February 20, 1939 will always mark history as the day when the Information Office of the L’Osservatore Romano was founded, with the aim of transmitting information related to the Holy See to authorized journalists. Currently this function is undertaken by the Holy See Press Office in order to divulgate news referring to the documents of the Pontiff and the activities of his Petrine ministry. (Cf. O.R. February 23,1939).
During the last 77 years, there must have been moments of great joy and satisfaction for the members and directors of this important informative group. However, we can affirm with all certainty that in no other Pontificate, besides the present one, has the head of the Holy See Press Office experienced so many complications and difficulties in the fulfillment of his function. Certainly, the current director of the Sala Stampa, Father Federico Lombardi, S. J., must be tired and probably worn out.
What are we referring to? Our readers have probably already perceived…It’s a sad reality that we Catholics don’t want to hear about anymore.
By any chance, does Fr. Lombardi enjoy having to publicly clarify, justify and explain what Francis said or what Francis did not wish to say?
Does Fr. Lombardi like having to explain Francis’ attitudes and gestures that negatively impact international public opinion?
The most surprising thing is that this severe informative turbulence that overcomes Francis always happens during his flights. Yes, in an airplane in full flight, precisely when he speaks a braccio, as the Italians say, that is, improvised, without the help of a written text…
Here we present three of these conflictive and turbulent improvisations:
1. A Muslim terrorist attack that assassinated 20 people is “normal”…
Who doesn’t recall the justification proffered by Francis regarding the Muslim terrorist attack of the weekly newspaper “Charlie Hebdo”, for having published a caricature of Mohammed?
The key argument presented by Francis at the press conference during his flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, on January 15, 2015, left millions of Catholics and non-Catholics disconcerted. Francis gestured a punch in the air, affirming that this is what he would give his friend, Dr. Gasbarri, if he had hypothetically offended his mother.
It was just an example, someone might say. Just an example to justify a terrorist attack that killed 20 people, not to mention the material damage? But let’s read Francis’ words directly so that we won’t be accused of de-contextualization.
“This is an aberration. To kill in the name of God is an aberration. I believe that this is the most important thing about religious freedom: to exercise it in freedom, without offending, but also without imposing it or killing for it. Freedom of expression.” (Press conference onboard the flight to Manila, January 15, 2015)
These words could be objected to by any child studying Bible History. In effect, if killing in the name of God is an aberration, how does one explain David’s confrontation with Goliath “In the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies” (1 Sam 17:45)? Did David commit an aberration for cutting off Goliath’s head? Did he restrict Goliath’s rightful liberty of expression? And what about the attitudes commanded by God to Moses regarding the mobilization of the Hebrews in order to declare war against the surrounding peoples in their conquest for the promised land (Deuteronomy 20:1-9)? How can the words that the priest should pronounce before entering into battle be justified? “Hear, O Israel! Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Be not weak hearted or afraid; be neither alarmed nor frightened by them. For it is the Lord, your God, who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies and give you victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4)
And what about the Prophet Elias who slit the throats of the 450 priests of Ball at the brook of Kishon (1 Kings 18:40)? Would this be another aberration? Did the Prophet Elias violate the religious liberty of these priests who adored the god Baal?
We also recall the combats undertaken by the Maccabees who fought in defence of the Jewish religion against the Hellenizing cults imposed by force by the king Antiochus IV, included in the first and second books of the Maccabees…Would the war cry “The help of God” (2 Mac 8:23), used to kill more than 9,000 enemies also be considered an aberration?
The list of examples may be extended in a surprising manner; it is enough to mention the bellicose attitudes of Abraham (Genesis 14:19-20), and Moses (Exodus 17:8-14), as well as Joshua in his conquest of the promised land (Joshua 12-13); Samson in battle against the Philistines (Judges 15-16) and Gideon against the Madianites (Judges 7) All of these acts are praised by the Holy Scripture.
So, what now? How should we comprehend Francis’ affirmations?
In the first place, considering the wars and the battles mentioned above, it is patent that not one of the Jews, who now manifest friendship for Francis, would favor his theory that “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.” Why? Simply because these pugnacious acts described in the Bible are heroic gestures that are part of the very history of the Jewish people, and a motive of great honor and glory for them.
In the second place, in a similar manner no protestant or “separated brother” — faithful to the principle of “sola scriptura” — would support Francis’ theory. The aforementioned heroic acts are simply “written like this in the Bible” and therefore one may not object: “it is the word of God!”
In the third place, it is also true that no Muslim would accept the pacifist Bergoglian theory of “aberration”. Everyone is aware that it is precisely the Koran, the sacred book, that incites the killing of the “idolaters” and “unbelievers” — those who do not believe in Allah and his only prophet Mohammed (Koran, Surah 9:5; 47:6).
In the fourth place, the doctrine taught by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica also lends no reassurance to Francis’ declarations. On the contrary, taking the Old and New Testament and Saint Augustine as his foundation, the Angelic Doctor exposes the true doctrine in explaining just war (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica II-II, q. 40, a.1)
This is traditional doctrine recalled in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2302 in an analysis of the fifth commandment of the Law of God: “Do not kill” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Summing up, Francis’ error is in failing to distinguish between a legitimate and just warlike act as opposed to an illegitimate and unjust one. Francis mixes up moral fields. Is it necessary to remind him that according to Catholic moral, there also exists the right to legitimate defense, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2265, teaches?
But we now follow with Francis’ affirmations that provoked the turmoil:
“Everyone not only has the freedom, the right, but also the obligation, to say what they think in order to promote the common good. The obligation. Think of an elected official, a senator: unless they say what they think is right, they are not working for the common good. Not only these people, but so many others. We have the obligation to speak openly, to enjoy this freedom, but without offending others. It is true one cannot respond violently, but if my good friend Dr. Gasbarri here insults my mother, he’ll get punched for it! This is normal! It is normal. We cannot provoke others, we cannot insult their faith, we cannot mock their faith.” (Flight to Manila, January 15, 2015)
In short, though Francis affirmed in theory that “to kill in the name of God is an aberration” and that “one cannot respond violently”; in practice he ended up justifying the “punch” that the Muslim terrorists gave to the magazine “Charlie Hebdo” taking the lives of 20 people: “It is normal…it is normal…”
Of course the next day, Fr. Lombardi had to present himself before the cameras to offer due explanations of the case. Here are some titles:
To clarify what? What has been said, has been said.
2. The cover-up: large families accused of irresponsibility
And what about the ill-fated, legendary phrase Francis pronounced during his flight from Manila to Rome, on January 19, 2015?: “Some people believe that — pardon my language — in order to be good Catholics, we should be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.” (Flight from Manila to Rome, January 19, 2015)
On this occasion, since Fr. Lombardi had already come out in public to clarify the problem provoked by the offensive example of the “punch”; it would have to be Francis himself who would fix up this gaffe. But how?
Two days later, during the General Audience on January 12, 1915, Francis, now with text in hand, proffered a beautiful eulogy to “…so many large families that welcome children as a gift from God.” So, the same families debased to the category of “rabbits”, now were elevated – they were “blessed by God”. What a quick dialectic turn!
Francis’ journalist friend, Elisabetta Piqué, put all of her literary talent at the service of the drastic change of argument with this journalistic note:
ROME- “It gives consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a gift from God. They know that every child is a blessing.”
During the General audience on Wednesday, as Pope Francis made an appraisal of his recent trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, he clarified the phrase that he had pronounced on Monday during his return flight from Manila, when he said that to be good Catholics we don’t have to be like rabbits. This phrase was not well accepted in some sectors of the Catholic Church.
It was not well accepted in some sectors? Could there be other sectors of the Catholic Church where this phrase was well accepted? Which ones? What are these sectors? Are they really Catholic?
Elisabetta Piqué continues:
While emphasizing that two outstanding moments of his visit to the Philippines were his encounters with families and the youth, the Pope eulogized families with many children. “I have heard it said by some that families with many children and the birth of many children are among the causes of poverty. That opinion seems simplistic to me”, Francis affirmed before thousands of people congregated in the Paul VI Audience Hall, in the Vatican (La Nación, January 21, 2015).
Having changed the aim of his criticisms, Francis took advantage to condemn yet another of his favorite themes as the cause of poverty, “an economic system that excludes”; that is, a system based on private property and the free market.
So, the evil is no longer due to the lack of “responsible parenthood” of the rabbit parents (Monday, January 19) but rather, it is the economic system that is to blame (General Audience, January 21, 2015).
However, though in the end large families received a eulogy, the moral damage against them was already consummated. Regarding this commentary of Francis, also see our study: To be a good Catholic it isn’t necessary to have children like rabbits.
3. A Presbyterian “separated brother” accused of not being a Christian…
The most recent turbulence occurred on February 17, 2016 during the flight back to Italy; The Bishop of Rome was ending his tour to Cuba and Mexico.
What happened? Francis responded with harsh criticism to the equally strong censures that Donald Trump, Republican candidate for presidency of the United States, had proffered. An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth? It appears that Francis is not very prompt to offer the other cheek…. It’s enough to assist the video of his irritated reaction to the poor Mexican youth who had taken him by the arm in a demonstration of affection.
Returning to the polemic with Donald Trump, it all began when this candidate of the Republican Party accused Francis of being “a very political person” and of acting as a “pawn at the service of the Mexican government.”
Francis began his response with a good dose of irony:
“Well, thank God he said that I am a political person, because Aristotle defined the human being as a “political animal”: at least, I am human! And that I am a pawn… well, perhaps, I don’t know… I’ll leave that to your judgement and that of the people…” (Flight to Rome, February 17, 2016)
Interrogated about Trump’s intentions to construct a 2, 500 meter wall between the United States and Mexico, and moreover, his intent to deport 11 million illegal immigrants if elected president of the United States, Francis rapidly passed on to the attack:
“Then, a person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. What you were asking me, who to vote for or not: I won’t interfere. I only say: if a man says these things, he is not Christian. We have to see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt.” (Flight to Rome, February 17, 2016)
The storm was definitively unleashed. Donald Trump quickly retorted:
“He’s questioning my faith, I was very surprised to see it. I am a Christian and I am proud of it. For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I’m proud to be a Christian, and as president, I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now with out current president. No leader — especially a religious leader — should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.” (The Guardian, February 18. 2016)
As is to be expected, in a polemic of these proportions, Fr. Lombardi had to openly explain what had taken place:
“Francis said that which we, who follow his magisterium and his attitudes, know very well: that walls must not be constructed, but rather bridges. Naturally, afterward this was very amplified; but he did not wish, in any way, this to be a personal attack, nor an indication of vote.” (La Nación, February 20, 2016)
So, if Francis’ words qualifying Donald Trump as a “non-Christian” was in no way a personal attack, nor indication of vote, how should we define it? Was it a value judgement? It’s not very clear if in Francis’ mind Donald Trump recuperated the category of being a Christian. Will it depend on if he finally ends up some day being the President of the United States and constructs the wall?
However, the most important point is not in knowing what happened in Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s mind, but rather what the following steps are. Will Francis stop speaking a braccio on his flights? Will he prepare his interviews with more care?
We confess that this ensemble of informative turbulence, analyzed in retrospect, has created a negative impact. How should we qualify a speech that displays “hypothetical punches”, or that accuses Catholic families of behaving like rabbits, and that affirms that a politician is not a Christian for wanting to construct a frontier wall? Where are we to find elements to try to explain this?
We were just concluding these commentaries, when the media informed us of a new turbulence post-journey Cuba-Mexico. Yes, the example Francis gave regarding the authorization given by Paul VI to some women religious of the Congo to use oral contraceptives in case they were violated, is nothing but a legend; it is simply not an authentic fact, as Sandro Magister explained on February 24, 2016.
Could this be possible? What is the root of so many errors? Upon opening Sacred Scripture to Ecclesiastes 10:12-14, it seems that perhaps, we find the response. May each one judge for himself.