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ROME, Italy, October 22, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Rome is both a dream and a nightmare. 

I love the old city: the rich palette of shades on the crumbling walls, the cobblestones underfoot, the cheerful greetings in the cafes, the smell of sugar wafting from bakeries, the taste of my morning cappuccino. My husband and I can walk to Mass; we bump into friends in church or on the Borgo Pio; we make lunch dates and bask in the October sun. 

But now everyone wears masks indoors and out, which gives life in Rome a horror film dimension: the Eternal City is now populated by zombies, the famously expressive faces hidden behind ―well, “face diapers” is not entirely an unjust term. Cloth or plastic, they’re meant to catch noxious effluvia. An innocent unmasked sneeze is now an obscenity, apparently.

Masks make it more difficult to understand and to be understood, which is no joke when you’re operating in a foreign language. They add to my sense of confusion, especially when reporting. My confusion is compounded by the sudden disappearance of translation services as they were once laid on by the Sala Stampa, the press office of the Holy See. For every newsworthy event, I now have a choice: go in person and rely on my language skills, or stay at home and watch it second-hand over EWTN. 

How I miss those invisible Italian ladies speaking English through headphones into my so-willing ears! Last October, everything seemed laid on for bright-eyed North American reporters: a pass good for weeks, the cozy auditorium, the headphones,   WiFi on tap, paper copies of documents marked “Embargo”, colleagues to greet or subtly insult online. Now I have to apply for a pass for each event, find each socially distanced locale, strain to catch all the words, and count myself lucky if I see a familiar half-face among the journalists.

Some half-faces in Rome are easy to recognize, however. Yesterday I covered the International Meeting for Prayers for Peace from the impressive Piazza del Campidoglio on top of the Capitoline Hill, and the white-masked face of Pope Francis appeared on screens shortly after 4 PM. He was processing into the Ara Coeli Basilica with Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, whom I now revere for the clarity of his Italian, for the first part of the interfaith event. 

The sight of the pontiff in a white cotton mask disturbed me, for he allegedly has only one lung, and he sounded more breathless than ever. And the sight of so many Christians ―cardinals, nuns, priests, evangelicals, orthodox―wearing masks and sitting a coffin-depth apart was depressing. But then almost everyone around me was socially distancing and wearing masks, too. The exceptions were the cameramen, who jostled for position on the steps of the museum behind us and took off their mascherine to smoke. 

Pope Francis appears on screen during Tuesday's International Meeting of Prayer for Peace. (Credit: Dorothy Cummings McLean)

Non-Christian prayers for peace took place simultaneously in the museums: these were not streamed into the piazza, but we could see the distinctively dressed worshippers come and go. When the services ended, a Sala Stampa cameraman kicked me off my piece of step and I glumly went to sit in a socially distanced chair in the piazza. I pondered large signs with the name of the event in Italian and, weirdly translated, in English. 

Salvarsi” is a reflexive verb. “Nessuno si salva da solo: pace e fraternità” means “No-one saves himselfalone: peace and fraternity,” but the official English translation is “No-one is savedalone: peace and fraternity.”  You don’t need a theology degree to know there’s a big fat Pelagius-sized difference between saving yourself and being saved. If, as in Pope Francis’ largely earth-bound document Fratelli tutti, we are talking about temporal matters, humans-saving-humans makes sense. But I was covering a religious event, an interfaith religious event. What kind of salvation was Pope Francis talking about?

I’m a JPII kid who grew up wondering why Catholic life and worship before I was born had changed so much. Nobody around me talked about the Assisi interfaith gathering of 1986, and I didn’t think much about it until I saw a news clipping about it on the office door of a Boston College professor who was a convert to Islam. Then I was shocked. I don’t remember why, but I was.

I sincerely hope for the eternal salvation of all men, but at the same time, I believe that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and “nobody comes to the Father except through” Him (John 14:6). I don’t understand how encouraging non-Christian prayer is supernaturally helpful to anyone.  

Your author on site during Tuesday's International Meeting of Prayer for Peace. (Credit: Dorothy Cummings McLean)

I understand that the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate honors the elements of truth found in other religions, but I don’t understand the current flirtation with non-Christian symbols like Pachamama and the idea that God wills different religions. In old books “confusing the faithful” is a clerical crime. Well, I’m faithful, and I’m confused. 

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Remarks attributed to Pope Francis (and, not denied by the Vatican) in support of homosexual civil unions have caused grave scandal to the faithful.

Please SIGN this urgent petition which asks Pope Francis to clarify and rectify these heterodox and scandalous remarks on homosexual civil unions, and which will be delivered both to the Vatican and to the Papal Nuncio of the United States (the Pope's official representative in the U.S.).

As the last guarantor of the Faith, the Pope should clarify and rectify these remarks, which go against the perennial teaching of the Church, even including the teaching of his living predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

"What we have to create is a law of civil coexistence [meaning civil union law, for homosexuals]...," Pope Francis is reported to have remarked, in what is arguably his clearest statement of public support for a practice morally prohibited by official Catholic Church teaching.

In fact, the Church has been crystal clear in Her opposition to homosexual unions.

Just in 2003, Pope Saint John Paul II approved a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, titled 'Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons' and written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), which concludes with the following:

"The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself."

It could not be more clear: the Church is calling people to repentance, not to be left to indulge in grave sin.

Since becoming public, several senior prelates as well as other notable Catholic figures have voiced their opposition to these remarks attributed to the Pontiff.

Cardinal Raymond Burke stated: "It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church, as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition."

Cardinal Gerhard Müller commented: "Where there is tension between the plain and obvious Word of God and the infallible interpretation on the one hand, and private expressions of opinion even by the highest church authorities on the other, the principle always applies: in dubio pro DEO [When in doubt, be in favor of God]."

And, Catholic theologian and apologist Scott Hahn, without directly quoting Pope Francis, shared on Facebook the 'Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,' published by the CDF in 1986, with the statement: "Holy Father, respectfully and humbly, I beg to differ... if that is indeed what you said. In any case, please clarify and rectify your statement, especially in view of the official teaching of our Lord through the magisterium of His Church."

But, the silence from the Vatican has been deafening, with no clarification forthcoming.

We must, therefore, ask the Pope for clarification in this serious matter.

Please SIGN and SHARE this petition which asks Pope Francis to clarify and rectify remarks attributed to him in support of homosexual civil unions.


'Cdl. Burke: Pope’s homosexual civil union remarks ‘contrary’ to Scripture, Tradition' -

'Cardinal says Catholics ‘can and should’ disagree with Pope’s ‘opinion’ on gay civil unions' -

'Archbishop Vigano, Bishops Tobin and Strickland respond to Pope’s approval of homosexual civil unions' -

'Pope’s comments on gay civil unions cause shockwaves around the world' -

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During the interfaith meeting in the Piazza, however I was not so much confused as despairing:  after Bartholomew’s speech on the ecological crisis, the religious leaders ceased to speak Italian. Haïm Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France, spoke French, so that was okay (he mentioned poor murdered Samuel Paty, by the way), but Mohamed Abdelsalam Abdellatif Mohamed spoke in Arabic. Zen monk Shoten Minegishi spoke Japanese. Karmaljit Singh Dillon presumably spoke Punjabi. At that point, I would have been better off at home with the EWTN livestream, I’m sorry to say. October evenings in Italy are cold, and I was freezing. 

But then it was Pope Francis’s turn to speak, and I listened hard to sort out what he means when he says nobody is saved (or saves himself) alone. And he seemed to mean what he said in Fratelli tutti: we can’t continue to have a nice life here on earth unless everyone is able to have a nice life here on earth. He also seemed to suggest that the temporal survival of humanity is at stake, for he said that it is possible to construct a world of peace and thus, brothers and sisters, salvarci insieme:to save ourselves together.

John Lennon would have loved it; St Thomas Aquinas not so much. 

After an “Appeal for Peace” was read out, a procession of masked children displayed, a candelabra lit, and the “Appeal” signed by people in colourful dress ― as sentimental music like Pachabel’s “Canon in D” poured from the speakers ― the event ended with a socially distanced “sign of peace.” Masked people nodded to each other in the 7 PM gloom. 

Then I went home, walking swiftly down the Capitoline Hill, through the dark Roman streets past the ruins of the Theater of Marcellus, past Italian Jewish restaurants with tables still empty on the pavement, their waiters in kippahs and masks. Somewhere on the other side of Giordano Bruno’ s monument, I buzzed a buzzer and was relieved to hear my husband’s voice. I hoped he had made a nice supper, for I had hours of writing ahead of me.  

A large white bird flew over the Piazza di Campidoglio at least twice, by the way. Make of that what you will. 

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.