Today’s front-page splash in The Catholic Herald reads: ‘Vatican in a spin as Pope Francis grants an explosive new interview’. That interview, with La Repubblica, quoted Francis as saying that his advisors had told him that two per cent of clergy were paedophiles – including ‘bishops and cardinals’. The Independent ran with the headline: ‘Pope Francis: “One in 50” Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals is a paedophile’.
What fascinates me is the reaction of the Vatican Press Office, which has gone into full L/Cpl Jones ‘Don’t Panic!’ mode. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s hapless press officer, has been pointing out that La Repubblica’s interviewer, Eugenio Scalfari, (a) didn’t use a tape recorder, (b) didn’t take notes but relied on his memory and (c) is 90 years old.
All of which is true. But it was also true last September, when Francis gave an earlier interview to Scalfari – an atheist, incidentally – under exactly the same conditions. That produced lurid headlines: Francis supposedly called the Vatican court ‘the leprosy of the papacy’, and poor Lombardi had to run around saying, hang on, there were no notes, Scalfari is ancient, etc.
So why did Francis go back to Scalfari? I reckon the uncheckability of the quotes suits him fine. He can express his views that the Vatican is crawling with fawning backstabbers and that sexual perverts are over-represented among the clergy right up to the level of cardinal – yet leave himself diplomatic legroom by allowing for the possibility that he’s been misquoted. He is a Jesuit, after all. So is Lombardi, but it's obvious who is being more Jesuitical here.
The background to this is the Pope’s war on the Vatican. I think he hates the place. And it’s interesting that he’s placed enormous power in the hands of Cardinal George Pell, who is also full of contempt for its greedy placemen. My guess is that the reforms, when they come, will be savage.