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Sandro Magister

Opinion,

Pope Francis chooses an odd addition to his entourage in Panama

Sandro Magister

January 22, 2019 (L'Espresso) – The most surprising news, in the journey that Pope Francis is preparing to go on to Panama for world youth day, is that he has selected for his entourage, among his official companions, the Frenchman Dominique Wolton (in the photo), who is not an ecclesiastic or even a Catholic, but a theoretician of communication, director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the legendary CNRS, and founder of the international magazine "Hermès."

Above all, however, Wolton is the author of the book-length interview in which Jorge Mario Bergoglio spoke on the spur of the moment, without restraint, to the point of saying for the first time in public that he had entrusted himself for six months, when he was 42, to the care of an agnostic psychoanalyst in Buenos Aires.

The book, translated into multiple languages, was released in 2017, collecting in eight chapters eight conversations that the pope had with the author in 2016. Since then there has arisen in Bergoglio that sentiment of closeness with Wolton which led him to want to bring him along on his next journey – a sentiment akin to the one that ripened between Bergoglio and Eugenio Scalfari, another champion of the godless, whom the pope has often called in for talks with the confidence that Scalfari would then transcribe and publish in his own way that conversation of theirs, for the sake of building up a good image of Francis in the camp of the unbelievers.

This too is part of the communicative model that Bergoglio loves, because in an interview with a suitable interlocutor he can give to a vast audience more than what appears in the official texts.  He can lift the veil on his real thought.

For example, in the book-length interview with Wolton it is explained why Pope Francis sees sexual abuse committed by churchmen as a problem not so much of morality and sex, but of power, and of clerical power in particular, which he condenses in the word "clericalism."

When Wolton asks him why in the world so little attention is paid to the "most radical" message of the Gospel, which is the "condemnation of money madness," Bergoglio responds:

It is because some prefer to talk about morality, in their homilies or from the chairs of theology. There is a great danger for preachers, and it is that of condemning only the morality that is – pardon me – 'below the belt.' But other sins that are more serious, hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking a life...these are rarely mentioned. Get into the mafia, make clandestine deals... 'Are you a good Catholic? Well then, pay me the bribe.'

Further on the pope says:

Sins of the flesh are the lightest sins. Because the flesh is weak. The most dangerous sins are those of the spirit. I am talking about angelism: pride, vanity are sins of angelism. Priests have the temptation – not all, but many – of focusing on the sins of sexuality, what I call morality below the belt. But the more serious sins are elsewhere.

Wolton objects: "But what you are saying is not understood."

The pope responds:

No, but there are good priests... I know a cardinal who is a good example. He confided to me, speaking of these things, that as soon as someone goes to him to talk about those sins below the belt, he immediately says: 'I understand, let's move on.' He stops him, as if to say: 'I understand, but let's see if you have something more important. Do you pray? Are you seeking the Lord? Do you read the Gospel? He makes him understand that there are mistakes that are much more important than that. Yes, it is a sin, but... He says to him: 'I understand': And he moves on. On the opposite end there are some who when they receive the confession of a sin of this kind, ask: 'How did you do it, and when did you do it, and how many times?' And they make a 'film' in their head.  But these are in need of a psychiatrist.

Pope Francis's journey to Panama is taking place less than a month before the summit at the Vatican of the presidents of the episcopal conferences of the whole world, to agree on shared guidelines in addressing sexual abuse, scheduled for February 21 to 24.

It will be interesting to see, at that summit, how Francis will reconcile his minimization of the seriousness of sins that he calls "below the belt" with the emphasis, on the other hand, of the abuse of power by the clerical caste, which he has repeatedly stigmatized as the main cause of the disaster.

Not only that. Perhaps it will become clear to what extent his minimization of sins of sex – and of the homosexual practices widespread among the clergy – may explain his silences and his tolerance toward concrete cases of abuse, even by high-level churchmen he has esteemed and favored.

Exemplary in this regard is the case of Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta, for whom Bergoglio even acted as confessor, whom he promoted in 2013 as bishop of Orán and then, in December of 2017, called to Rome for a leading role at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, in spite of the fact that on two occasions – as documented on January 20 by Associated Press – the Vatican had received accusations from his diocese of his bad behavior "below the belt," with young seminarians, and twice the pope had asked him to respond to the accusations, deciding afterward to remove him from the diocese but also to promote him to an even more prominent position, evidently seeing as irrelevant, "light," that behavior of his.

Published with permission from L'Espresso.

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