Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

There is something strange going on in the Vatican

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, October 3, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – I don’t know if I’m the only one to have noticed, but there seems to be something strange going on in the Vatican. No, I’m not talking about all that, at least not directly. I’m talking about the strange, long, almost awkward and, dare I say it, embarrassed silence, that has reigned from the Vatican’s press office on all of Pope Francis’s extraordinary statements and actions since his election.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the comments made by Pope Francis in the press – starting with his blockbusting plane interview on the way home from Brazil – which I’m sure most readers know well enough by now.

We have all seen the fallout. Homosexualist activists thanking Francis for “softening the Church’s policy on homosexuality”; the National Abortion Rights Action League thanking Pope Francis for… no one seems quite sure what; and even an atheist US talk show host declaring Francis an atheist.

Through all this, although the full Italian texts of the two interviews have been posted to the website of Vatican Radio, there has been nothing in the way of official clarifications, corrections, or even thunderous denials from the Sala Stampa.

In the nearly ten years I’ve been covering Vatican and Catholic-related news, through three papacies now, I don’t remember a time when the uproar caused by things a pope is saying and doing has reached so deeply into the minds of orthodox believers. These are the people who adhere to and defend all the teaching of the Catholic religion as a coherent and indivisible whole, and who have always relied on clarity and vigorous defence of the faith from Rome.

Catholic believers have understood their task well over the last few decades of this war of ideas; to patiently and articulately correct the claims made by the secular progressivists in the media. We have been able to do this because, thanks to the clarifying of doctrine and strengthening of the Church over the last two papacies, we have been confident about the ground we stood on.

But in recent months, around the world, with either dismay and anxiety, or with triumphant whoops, this pope’s statements – first to the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica and now to the Italian atheist celebrity Eugenio Scalfari – have been interpreted as nearly a declaration that the Church will change to suit the tastes of the “progressivists,” liberals and secularists. And for weeks, there was nothing; no clarification, no corrections or denials at all from inside the Vatican’s walls. The Catholic world outside was starting to wonder just what is going on in there. 

Nothing, that is, until last Thursday, when, after a Sala Stampa (Holy See Press Office) press conference about the first meeting of Pope Francis’ new council of cardinals, Fr. Federico Lombardi stammered out a few words in response to a deluge of reporters’ questions.

Despite the fact that they certainly must have known what was coming, we had nothing but the Holy See’s press officer and the de facto papal spokesman metaphorically dropping his gaze and shuffling his feet. The pope, Fr. Lombardi said, was speaking in a “conversational” or “colloquial” manner, and his statements were not “a magisterial document”…

Not only was there no comment or clarifications in the prepared remarks at that press conference, Fr. Lombardi had nothing prepared for what he must have known would be the main point of interest for journalists. He seemed, simply, to be caught off guard.

Now Scalfari himself has admitted this weekend that he neither recorded nor took notes during the conversation, and that the “interview” that was published had been reconstructed from memory. However, Scalfari and Lombardi have both insisted that Pope Francis was shown the final text and approved it, although it is not “clear how closely the Pope read it”.

This revelation was followed on the weekend by a letter produced by Fr. Thomas Rosica, signing not as a Vatican spokesman but as head of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, who summed up a few of the revelations about the Scalfari interview that had come to light elsewhere.

The interview, Fr. Rosica said, was “after-the-fact reconstruction” and so “run[s] the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview”.

Fr. Rosica affirmed again, however, that the Scalfari interview was “trustworthy overall” but admitted, “Nevertheless, some minor, unprecise details have caused a stir among you.” Among the possible “‘conflation’ of facts, details and sequence of events” on the night of his election, were questions about “a so-called ‘mystical experience’ of Pope Francis on the night of his election to the Papacy.”

But that was it. We are left to ourselves to try to understand all the rest of Pope Francis’s remarks and actions that have astonished, confused and alarmed Catholics around the world for the last six months. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Rome correspondent Edward Pentin summed up the dissatisfaction of many observers, commenting, “[T]he picture emerging is of a Pope who does whatever he wants with little or no consultation with his closest aides.” The pope, one inside source said, is “viewed as being ‘totally unpredictable,’ preferring to do things arbitrarily and on his own”.

But many of us Vatican-watchers are also left wondering what is going on inside the Press Office. The brevity and off-the-cuff, essentially reactive character of their very few responses to date do indicate one thing that they were probably not intended to convey. That is, it seems the usual paths of communication within the Vatican, and their “control over the message” have broken down.

One local Rome reporter told me, “I think they must be embarrassed that the interview went ahead as it did. I asked Fr. Lombardi if anyone else sat in on the interview. No reply. It raises an ominous question: if there is this much confusion and bewilderment out here, is it possible that the same confusion reigns in there?

Meanwhile, the “clarifications” from Fr.’s Lombardi and Rosica leave unanswered the numerous questions about Pope Francis’s statements.

Hundreds of articles and editorials, and easily thousands of blog posts have asked, Did Pope Francis really mean that there has been too much emphasis on abortion, the nature of the family, marriage and sexuality? Who "reprimanded" Francis for not talking about these issues? Are youth unemployment and the loneliness of elderly people really the most urgent issues facing the Church? Does that mean that the killing of 50 million unborn children a year around the world, the growing threat of legalised euthanasia, the global population control movement… really should take a back seat to our economic or even emotional troubles?

Is the pope, the Vicar of Christ, saying that focusing on these issues in the public sphere is a distraction from the true aims of the Church of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

What does he mean by the Church being caught up in “small rules”? What did he mean when he said that “God is not a Catholic”? Or that “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good”?

There can be no doubt that this is all having a profound effect on faithful Catholics out there. Ordinary Catholics are asking hard questions, and expressing their grave concerns. Typical of such comments was one that I found most poignant on the ‘blog of Fr. Dwight Longenecker, one of Pope Francis’ strongest supporters:

 “I find this interview very hard. I have accepted that this is the Holy Father's personal view, and that it is not infallible, but this interview is challenging my prior notion of what devotion to the Papacy meant because previously I would not have selected what the Popes said but assiduously read things like this. I can't get past the cognitive dissonance.”

There seems little point in debating over what it’s all about. The possibilities have been explored as far as we can take it from out here. As LSN managing editor Steve Jalsevac said the other day, we’ve seen all we need to see of speculation about “what the pope really meant…” or “what the pope could not possibly have meant…”. As he said, all of this might be cathartic for some, but ultimately only Pope Francis can clarify what he really meant. And he isn’t.

Last week he was in Assisi and in that highly public forum with the press corps following and waiting, there has not been any hint that he is aware of the enormous uproar among the faithful that has resulted from his words.

For fifty years, Catholics have relied upon a system in which every word spoken or written by a pope, or for that matter by any office of the Vatican, has been carefully examined and vetted through the appropriate Vatican dicasteries for conformity to Catholic teaching. It has been this system, almost as much as the personal commitment of the last two popes to the defence of the sanctity of human life, that has given Catholics the confidence, the solid doctrinal ground they needed to fight the good fight. 

That collaborative process of vetting and doctrinal precision, of caution, care and commitment to the internal theological and doctrinal coherence, has produced some of the most important documents to the life and family issues of the last century. These statements, taken together, could be seen as a kind of constitution of the international pro-life movement: Humanae vitae, 1968, on artificial contraception; Donum vitae, 1987, and Dignitas Personae, 2008, on artificial procreation and new reproductive technologies; Evangelium vitae, 1995, on abortion and euthanasia; the Charter of the Rights of the Family 1983.

But the evidence is mounting that that system has broken down or simply been rendered moot. If Pope Francis is now just calling up journalists himself (if that story is to be believed) and bypassing the process by which papal statements were vetted, clarified and perfected, then what can we expect next?

We also know that the same system that kept ambiguity or confusion from causing problems among the faithful, also restrained those members of the hierarchy who were inclined, for whatever reason, to back away from the Church’s teachings. It will not have failed to cross the minds of a certain kind of prelate and priest that there now appears to be no one minding the store and that some things may now be said and done with less fear of corrective action.


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Growing ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement draws fury

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By Hilary White
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Critics of feminism have long said that it is entering the final stages of its long career, with more of its assertions about the nature of human sexual and social relations being contradicted by the evidence and fewer young people following its dictates every decade. But in the last few weeks, it seems that feminism’s last gasp is being used to direct insults at young women who are lining up to publicly reject and ridicule it.

The Tumblr site Women Against Feminism has started a social networking trend in which thousands of young women photograph themselves holding signs bluntly denouncing feminism, giving a sharp indication that the feminist brand has become poison to young, hip, and internet-savvy women.

Mainstream and journalistic feminists have lashed out at the site and its followers, entering into an online spat over the increasingly popular photos. The signs say, “I am not a victim,” and “This is what an anti-feminist looks like.”

They continue: “I am an adult who is capable of taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I define myself and derive my value by my own standards. I don’t need to be ‘empowered’. I am not a target for violence and there is no war against me. I respect me and I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems.”

The messages held by the women pinpoint with pithy and acerbic precision exactly the reasons given by many critics that the movement has lost favour with young people. They call it a creed of double standards that promotes victimhood and endorses bullying of anyone who critiques it.

The site’s explanatory page, which was taken down for unknown reasons in the last two days, said, “Feminists are the only people who lose their minds with rage when you tell them that women already have the same exact rights as men. That’s not good enough. They want more. They desperately want to be victims. They want a privileged social position.”

The author goes on to accuse feminism in general of systematic censorship, discrimination, elitism and “policing other women” who do not toe the line – as well as baseline misandry. The anonymous creator denounced feminism’s adoption of “abortion as ‘empowerment’”:

This opinion is unpopular, but I don’t agree that I need to have my baby scraped out of my uterus in order to feel empowered. But the abortion industry (i.e. Planned Parenthood) makes a ton of money off this perversion of empowerment. ‘Abortion as empowerment’ teaches women to see their wombs as nothing but garbage bins full of disposable waste.

One of the contributors wrote, “I don’t need feminism because my self-worth is not directly tied to my victim complex. As a woman in the western world I am not oppressed, and neither are you,” says one. Another: “I don’t need feminism because I don’t need to bully someone to share my opinions with others.”

Some come right out and say that feminism promotes exactly the evils it purports to fight against: “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

Although the site and its contentious photos have been running around the internet for many months, arguments among journalism’s feminists started breaking out this week after a mocking Buzzfeed feature helped the site gain momentum on social media outlets.

Some feminist journalists simply flung insults. Lillian Kalish sniffed on Ryot, “These Women Who Think They Don’t Need Feminism Don’t Know What Feminism Is.” “Did these posters ever think to look up the actual definition of feminism?”

Nuala McKeever, in the Belfast Telegraph, called the women posting the photos “silly, ignorant, vacuous wee girls with absolutely no thoughts beyond their own self-absorbed inanities.”

Time Magazine’s Sarah Miller said, “I Really, Truly, Fully Hate ‘Women Against Feminism’—But…” Miller wrote, “[T]he tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant… We need feminism.”

But Miller added, “Still, the pain that we experience as women—even physical—does not give us the right to tell people there’s one way to think or feel, or to assume that we have some god-like understanding of everyone’s motivations.”

Cathy Young, however, responded in Time, saying, “Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right.” She writes, “The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists—but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.”

The site, Young says, “raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st Century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.”

Sarah Boesveld wrote in the National Post on Friday that the site shows that feminism has become “complicated” and “sometimes alienating.” She quotes an email sent to the paper by 22 year-old Australian Lisa Sandford, who “believes in equality for the sexes” but firmly rejects feminism as “rude and nasty” and intends to be a stay-at-home mother. 

Sandford wrote, “If feminism really accepted equality, they would not tell me my views are wrong, they would accept it and let me be.”

Browse the 'Women Against Feminism' archives here (warning: occasional strong language).


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Welcome Baby Filipino 100 Million!

Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse
By Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse

Population Research Institute welcomes the birth of little Chonalyn Sentino. Baby Chonalyn was born this past Sunday to parents Clemente and Dailin, and was feted in the Philippines as “Baby 100 Million.” PRI welcomes Baby Chonalyn as well, saying that she will be a blessing to her family, her community, and her nation.

The Philippines is one of the largest Catholic countries in the world, and its people value children. For this reason, it has been a target of the population controllers for decades. It was one of the countries singled out by Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council in 1974 for special “attention” and, more recently, has been bullied by the Obama administration into passing its first population control law. 

The bill, which was touted as being all about promoting “reproductive health,” was actually intended to drive down the birth rate. For example, section 15 requires that all couples receive a “Certificate of Compliance” from the local Family Planning Office before becoming eligible for a marriage license.

Some in the Philippines are decrying Chonalyn’s birth, repeating USAID’s talking points about the “dangers” of overpopulation. They welcome Chonalyn as an individual little girl, while simultaneously calling for future little girls and boys to be removed from existence.

The Philippine Star wrote that the birth symbolized a “large population that will put a strain on the country's limited resources.” Another paper cited the executive director of the official Commission on Population who bluntly said “We'd like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman's) lifetime.” And the Global Post cited “concerned advocates” who thought the current population was not a “complement with the country's economic growth.”

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But many other Filipinos aren’t buying into the anti-people hysteria. Francisco Antonio, a Filipino Chemical Engineering graduate student at Yale, adamantly rebutted the notion that there are too many Filipinos, saying: “I celebrate life because population control is defeatism disguised as pragmatism. And because human creativity holds more potential for protecting this planet and its inhabitants than any other resource I know of.”

A Filipina currently living in California told PRI that she welcomed the transition of her country to 100 million persons: “Filipinos are not a burden to the world population, because we not only care for our own but also for others in the world. One of the greatest and most sought after exports of the Philippines is our skilled, motivated, and exemplary workforce. And these workers tirelessly cultivate their family and community abroad and in the Philippines. We are a very social and civic minded people. We care and share because it is part of our culture and we do it with a smile.”

 Ed, a Filipino accountant, also celebrated the birth of Baby Chonalyn: “The typical Filipino does not associate a baby with ‘cost’ or ‘expense’ but rather as a ‘blessing’ and a ‘gift.’ This is because Filipinos recognize that true happiness does not come from the accumulation of material wealth or prestige, but rather, from true, genuine, and strong relationships with other people. [Filipinos] value life, not because the Church says or the Pope says so, but because they recognize it to be true. And the truth about the value of life, will continue to shine, long after the debates are over.”

It goes without saying that we at the Population Research Institute also welcome Chonalyn’s birth. We need more Filipinos, not fewer. 

Reprinted with permission from Pop.org.


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Two very different ways to respond to Pope Francis’ unrecorded interviews

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By John-Henry Westen

In the last few weeks another series of interviews with Pope Francis surfaced and have again left many Catholics scratching their heads.  Headlines all over the world had the Pope saying that two percent of priests are pedophiles, but is that what he said?  Even though the Vatican spokesman did issue a clarification, that question and others remain unanswered.

Critical reactions to these interviews have been interesting not even so much for their contents as from whom they arise.  These are the observations of some of the most faithful Catholic Church watchers today.  The folks pointing out these concerns are not, as many would assume, ‘“far right-wing-holier-than-the-Pope” types, but mainstream Catholics known for their loyalty to Pope Francis.

Phillip Lawler is the founder of Catholic World News, the first Catholic news service operating on the Internet. In part of his criticism of the most recent interview, he states: “Why was Pope Francis speaking with Scalfari without having first established clear ground rules for the conversation—rules that would certainly include recording and verification of any quotes?”

(To comprehend the situation accurately it is necessary to have an understanding of the man whom the Pope has allowed to interview him.  Eugenio Scalfari is relatively unknown in the West even after the fanfare of his papal interviews. LifeSiteNews has produced this piece to assist that understanding.)

Lawler recalls: “Back in October the Vatican had been embarrassed by an ‘interview’ in which [Scalfari’s] reconstructed quotes caused an uproar, and the Vatican press office was forced to issue an awkward ‘clarification’ which only added to the confusion.”

In addition to that clarification of the October Scalfari interview, the confusion and uproar got so bad that the Vatican removed the interview from their website, where they had it posted in the section containing the Pope’s speeches. Interestingly, that interview resurfaced two weeks ago on the Vatican website only to be removed again after a new round of criticism.

A blogger at the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register offered an observation similar to Lawler’s but with a little more bite. Pat Archbold writes, “The internet is once again abuzz with the second-hand hearsay of an unrecorded Papal interview.” Archbold advises his readers with characteristic sarcasm, “So pay no attention to those crazy and outlandish anti-Catholic headlines tearing up your RSS feed.  Just ignore them and hope they will soon go away, just like unrecorded Papal interviews.”

A second unrecorded conversation with the Pope makes news

Another write-up of an encounter with Pope Francis also caused a stir.  Brian Stiller, an Evangelical leader from Toronto was part of a delegation of Evangelical Christians who met with Pope Francis earlier this month. In his July 9 account, Stiller puts in quotes this statement he attributes to the Pope: “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community.  There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s not spend our time on those. Rather, let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”

That led noted priest-blogger Father Dwight Longenecker to first caution that the quotes are “Brian Stiller’s memory of the conversation.” 

Then with the caveat of not actually knowing the whole conversation, Fr. Longenecker says “it would not be unusual for a Catholic priest of Pope Francis’ generation to feel that way.”  He explains that he has “heard from numerous convert clergy over the years who said when they went to their local Catholic priest and expressed the wish to become Catholic the priest told them it wasn’t necessary and that they could do much more good to Christ’s kingdom and the Catholic church by staying where they were and evangelizing within their own denomination.”

“Now this strikes me as rather troublesome on several levels,” says Longenecker. He notes he had himself once used that line with a Protestant friend, to which his friend replied, “You don’t want to convert me? Why not? I don’t have much respect for your religion if you think so little of it that you don’t want me to share it!”

“He basically called me out on what was a little lie on my part. I wanted to be nice to him [so] I said I didn’t want to convert him. He said our discussion would be much better if I admitted that I did want him to become Catholic. He was right. I did. I still do.”

Inside the Vatican

Vatican journalist Edward Pentin has reported that unnamed “Vatican officials are uneasy and perplexed” about the interview. Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002 and has since covered the pope for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times.

“The officials’ discomfort also extends to the Pope’s spontaneous telephone calls to strangers, a couple of which implied he deviated from Church teaching but, being private and unrecorded conversations, are difficult to verify,” he wrote for Newsmax.

From the outset of the Francis pontificate, there were these unrecorded and yet published interviews – the first was from a meeting with Latin American religious leaders in June 2013.  That was the one that had Pope Francis speaking of the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and also about being concerned about Catholics who would count rosaries to offer prayer bouquets.

At the time LifeSiteNews published nothing on that first unrecorded interview even though almost all other news services did.  Shortly thereafter I was at the Vatican inquiring about that unrecorded but reported-on encounter and was assured by various Vatican insiders that the communication was not accidental but intended – to me at the time a rather startling revelation.

But that same assessment came later from another Vatican quarter, a man who speaks German as does the pope and also shares the pope’s religious order.  “Francis knows exactly how power is spelled,” said Bernd Hagenkord, a Jesuit who is in charge of German programming for Vatican Radio in a May interview with The Atlantic. “He’s a communicator in the league with Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. They say he’s being unclear, but we know exactly what he means.”

Two different ways to respond

One of the most disturbing outcomes of these ‘interviews’ is that the words and interpretations of what is being said by the Pope, while they may be clear for the German Jesuit, are remarkably unclear for the vast majority of Catholics.  Catholics who know well their faith, its moral teachings, and the reason for them are few and far between. They are able to discern that the Pope cannot mean to undermine Church teaching; that those teachings are unchangeable.

But most people are taken in by the media’s false interpretation that ‘who am I to judge’ involves a new acceptance of homosexuality; the false possibility for legitimately-married Catholics to divorce and remarry outside the Church and still receive Communion; the idea that the Church should quiet down on her teachings on abortion, contraception, and same-sex “marriage.”  All of those false conclusions were drawn from previous Francis interviews.

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There are two ways forward for faithful Catholics in such a situation.  One way – a way that is most tempting - was recently recognized as a growing tendency by blogger Father Ray Blake. “Most Catholics but especially clergy want to be loyal to the Pope in order to maintain the unity of the Church,” he said.  “Today that loyalty is perhaps best expressed through silence.”

In leading up to that observation, Blake noted that in the previous pontificate “there was a solidity and certainty in Benedict's teaching which made discussion possible and stimulated intellectual honesty, one knew where the Church and the Pope stood.”  He added, “Today we are in less certain times, the intellectual life of the Church is thwart with uncertainty.”

However, Vatican Cardinal Raymond Burke suggested a different approach recently. According to Burke, who serves as head of the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, the pope has made a strategic decision to focus on making the Church appealing, and thus bishops and priests “are even more compelled to underline these teachings (on life and family) and make them clear for the faithful.”

He told EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, “The Holy Father has said on different occasions that he expects that bishops and priests are doing this teaching while he’s trying to draw people closer and not have them use [these doctrines] as their immediate excuse for not coming to the faith.”

Cardinal Burke’s strategy confronts the culture head-on even on the most difficult issues.  He sees that the often-used but failed tactic of avoiding difficult situations, of obfuscating or compromising on moral issues as worse than useless.

When truth is pushed aside for political correctness, to fulfill ideals of civility or to achieve false unity and false peace, the world is harmed by the lack of truth the Church is called to bring to it.

When truth is boldly proclaimed and held to, despite persecution, even the enemies of truth are forced to see that the opponents of their secular or liberal ideologies truly believe their teachings and are willing to suffer for them. This eventually generates a degree of respect from some of the critics and an openness to re-consider their own flawed positions.


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