Update: An earlier version of what is below stated, incorrectly, that Adam Shaw’s article neglected to mention a change in the official transcript of Pope Francis’s remarks. In fact, Mr. Shaw did make note of the change.
Here is a good rule of thumb. When someone says, “I misspoke, here is what I meant to say”: Believe him. Misspeaking is a known phenomenon. If you haven’t known about this phenomenon for some time, I don’t know what you know. Even popes can misspeak. It’s true. I have checked, and rechecked, the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility, and I find nowhere that the Holy Spirit protects the Roman Pontiff from misspeaking. Check it yourself if you like, but do not wasste too much of your time. That is what I am here for.
But if you do find any such statement, dear reader, I beg you, of your charity, to kindly let me know where it is.
In the meantime, here is why all this matters. On June 16, Pope Francis remarked, following an address to the pastoral congress of the Diocese of Rome, that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” Catholic News Agency reported on it that wery day.
Then what happened is that, not twenty-four hours later, the pope himself approved a correction to the official transcript to read “a portion of our sacramental marriages,” with no reference to how large or small that portion is.
Catholic News Agency updated its post to reflect this change right away. It reported the facts and made no judgment. It wrote no alarmist, clickbait headlines with words like “bombshell remarks”. (Yes, dear reader, LSD News does write clickbait.)
But what do I find elsewhere when I make the rounds of the online media?
On June 20, three days after the correction from the pope himself, Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week quotes the original statement, and then poo-poos the correction, attributing it to “the Vatican” and not Pope Francis. He speculates, with much extravagance, that the Vatican, like Noah’s sons, was acting to cover the pope’s nakedness. You may pause to laugh here before you read on.
On June 20, at Lysergic Acid News, Claire Chretien and John Jalsevac quote the original statement and cast a certain doubt on whether the pope approved the correction, by their sly use of the word “reported.” The pope is “reported” to have corrected the transcript. There are reports that say he did, but maybe he didn’t. Who knows? Do you know? I don’t know.
LSD News is not satisfied with this correction to the official transcript. In their view, a correction to the official transcript does not constitute “a formal retraction.” And what would? Perhaps if the pope stood on the loggia with a bullhorn and beat his breast and tore out his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
On June 17, the very same day the transcript was corrected, Adam Pshaw of Fox News demanded that the pope resign, quoted the original statement, and dismissed the correction as the Vatican’s attempt to mitigate the “damage.”
So there is a habit, among some, of casting skepticism upon a change approved by the pope himself, relegating it to an afterthought or parenthesis, and continuing to beat the hammer about the original wording (“great majority”), even though for all we know the pope, having an affinity for the impromptu, did nothing more than misspeak.
Is the charity of assuming he misspoke—particularly since a correction was made to the transcript within twenty-four hours—too much for some of us to grant the Holy Father?
I have heard time and again people’s impatience and demands that it be Pope Francis himself—not Fr. Lombardi, not Cardinal Schönborn, not popesplainin bloggers—who clarifies statements when eyebrows are raised.
This time the pope has, and it is still not enough.
Let he who has not misspoke among you cast the first stone.