At Life Site News, John-Henry Westen was first to publish the claim, on February 25. “Pope,” the headline cries, “calls Italy’s foremost abortion promoter [Emma Bonino] one of nation’s ‘forgotten greats.'” You can find the story here. This is now the latest so-called papal scandal; it has been picked up by all the usual suspect blogs. Even Mike Gendron, the anti-Catholic apologist, wrote an outraged Facebook post about it, telling Catholics to rise up and cry: Enough is enough! the pope should not be contradicting Church teaching that way. It attracted all sorts of anti-Catholic vitriol in the comments. Traditionalists and anti-Catholics make strange bedfellows. John Bugay himself has a post about it, citing Rorate Cæli as his infallible authority. Mr. Bugay loves Traditionalists; he gets all the information for his anti-Catholic propaganda from them.
Now, when you word a title in the way LSN does—choosing that particular detail among any number of others that might have described Ms. Bonino—a reader can be excused for concluding that the pope is indifferent to the evil of abortion, or that his remarks were made in the context of a discussion of abortion. It is called subtext: you suggest something without coming right out and saying it. By no means do I suggest it is intentional. But an outraged reader is able to say: What is the pope doing praising some pro-abortion fanatic? as though that were the very point of the praise. Why include that detail? That is the reaction a reader is going to have; for Mike Gendron concluded the pope is contradicting Church teaching, as though he is now pro-abortion.
But you—the author of the headline—are then able to employ the nothing-other-than-facts defense. That has happened at Life Site News before, with a story by Hilary White about Pope Francis kissing the hand of a gay priest. The suggestion was planted in people’s minds, even if that was not the intention, that the pope winks at the gay agenda; then, when challenged, LSN (and its apologists) proclaimed, “The story contains nothing but facts.” LSN printed a sort of correction on the post later, but—based on this latest article—seem not to have absorbed the lesson.
Mr. Westen’s source was an interview with the pope in the Italian press, published in Corriere Della Serra. You may find it here. The part of the interview in question is in the next-to-last paragraph.
Now, the interview took place on February 8 and the Italian paper published its article on February 12. I note, just for the sake of the accuracy and completeness of the record, that a mere six days later, on February 18, the pope was traveling back to Rome from a visit to Mexico and gave another interview. Perhaps you have heard of that interview; you can find it here. He said some things about Donald Trump and Zika: yeah, that one. In the very same interview, the pope also had some things to say about abortion. He said this:
Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil.
A question occurs to me; maybe it does you too. If on February 8, the pope is praising an abortionist—possibly because he is indifferent to it—how is it that, on February 18, he is calling abortion a “crime” and an “absolute evil” and comparing it to what the Mafia does? What am I missing? Did the pope experience a strong pro-life conversion in the course of ten days? Is he schizophrenic? Are there two Bergoglios walking around—the true pope and the fake pope? I only ask questions.
Mr. Westen raises the possibility that Pope Francis possibly was not aware of this fact about Emma Bonino, only to immediately knock it down.
Luca Volonte, an Italian politician and the president of the pro-life Novae Terrae Foundation, told LifeSiteNews he believed the Pope “was not really informed about how much Mrs. Bonino has done in Italy and at the international level to promote abortion and euthanasia.” Even though he admits “she did well in Egypt,” he adds that even there “she promoted her anti-life values.” The Pope, said Volonte, “was wrong and worse were the members of His secretariat for not informing him.”
The Pope’s possible ignorance of Bonino’s stance is unlikely given his justifications in the interview. She has been for decades the most prominent supporter of abortion in Italy. Moreover, the Pope already received criticism for his contact with Bonino in 2015 when he called her about her cancer and invited her to the Vatican.
(So the pope sits down with sinners and has compassion on people with cancer. That is not at all what Jesus would have done! Why did the pope single out Ms. Bonino for this gesture, though? someone will say. After all, there are many immaculate cancer victims spread across the planet who would not defile the pope! Uh … possibly because the pope is a head of state and Ms. Bonino was the Italian foreign minister from 2013-2014? It is called charity as well as diplomacy.)
Anyway, one of the pope’s “justifications”—so-called by Mr. Westen—for praising the shun-worthy Ms. Bonino was that she helped Italians to learn about Africa. In addition, when reporters raised objections to her way of thinking (presumably a reference to her pro-abortion views), the pope—this is how Mr. Westen tells it—waved such concerns away, saying, “True, but never mind.”
Hilary White at The Remnant also wrote about this interview. The pleasant title of her article is “The Pope and the Baby Killer.” She has a dagger’s way with words. Here is how she presents that part of the exchange. She is quoting the pope:
“They say: ‘This is a person who thinks very differently from us [Catholics].’ True, but never mind. We have to look at people, at what they do,” the pope said.
(Remember that part in bold. That’s important.)
Ms. White goes on to detail all the horrors of Emma Bonino’s career, following each of them with the sarcastic words: “But never mind, she just thinks differently from us.”
And finally, Rorate Cæli (here) describes that part of the interview this way:
And before the typical sycophants say he doesn’t know her disturbing, murderous history, he was asked about just that. The pope’s response? “True, but never mind.”
“I know all about Ms. Bonino’s murderous history, but never mind”: That is what—so we are told in these three articles—the pope said.
So let us, dear reader, head over to the actual source from which all this reportage comes—it is here, you will remember—and look at what it says. First, here is the Italian of the paragraph in question, where the pope mentions Emma Bonino:
Ma negli incontri a Casa Santa Marta insiste con i suoi interlocutori che «l’Europa deve e può cambiare. Deve e può riformarsi. Se non è in grado di aiutare economicamente i Paesi da cui provengono i profughi, deve porsi il problema di come affrontare questa grande sfida che è in primo luogo umanitaria, ma non solo. Si è rotto un sistema educativo: quello che trasmetteva i valori dai nonni ai nipoti, dai genitori ai figli. Ebbene, occorre porsi il problema di come ricostruirlo». Spesso, Bergoglio usa una metafora biblica. Paragona il Vecchio Continente a Sara, la moglie di Abramo. Sara è sterile e quando ormai ha più di settant’anni, secondo gli usi di quei tempi remoti dà in moglie la sua schiava al marito perché partorisca per lei un figlio. Poi, però, miracolosamente, riesce ad averne uno a novant’anni. «L’Europa», ama ripetere Francesco, «è come Sara, che prima si spaventa ma poi sorride di nascosto». La sua speranza, riferisce chi gli ha parlato, è che l’Europa «sorrida di nascosto» agli immigrati. La forza le può venire dalla memoria dei «grandi personaggi dimenticati» della sua storia recente. Francesco è un ammiratore dei protagonisti della rinascita europea dopo la Seconda guerra mondiale. Cita il cancelliere tedesco Konrad Adenauer, il ministro degli Esteri della Francia, Robert Schuman, l’italiano Alcide De Gasperi. Ma intravede «grandi dimenticati» anche nella cronaca dei nostri giorni. «Ad esempio la donna-sindaco di Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini», per il modo in cui si è spesa a favore dei profughi. Ed è solito citare «tra i grandi dell’Italia di oggi» sia il capo dello Stato emerito, Giorgio Napolitano, che l’ex ministro Emma Bonino. «Quando Napolitano ha accettato per la seconda volta, a quell’età, e sebbene per un periodo limitato, di assumersi un incarico di quel peso, l’ho chiamato e gli ho detto che era un gesto di “eroicità” patriottica». Quanto alla Bonino, a interlocutori che strabuzzano gli occhi sentendo citare l’esponente radicale, sostiene che «è la persona che conosce meglio l’Africa. E ha offerto il miglior servizio all’Italia per conoscere l’Africa. Mi dicono: è gente che la pensa in modo molto diverso da noi. Vero, ma pazienza. Bisogna guardare alle persone, a quello che fanno».
And here is an English translation, which comes from Google Translate. (Note: I have cleaned up the wording and syntax of the passage for the sake of clarity, and with the occasional help of an online Italian-English dictionary.)
But in meetings at Casa Santa Marta [the pope] insists, to those who speak with him, that “Europe must and can change. It can and must reform itself. If it is unable to give financial help to the countries from which refugees come, the it must face the problem of how to address this great challenge that is in the first place humanitarian, but not just humanitarian.
I stop here to point out that the context of this passage is a discussion of assistance to refugees. Mr. Westen, Ms. White, and Rorate do not mention this, so I do.
I continue with the translation.
An educational system is broken: the one that transmits values from grandparents to grandchildren, from parents to children. It is appropriate to consider the problem of how to rebuild this system.” Often Bergoglio uses a biblical metaphor. He compares the Old Continent to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Sarah is barren, and when more than seventy years have passed, then, according to the custom of those ancient times, a wife permits her husband to lie with a slave so she may give birth to a son. But then, miraculously, Sarah manages to conceive at ninety years of age. “Europe,” Francis likes to say, “is like Sarah, who first gets scared but then smiles secretly.”
“Smiles secretly” is a reference to Gen. 18:12, where the 90-year-old Sarah laughs at the news, from an angel, that she will conceive a child.
His hope, he says to those those who speak with him, is that Europe will “smile secretly” upon its immigrants.
Once more, I pause to point out—since Mr. Westen, Ms. White, and Rorate do not—that the subject the pope is talking about is immigration and assistance to refugees. That is the context in which any praise he has for Ms. Bonino will come.
But I return.
Greatness [i.e., Europe’s future greatness] can only come from the memory of the “great forgotten figures” of Europe’s recent history. Francis is an admirer of the protagonists of the European renaissance after the Second World War. He names the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Foreign Minister of France, Robert Schuman, the Italian Alcide De Gasperi. But he sees similar “great forgotten” protagonists even in recent history. For example, the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, “for the way you are spending for refugees.” And he also names, “among the greats of today’s Italy,” the former Head of State Giorgio Napolitano, and former foreign minister Emma Bonino.
Now, it is true that Emma Bonino is an abortion advocate, and that she assisted at numerous illegal abortions, including with the use of a bicycle pump—in the 1970s, at any rate. But she was also the Italian foreign minister from 2013-2014, during the very years Francis has been at the Vatican, and it is in relation to some of her efforts as a foreign minister that the pope has praise for her. We will see presently what those are.
When Napolitano accepted for the second time, although for a limited period, to take an assignment of that weight, I called him and told him that it was a gesture of “heroic patriotism.” As for Bonino, in response to those who were suprised he would mention the Radical leader [“Radical” here is nothing more than a reference to the name of her political party, the Italian Radicals], he argues that “she is the person who knows Africa the best. She has offered a great service to Italy to learn about Africa.”
So the pope specifically clarifies that his praise of Ms. Bonino is for her work in promoting cultural understanding between Italians and Africans. It is no different than if the pope had said, “I commend Nancy Pelosi for her work in promoting a path to full citizenship for Mexicans.” Abortion has nothing to do with it.
It would have been more accurate to the context of the pope’s remarks if the LSN headine had been something like “Pope praises Emma Bonino, advocate for refugees.” But instead, LSN chooses a detail about Ms. Bonino that has not a thing to do with the subject of the pope’s remarks or the reason he felt she should have some praise spoken about her. As it is, a scandal is made out of a non-story; no one knows what efforts the pope has or has not made to lead her to Christ or to speak privately with her about abortion. His public witness on that topic has always been clear, as in his interview on the flight back from Mexico (to cite just one of many examples). The pope need not pause to condemn abortion before naming something great about Ms. Bonino in order to prove his pro-life credentials.
It would be just as accurate to write a headline that said, “Pope praises writing of known adulterer Charles Dickens.” Surely no one would assume that the pope’s praise for Charles Dickens the writer implied that he approved of the adultery. Nor should the pope’s praise of Emma Bonino the foreign minister who promoted understanding of Africa imply that he is indifferent to her views on abortion. No such inference can fairly be made. Praise and kindness might be what draw her to the light.
But before I close out the translation, I recall your mind to the specific claim that Pope Francis was actually dismissive of Bonino’s murderous record, saying, “That is true, but never mind about that.”
Here, dear reader, is what that passage actually says:
As for Bonino, in response to those who were suprised he would mention the Radical leader, he argues that “she is the person who knows Africa the best. She has offered a great service to Italy to learn about Africa. They say: those people think very differently than we do. True, but never mind. We have to look at people, at what they do.”
Those people think differently than we do, but never mind. The Italian word in question is “gente” (“è gente che la pensa in modo molto diverso da noi”). “Gente” is plural. It does not mean “this person” (as Hilary White translates it) but “those people.” In Italian, if you wanted to say “person,” singular, you would use the word “persona.” (See here and here and here.) This is important because there are two possible antecedents for “gente”: Ms. Bonino, or Africans. But “gente” is plural, so it can only be a reference to Africans.
Those people think differently than we do: The pope is not talking about Ms. Bonino, or her support for abortion, but about Africans. He is responding to the objection that we don’t want a bunch of African refugees overrunning Italy; they are not like us! (And the word “pazienza,” translated “never mind,” is just as easily translated “have patience,” meaning: be patient with their differences.)
Now, Mr. Westen, Ms. White, and Rorate all knew perfectly well where this interview was to be found; they all cite the source. So how could they have gotten such an important fact wrong? They accuse the pope of being dismissive about Ms. Bonino’s abortion advocacy with the words “never mind that,” when a check of the very source they have at their fingertips will show that the pope was referring to something completely different when he said those words.
And the transcript will show too that the pope praises Ms. Bonino for something very different than her stance on abortion, that the subject of the discussion is assistance to immigrants and refugees, and that abortion is not mentioned even once in the entire exchange.
Note: An earlier version of this article speculated that the subtext in the LSN article was intentional. Upon reflection, I think it may have been rash so to speculate. I have changed that. In addition, I learned that the Italian article did not exist online at the time LSN published their story, and so I removed the paragraph that mentioned it. I have made other wording changes throughout.