by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
How many of you remember the childish jingle, "Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!"? Or perhaps you are familiar with Sir Walter Scott’s insightful line, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!" Or, the famous quip of Mark Twain (or was it Benjamin Disraeli?): "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Well, during this immediate post-synodal period, some lies seem to be surfacing in the Vatican concerning matters great and small. Indeed, there are certain strange and scandalous developments happening nowadays, most notably "Part II" (as it were) of "Vatileaks" whose intricacies have yet to be resolved, and which therefore remain far beyond the scope of the present article. So, let's reflect a bit on a smaller matter.
Recently, Eugenio Scalfari, an elder statesman of Italian intellectual atheism as well as a personal friend and not infrequent dialog partner of Pope Francis, made an alarming statement. Scalfari claimed that the Pope called him at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, to have a brief conversation (15 minutes or so) about the Synod that had ended three days earlier.
They spoke in Italian, and since we know that Italian is not Pope Francis' mother tongue, it's possible (though not very likely) that there may have been some misunderstanding (equivocations) between the two interlocutors. Furthermore, we know that Scalfari has been known to exaggerate and even misquote popes in the past. Nevertheless, when Scalfari writes an article in which he cites Pope Francis verbatim, one may be tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See's Press Office, denied that Pope Francis ever said what Scalfari asserted.
The principle of non-contradiction tells us that something or someone cannot be both right and wrong at the same time. So, logically, either Mr. Scalfari is telling the truth, or Fr. Lombardi is. But both can’t be telling the truth.
And what was it that Pope Francis allegedly told Scalfari that stirred so much controversy before the Vatileaks scandal broke? According to Scalfari, Pope Francis affirmed that the real intention of the Synod Fathers was to permit all persons, including the divorced/remarried, to receive Holy Communion sooner or later.
Immediately, many antennae and red flags went up here in Rome and a certain "dubium" arose. There is an apparent conflict here between the letter of the Synod's Final Document ("Relatio Finalis") and the alleged verbal statement of Pope Francis. The Synod Fathers never mention Holy Communion in relation to the divorced/remarried. The Document merely states that by making recourse to the "internal forum"of the Church, under the spiritual direction of their local priests and bishops, the divorced/remarried (who are by no means excommunicated) are encouraged to become more fully integrated into the life of the Church and indeed to enter into fuller communion with her. The bishops do not explicate what form this fuller integration will take, but they certainly stop short of recommending that divorced/remarried Catholics be readmitted to sacramental communion.
Apart from trying to figure out the veracity or mendacity at stake in the Scalfari-Pope Francis story, a few practical and pastoral questions come to mind:
(1) Can the divorced/remarried be allowed to proclaim the Word of God in the liturgical assembly – even if their lives to a certain extent, indeed in a public way, contradict that Word, especially as it relates to the Sixth and Ninth Commandments and Jesus' clear teaching on adultery?
(2) Would it be appropriate for the divorced/remarried to function as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, were we to follow the logic of the principle, "Nemo dat quod non habet" ("No one can give what he doesn’t have.")? Or, could such a person be a godparent, promising to raise a child in the faith, which he himself does not practice in its fullness?
(3) If divorced/remarried persons, who have not obtained annulments, are allowed to function in the aforementioned liturgical roles, would we not run the risk of creating further scandal in the Church? Scandal here, in its technical sense, of leading others to sin by suggesting that a sinful action or lifestyle is not really problematic at all.
Permit me to conclude with a brief reflection.
Recently, I was invited to see an independent film entitled, "La Bugia Bianca," which translates from Italian as "The White Lie." Without getting into the complicated details of the film, suffice it to say that it ultimately makes a strong statement about "white lies" not being so "white" at all, especially when a person's most intimate identity, emotions and relationships are at stake. Perhaps the lesson of the film is one that we can also take away from the Scalfari-Pope Francis affair.