Mistakes, gaffes, memory lapses, urban legends. A list of errors in the discourses of Francis. The most disastrous in Paraguay
by Sandro Magister
ROME, 13 June, 2016 – “As Benedict XVI said, the tolerance must be zero”: thus Pope Francis in his interview with “La Croix” of last May 16, concerning the sexual abuse of minors.
But if one searches through all the writings and discourses of pope Joseph Ratzinger, the formula “zero tolerance” is simply not to be found. Nor is any equivalent formula.
And yet it returns in the annals of the Vatican like a mantra, most recently a few days ago, on June 4, on the occasion of the issuing of the motu proprio for the removal of bishops guilty of “negligence” in dealing with cases of abuse.
But while Francis has repeatedly made it his own, for example in the press conference on the flight back from the Holy Land, to attribute it also – as he has done – to Benedict XVI does not correspond to the truth.
And it is the latest of not a few inaccuracies that are scattered throughout the public speaking of the current pope.
The next-to-last inaccuracy is from April 24, during Pope Francis’s improvised visit to Villa Borghese. in the center of Rome, with members of Focolare holding an environmental demonstration.
The pope said, in his improvised remarks:
“Someone once told me – I don’t know if it’s true, if someone wants they can check, I haven’t checked – that the word ‘conflict’ in Chinese is made of two symbols: a symbol that means ‘risk’ and another that means ‘opportunity’. Conflict, it’s true, is a risk but it is also an opportunity.”
In reality, this showy and imaginary translation of the Chinese word “weiji” is an oratorical device invented in the West. It was launched for the first time by John Kennedy in a speech in Indianapolis in 1959, and since then has been reused many times by him and other American political leaders, from Nixon to Al Gore to Condoleezza Rice, becoming recurrent even in the popular press in English and other languages.
A third inaccuracy is in the press conference of this past April 16, on the return flight from the island of Lesbos.
In responding to the barrage of questions on “Amoris Laetitia,” Francis pointed to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn as the right interpreter of the document. And in singing his praises – “he is a great theologian” and “he knows Church doctrine well” – he added: “He was secretary of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.” Which is not true, because on this congregation Schönborn was and is only a member.
Moreover, in that same press conference, Francis replied with an improbable “I do not remember that footnote” to a question on the crucial footnote 351 of “Amoris Laetitia,” the one that envisions “the help of the sacraments” for the divorced and remarried.
Francis responded with another unlikely “I do not remember that document well” to the question of whether “there is still value” in the 2003 doctrinal note of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith that forbade Catholic politicians from legalizing unions between persons of the same sex.
This during the press conference on the flight back from Mexico, on February 17, 2016, just when a law of this kind was on the verge of being approved in Italy.
During the same press conference on the flight from Mexico to Rome, another misstep, this time with Paul VI paying the price.
Pope Francis said:
“Paul VI – the great! – in a difficult situation, in Africa, allowed the nuns to use contraception for cases of violence.”
And he added that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in certain cases, as in those that I mentioned of the blessed Paul VI, [that] was clear.”
Two days later, Fr. Federico Lombardi also pulled out the same story, in an interview with Vatican Radio conducted with the intention of straightening out what had gotten tangled in the statements of the pope presented in the media, which at the go-ahead for contraceptives had already chanted victory:
“The contraceptive or the condom, in cases of particular emergency and gravity, can also be a serious object of discernment of conscience. This is what the pope is saying. [. . .] The example that [Francis] gave of Paul VI and the authorization to use the pill for religious women who were at the gravest continual risk of violence on the part of rebels in the Congo, at the time of the tragedies of the war in the Congo, makes it clear that it was no normal situation in which this was taken into consideration.”
Now, that Paul VI explicitly gave this permission is not evident at all. No one has ever been able to cite a single word of his in this regard.
Yet this urban legend has been kept alive for decades, and sure enough even Francis and his spokesman have fallen for it.
How this incident truly came about has been reconstructed chapter and verse in this article from www.chiesa:
The sixth and most disastrous error: the one into which Francis fell in Asunción on July 11, 2015, in the discourse to representatives of civil society in Paraguay, with President Horacio Cartes and other authorities of the country in the front row.
There the pope improvised at a certain point, abandoning the written text:
“Before ending, I’d like to make reference to [one] thing. In doing this, as there are political authorities present here, including the President of the Republic, I wish to say this fraternally. Someone told me: ‘Look, Mr so-and-so was kidnapped by the Army, please do something to help!’. I do not know if this is true, or if it is not true, if it is right, or if it is not right, but one of the methods used by dictatorial ideologies of the last century, which I referred to earlier, was to separate the people, either by exile or imprisonment, or in the case of concentration camps, Nazis and Stalinists excluded them by death. For there to be a true culture of the people, a political culture, a culture of the common good, there must be quick and clear judicial proceedings. No other kind of strategy is required. Clear, concise judgments. That would help all of us. I do not know whether or not this exists here, and I say it with the greatest respect. I was told this as I came here, I was given this information here. I was asked to make a request about someone I do not know. I did not manage to grasp the surname of the person involved”.
The name that Francis had “not managed to grasp” was that of Edelio Murinigo, an official kidnapped more than a year before not by the regular army of Paraguay – as the pope had understood – but by a self-styled “Ejército del pueblo paraguayo,” a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group active in the country since 2008.
And yet, in spite of his stating and emphasizing his ignorance of the case, Francis had no qualms about using the few and confused facts he had grasped poorly a short time before to accuse that blameless president of Paraguay of nothing less than a crime compared with the worse misdeeds of the Nazis and Stalinists.
President Cartes deserves to be honored for the gentility with which he allowed the stunning public affront to fall into obscurity.
Another error, the imaginary citation that Francis put into the mouth of the composer Gustav Mahler in the speech – packed with admonitions – given to Communion and Liberation on March 7, 2015:
“The reference to the legacy that Don Giussani left you cannot be reduced to a museum of records, of decisions taken, of the rules of conduct. It certainly entails faithfulness to tradition, but faithfulness to tradition, Mahler said, ‘is not to worship the ashes but to pass on the flame’. Don Giussani would never forgive you if you lost the liberty and transformed yourselves into museum guides or worshippers of ashes.”
Every time the pope makes a citation, the team that gives official form to his discourses supplements it with a reference to the text from which it is taken. But in this case that did not happen. Because it could not happen.
In none of Mahler’s writings, in fact, can the phrase cited by Francis be found.
But it must be noted that a few days before, in concluding the spiritual exercises for the beginning of Lent in which the pope himself had participated, the preacher selected, Carmelite Fr. Bruno Secondin, had constructed his last meditation precisely on that citation attributed to Mahler by others before him and now entered into common usage in spite of having no basis in reality.
And finally, another phrase very dear to Jorge Mario Bergoglio but by an imaginary author: “Ipse harmonia est.”
The first time he cited it was no March 15, 2013, two days after he was elected pope, in the address to the cardinals returning from the conclave: “I recall that Father of the Church who defined the Holy Spirit like this. . .”
That time as well the Vatican office that handles the documentation of the pope’s discourses and the addition of bibliographical references to them racked its brains to find who might have spoken that phrase, and where. But it couldn’t do it. The maxim went into the record without father, without mother, without genealogy.
But Francis didn’t give up, and twenty months later he came back to citing the motto, attributing a paternity to it himself: “‘Ipse harmonia est’, Saint Basil says.” And this time as well it ended up in the record without a footnote, because no one was able to discover where Saint Basil might have said those words.
It was December 22, 2014, and the discourse was one that went on to become famous, on the fourteen “maladies” hurled into the faces of the cardinals and bishops of the curia.