Here is’ Mark’s take on it. It’s quite a bit more nuanced:

“Young people without work, one of the evil of the world”

Mark’s translation: Pope Francis tells me: “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the worst is that they don’t even look for them any more. They are being crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live when you are being crushed by the present? Without a memory of the past and without the will to go forward into the future to build something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, I think, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

What the Pope is describing here is such a terrible isolation as to be almost dehumanizing. And the root of all sin is that it dehumanizes us. And so yes, he is right, these are among our great evils. At some level, the Thingification of Human Beings is the root of all sin. The evil is of a piece.

Your Holiness, people will say that this is largely a political and economic problem for states, governments, political parties and trade unions.

“Of course, you are right, but it also concerns the Church, in fact, particularly the Church because this situation does not hurt only bodies but also souls. The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies.”

I would suggest you check back at this site for more translation, and with Sister Anne, too.

Think about this, please: these are conversations, not encyclicals, not ex cathedra pronouncements. We’re being essentially allowed to listen in on a conversation between a pope and an atheist. He’s getting a secular paper to give us a primer on evangelization and ummm…yes, he’s proselytizing. I think portions of the conversation that seem like worrisome Pelagianism or “hippie talk” to some, is the pope trying to demonstrate that he hears Scalfari, has been exposed to those ideas and therefore understands what has formed him.

That’s a first step to being an effective evangelist. Be with people where they are. John Paul II said as much when he told his priests, “you have to deal with the world as it is.” Or, as Mary Eberstadt put it:

He’s suggesting that believers work with the facts on the ground and find creative ways of planting the same eternal seeds in damaged soil.

Every word in a conversation is not meant to be parsed for perfection; if you are sitting at a table and listening, you get it. And we’re watching a man get atheist newsfolk to give us a primer on how to talk to atheists. Have a little patience with the pope and with the Holy Spirit. We deserve excellent translations, yes, but sometimes those are slow coming. They deserve a little patience from us.

And everyone. . .calm the heck down, already. It must be exhausting to have to find energy every day to be enraged, concerned, anxious or offended. As my Auntie Lillie, a taciturn vulgarian who nevertheless got a lot of it right, would say: Lighten up. You’ll be dead a long time. Even longer if you’re going to be a perpetual pisspot while you’re here.

Please check out our Catholic Channel landing page,
where many of the bloggers are writing about this latest interview, and some are not happy, and some are. Several of them have written several posts, so that tells you just how energized everyone is! This pope is killing me. :-)

Dr. Gerard Nadal,
who is pretty darned conservative, speaks up for Peter and also asks for deep breaths:

For many traditionalists, it is the frightful spectre of a Jesuit pope ascending the throne of Peter just in time to undo all of the damage control and growth wrought by John Paul and Benedict in the wake of Vatican II. Now, many fear, we stand to lose all that has been set aright. In this, many speak openly and disparigingly of the new pope, contempt dripping in a manner not unlike the leftists in their assessment of John Paul and Benedict.

Right or left, orthodox or progressive, it is all a manifestation of the same underlying spiritual illness…


Are we only to submit to papal authority when the mood, or mode suits us? Do we place stylistic predilection over our duty to respect and obedience to legitimate episcopal and papal authority? Is our faith on the orthodox side of the aisle so fragile that we get a case of the vapors at the least departure from our preferred norm? To be certain, this pope is dangerous. His style is that of…


About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Brian English

    The “words of love” are not the problem. And I have not read anyone who is claiming Francis is a bad man. He is obviously a wonderful man and priest. However, he is now the leader of the entire Church, and needs more discipline with regard to what he says, when he says it, and how he says it.

  • Mr. X

    Good Heavens above, I wish people would stop complaining so much about Pope Francis. Yes, I wish he would be more careful about what he says. Yes, it’s annoying to see smug liberal types saying “Hah, see, the Pope says you’ve got to shut about abortion/gay marriage”. No, this isn’t the end of the world. Just look at John XII, or some of the Borgia Popes. If the Church could survive them, it can most certainly survive Francis. And frankly, if the worst thing people can find to say about Francis is that he doesn’t choose his words very well, that still makes him better than a clear majority of past Bishops of Rome, IMHO.

  • Jordan

    “And everyone. . .calm the heck down, already. It must be exhausting to have to find energy every day to be enraged, concerned, anxious or offended. As my Auntie Lillie, a taciturn vulgarian who nevertheless got a lot of it right, would say: Lighten up. You’ll be dead a long time. Even longer if you’re going to be a perpetual pisspot while you’re here.”

    Bingo. And everyone going on about how Pope Francis misidentified the greatest evils of our time must obviously be terrible at problem solving, since with most things it’s pretty stupid until things get to the point of desperation to notice “Hey, something’s wrong here!”. Obviously advanced stage cancer is bad. Many times, there isn’t a lot you can do about it at that point, and it sucks. We should try to save those lives, certainly, but typically what has more success is being a big proactive and trying to IDENTIFY AND ALEVIATE THE ROOT CAUSES. So yeah, just keep blabbing about how loneliness isn’t an evil, and wondering why you’re the world’s worst problem solvers.

  • Christine

    Honorius wrote a series of letters (not ex cathedra) promoting
    monothelitism–a heresy. He was later condemned as a heretic at the
    Council of Constantinople. This condemnation was affirmed by Pope Leo I.
    The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “It is clear that no Catholic has the
    right to defend Pope Honorius.”

    It does us well to remember that not every remark of the Pontiff–whoever he may be–is
    to be considered infallible or even correct–especially where those
    remarks are not in keeping with Church teaching or Tradition. The Church
    is much larger than this or that pontificate; it stretches far beyond
    the pastoral style of this or that pope. Defend the Papacy–yes. Defend
    every single off-the-cuff remark of the Holy Father, no matter how
    unsound? No.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Pope Francis trusts both the Holy Spirit and humanity more than I do. Far too often, Truth and Good don’t emerge at all.

  • Helene

    So many of the comments here betray such an ignorance of the realities in other parts of our world and their cultural frameworks. The Pope isn’t just the Holy Father to the Church in the US.

  • Dynan Candon

    The Pope is another Augustine, not Aquinas. Augustine explained to the untaught
    that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were the I Know, the I Am, and the I
    Will of a human being, all parts of the soul. Freud came along and turned those into
    Ego,Id and Super Ego. The Jewish Kabbalah described the three parts as the
    “animal ” part, delivered at birth, the “spirit” part, delivered at Bar Mitvah and the
    “super-soul” delivered at intellectual maturity( 30 years of age) To all three
    approaches the observant student will see that an informed conscience is needed
    for a healthy spirit, a healthy ego and to know anything!
    Let us just listen to Francis for a couple of years, is their any among us who does
    NOT need to change the way we think? If so, please check your ego at the door.

  • Non-Catholic

    Now I know why I’m not a Catholic. It’s all about “religion” and “doctrine” and nothing about “spirit.” Most of these comments are based on faulty English translations that everyone seems to accept as “what he said.” I can read Italian. Francis is someone I can believe in. “Religion” is something we need to outgrow.

    I won’t be reading replies so save your typing fingers.

  • Tom

    Thank you. It was a beautiful moment when he told Scalfari that “You don’t believe (you have a soul), but you do.”

  • Niko

    Dear Mrs. Scalia,

    As a native Italian speaker, I’m working on a translation on my blog at

    Just thought it might help. God bless!

    In Christ,


  • Mark

    The pope clearly has a penchant for staying things that need translation – not from Italian, but into their place within Catholic beliefs. He is attempting to stress the heart of Christianity, placing this before throwing intellectual and legalistic doctrines at the world. A necessary move. Yet to that extent, he can sound like he separates the two – as though the latter were not the unfolding of the former. Additionally, in his new/old emphasis, he is unfortunately somewhat haphazardly using words that slight the work of many decent souls dedicating themselves to, say pro-life causes, to the articulation of Christian doctrine on marriage, as obsession, verbal warriors, as legalistic nonsense, etc. or lending a greater shade of credence to socialism, which all of his predecessors for over 150 years have clearly stated is basically fundamentally contrary to Christianity and always denigrated to a greater degree in the same breathe that they criticized capitalism while he gives a very simplistic, one-sided and, frankly, somewhat imbalanced historical picture of capitalism without mentioning socialism and statism as though it were not a vibrant force in the world. In some cases, he may be right, there is imperfection in apologetic efforts and public discourse verbal warriors, there is over-emphasis of some things over others, but the reverse may be said as well: that there is imbalance in deliberately and publicly slighting, in somewhat harsh terms, those people as imbalanced in comparison with the many clergy and catholics who disregard the Church fairly completely and teach off the wall things contrary to all that doctrinal and moral belief and thought and love that is elaborately folded into the heart of Christianity that he seeks to revive. Nor, and he would likely agree, is there a need to obsess over the words of the pope in interviews.

  • Fr. Thomas Dailey

    Even the language in the original Italian publication is being questioned, as Andrea Tornielli at La Stampa does in a piece today ( He questions two particulars (quoted here in my translation):
    (1) concerning the promotion of religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers, “I can’t imagine Papa Bergoglio speaking of himself saying he wants to do something with ‘humility and ambition’.”
    (2) concerning the narrative about the pope’s going off privately for a few minutes to a room next to the balcony looking onto the piazza, “note that there are no rooms next to the one with the balcony onto the piazza. In addition, a cardinal elector recounted to me that the Pope did not withdraw for a few minutes into a room before accepting his election. The acceptance was immediate and verbal …”

  • Augustine

    You mean that 1/25th of the Church is not its most awesome, exceptional fraction? Shocked, I say!

  • Augustine

    Yeah, how dare the Holy Father disobey his children? Keep on nagging your finger at him, brother!

  • Catholic priest. Ordained 1968

    Nice spin. Too bad it doesn’t conform to what the Pope actually said. Thanks a lot Pope Francis for the slap in the face to all of us who’ve stood in the cold and rain praying the rosary outside abortion clinics. We really needed to hear your message about the greatest evils in the world today. Whether first world or second or third, does not taking human life count as the great evil
    Parlo italiano. Wait till you read the part about political institutions. Pelosi, Biden, et al will be thrilled. Mario Cuomo’s speech at Notre Dame seems to be the inspiration for Pope Francis. Veni Sancte Spiritus.

  • Augustine

    If only the Pope were more cognisant about the cultural framework of the exceptional 1/25th of his flock!

    People like you are harmful to the Church for blindly insisting
    on putting the words of a lousy translator in the mouth of the Pope and for thinking of yourself as the center of Christendom.

  • steve5656546346

    Slander. That is what the Pope did regarding his children: he slandered us. To a hostile press. “Pelagians.” “Triumphalists.” “Restorationists.” “Disciplinarians.” “Cowards.” “Hypocrites.” “Legalists”. “Small-minded.” “Obsessed”. “Doctrinal security-ists” He is an abusive father.

  • steve5656546346

    But that is what the Pope indicated. If that is not what he meant, he should say something else.

  • steve5656546346

    My experience of the Church is that it is NOT one issue: in fact, there is little mention of controversial issues below the level of the Pope–and now that has changed…just as people were finally waking up due to the HHS mandate, homosexual marriage, etc.

  • Brian English

    So the pope is infallible in everything he says and everything he does? We have to agree with every word that comes out of his mouth, and everything he does? A theologian and Church historian of your stature must have some authority you can direct me to on those points.

  • Brian English

    I see above that you read Italian, but apparently you don’t read English very well. Where do I claim that the American Church is the most awesome and exceptional part of the Church? The Church here has been fighting a 40-year war against an unrestricted abortion license and is now under attack as it tries to defend marriage and religious freedom. Francis’ comments are not helping. You may not care what happens to the Church in this country, but Francis is supposed to.

  • steve5656546346

    OK, so the comments are moderated: fine! We don’t need obscene, bizarre, disrespectful comments.

    But when comments have none of these characteristics, when are they posted? It has been two days now.

  • Sarah M

    I don’t think this is about picking out what he was really trying to say. I think it just demonstrates a lack of thinking and reading comprehension on the part of people who over react.

    Mother Teresa said many things about abortion. But she also spoke even more often about the intense loneliness and lack of purpose which leads people to despair and sin. I don’t see anyone jumping down her throat about it. I mean seriously, read her stuff. John Paul II preached against rampant materialism that made man into a commodity, lacking in purpose and discarded. He is saying that utilitarianism is ruining our world and our families (the world over, you can see it in the west, the middle east, africa and latin america), something all the popes have said. I think most of the people overreacting are just unfamiliar with the wealth of Catholic teaching on these subjects and don’t have the sense to put examples to concepts.

    I think his comments about encouraging people to seek what they think is good are obviously meant to be taken with the idea that if a person sincerely seeks the good there is grace available for them to find it. (I mean natural law tells us as much). Instead of saying something to an atheist that makes him think that you find him incapable of doing or finding good, say something that encourages him to seek. It is in relationship with other people that we encounter Christ (or have you not read Deus Caritas Est?). Mother Teresa said much the same, that her work was meant to love and serve Christ in people not necessarily to convert them. She has many quotes about encouraging Muslims and Hindus to be good Muslims and Hindus and to love their neighbors.

    We don’t convert people, we invite them to encounter Christ, he touches their hearts, he converts them.

  • Augustine

    I’m leaving for an extended weekend, so I’m afraid that I won’t be able to reply until next week.

    Pax Christi

  • CT Catholic Corner

    Did you see LifeSiteNews.Com is calling for a “Day of Fasting and Prayer for Pope Francis” because of the confusion over what he’s said in the interviews?

    It’s not just me who sees a problem here. It’s all in HOW he says what he says.
    Perhaps over time, he will get better, but right now for whatever reason, people ARE freaking out what has been said.
    Check out the article, they say it pretty well.
    God bless,
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

  • MeanLizzie

    This is the first comment I have seen by you, so I am not sure what comments you are waiting to see released? I will check my spam filter, if you like.

  • MeanLizzie

    A pope is only infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra, and even then he has to say, “i’m speaking ex cathedra here, folks…” This has happened twice.

  • Giordano_Bruno

    Is this what happens when a community organizer becomes Pope? The Church gets a personality instead of a leader? Or is Pope Francis adroitly setting up the Left to “get religion” at some opportune point in the future.

    Regardless of papal “modus operandi,” let us hope that Pope Francis first and foremost understands that most of the world’s material and spiritual misery is caused by powerful states and their well-connected friends committing evil in the name of good. Witness the evil being committed in the United States by another powerful personality and his cronies.