Vatican press office orders silence about Pope’s same-sex union comments
VATICAN CITY, October 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In the wake of the confusion surrounding Pope Francis’s recent comments on same-sex unions, the Vatican Communications department has ordered its journalists not to mention anything about the documentary.
Il Fatto Quotidiano reported on Thursday, that they had received an email from the editorial directors of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, signed by Massimiliano Menichetti, the head of Radio Vaticana - Vatican News.
The email reads: “Good day everyone, in reference to the uproar stirred up by the film ‘Francesco’ by the Russian director Evgeny Afineevsky, for now we are not coming out with ANY news, either on the radio or on the web. Nothing also about the film or the award given today in the Vatican. There is an active discussion about how to address the current media crisis. A statement from the Press Office is not excluded. Please report to me if you can, both in the middle of the day and at the end of the day, any reactions from listeners and followers. It is not necessary to send me the actual comments, it’s enough to send me two lines summarizing it. Thank you, Massimiliano Menichetti.”
The email would perhaps serve to explain the Vatican media blackout which has been in place since the news broke on Wednesday about the Pope’s comments in the documentary, Francesco. America magazine noted that the Vatican Press Office has remained quiet “only because it knows that this is what the pope wants.”
Despite this directive to the Vatican press, the Pope showed his approval by giving an audience to the film’s director Evgeny Afineevsky, in the Paul VI Hall before the normal Wednesday general audience.
Francesco was then shown at the Rome Film Fest, an event directed by Antonio Monda, the brother of L’Osservatore Romano editor, Andrea Monda. The film even received the “Kinéo Movie for Humanity Award,” which is awarded to those who “promote social and humanitarian themes.” The ceremony was held in the Vatican gardens.
However, questions have arisen surrounding the actual context of the Pope’s statements in the documentary and how Afineevsky, himself a homosexual, came across such footage.
In 2017 Afineevsky had asked then-head of Vatican Communications, Monsignor Dario Vigano, if he could make a documentary about the Pope. When Vigano resigned after tampering with a letter from Pope Benedict XVI concerning Pope Francis, his replacement Paulo Ruffini allowed Afineevsky to continue with his project and have access to the Vatican television archives.
America magazine reported that Afineevsky wished to conduct a personal video interview with the Pope, but was denied. Nevertheless, with his access to the archives, Afineevsky discovered unedited footage of a 2019 interview the Pope gave to Valentina Alexraki for Mexico television, Televisa.
That interview had been conducted using Vatican cameras and the resulting footage remained the property of the Vatican, who edited the content before releasing it back to Televisa.
America stated that “the Vatican did not edit or remove any part of what Francis said in the interview without his prior agreement.”
However, Afineevsky was able to use the unedited version of the Televisa interview, and seemingly selectively compiled the answers to different questions, to use in his film. Whilst Afineevsky originally claimed that the Pope’s comments on same-sex unions were from an interview he conducted, it later emerged that he had in fact used the footage from the Televisa interview.
In light of the news of the Pope’s support for same-sex unions, Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, referred back to the Televisa interview: “Thus there is nothing new. We are talking about an interview that was already given some time ago that was already passed on by the reception of the press.”
These words of the Pope from the documentary are not found in the official transcript of the Televisa interview: “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
Whilst the Vatican Press department had edited the remarks about same-sex unions out of the Televisa interview, as was custom in accord with the Pope’s wishes, America sourced the unedited version.
Regarding the phrase of civil unions, the relevant passage is drawn from an answer to whether he had become more liberal on the subject of same-sex unions. Pope Francis said, “The grace of the Holy Spirit certainly exists. I have always defended the doctrine. And it is curious that in the law on homosexual marriage…. It is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage. But what we have to have is a law of civil union (ley de convivencia civil), so they have the right to be legally covered.” This answer was not contained in the edited version of the interview.
Confusion about the comments in Francesco remains, yet neither the Vatican Press Office nor the Pope have responded to requests or demonstrations asking for clarity.
However, it seems that the Pope had already seen the film with Afineevsky in August, with the director showing the Pope his work on his iPad. After having seen the film, Pope Francis still gave his approval to Afineevsky in the private meeting on October 21.
Commenting on the event, Damian Thompson, Associate Editor of The Spectator, claimed that the Pope had outwitted the Vatican Press office: “It was the Pope who backed gay civil unions, outmanoeuvring his own press office (who had tried to kill the story) and humiliating orthodox papalators. There is no longer a single Catholic narrative on this topic – exactly what he intended.”