By EWTN News' Vatican Observer, Andrea Gagliarducci

Are an atheist journalist's papal interviews reliable?

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Eugenio Scalfari. Credit: Francesca Marchi/IJF11 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Following the publication of a new text by Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari in 'La Repubblica' suggesting that Pope Francis believes in relativism, the Holy See spokesman has questioned whether Scalfari is advancing his own views.

In a recent op-ed in the leftist Italian newspaper, Scalfari mentioned one of his recent conversations with Pope Francis, saying the Pope had acknowledged that truth is relative; and he used this comment to support the idea that the Gospels do not tell the whole truth.

According to Scalfari, “the Pope refuses the word 'relativism,' i.e. a real movement with aspects of religious politics; but he does not refuse the word ‘relative’. No to relativism, but that truth is relative is a matter of fact that Pope Francis acknowledges.”

Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, told EWTN News Oct. 28 that “Scalfari pursues his own discourse” and, “if there are no words published by the Holy See press office and not officially confirmed, the writer takes full responsibility for what he has written.”

The founder of 'La Repubblica' and a self-proclaimed atheist, Scalfari has made it understood that he often has private conversations with the Pope, saying “these conversations started eight months ago” and that “the last of our meetings took place in September.”

Scalfari had already published two of his conversations with Pope Francis, on Oct. 1, 2013 and July 13, 2014; both of those texts were dismissed by Fr. Lombardi.

While not denying the meetings, Fr. Lombardi had stressed that the meetings were private and that the words of Pope Francis had been biased by the interviewer.

Shortly after the publication of the first conversation, Scalfari himself admitted that he never uses a recording devices nor takes notes, and that he writes by memory, also sometimes putting within quotes words that the interviewed had not said, but that in Scalfari’s view better explain their thought.

This third round of excerpts of the Scalfari-Bergoglio conversations have not been presented as an interview, but are inserted in a wider comment on a lecture given by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.

In his lecture, Bauman claimed that “truth is an agnostic idea for origins and for nature,” since it can emerge “only from a meeting with its contrary,” and this is the reason why “using the word ‘truth’ in singular mode in a polyphonic world is like applauding with one only hand.”

According to Bauman, “Pope Francis not only preaches the need for dialogue, but he practices it,” and proof of this is that he had granted his first interview to Scalfari.

Scalfari takes the moves from this to comment that “Pope Francis is one of the very few (Popes), in my view the only one, in fact, who faces the quest for truth this way” – that is, in the way Bauman put it.

For this purpose, Scalfari reported he had asked Pope Francis what a missionary Church is in his view.
Pope Francis replied, underscoring his full belonging to the Society of Jesus, and that despite this he had chosen the papal name of Francis.

Scalfari reportedly objected that the Pope chose the name of Francis because “Francis was a mystic; and you love mystics, though you are not a mystic.”

“This is certainly one of the reasons, but it is not the only reason,” Pope Francis reportedly responded.
The Pope stressed that St. Francis “loved a travelling brotherhood that had renounced all the pleasures of life, but did not renounce joy, or love. Some of them, especially Francis, were profoundly mystic in every moment of their life, since they identified with the Lord and forgot their ego.”

However, St. Francis also took care of “practical matters,” and wrote a rule for his order, that “the then Pope approved many years later.” But – Pope Francis reportedly said – “the Pope approved the rules under a condition: a portion of the Franciscans had to live in convents, while only a portion could be missionary and travelling. Francis accepted. The friars in the convents rediscovered St. Benedict, and  study, work, begging; but the real Franciscan and missionary Church is the travelling one.”

Scalfari wrote that he asked the Pope “why the Church must be above all travelling and missionary,” and Pope Francis responded: “We have to speak the 'languages' of all the world, which does not necessarily mean the real language – consider that in China there are some 50,000 different languages.”

“A missionary Church must above all understand the people it meets, their way of thinking… this is the premise, that is at once Franciscan and Jesuit, as our Society has always done: understand the other, whether they are socially miserable and culturally poor, or cultivated, remarkable in social life and important for the public life of people, but not for religion.”

Pope Francis also reportedly underscored that “religion abhors political language, which must not be our thing. If we intend with politics a vision of the common good that for us is that of our religion, yes, politics becomes important, and institutions become important for everyone's good. People should commit to and realize these institution, but not elevating them to the name of a god. No one can appropriate the name of a god that is ecumenical and creator.”

In the end, Scalfari underscored that Pope Francis wants to get in touch with the modern world, and “this means, if I understood well, that the Church must be in harmony with it.”

And what about the truth? “The Pope refuses the word “relativism,” i.e. a real movement with aspects of religious politics; but he does not refuse the word ‘relative’. No to relativism, but that truth is relative is a matter of fact that Pope Francis acknowledges.”

This reasoning brings Scalfari to stress that doctrine was elaborate by “religious thinkers” in the course of centuries, on the basis of the preaching of St. Paul and the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem.

Scalfari also dismissed the Gospels, saying “they are the narrations written by people who had never met or seen Jesus of Nazareth … second or third-hand narrations which provided a doctrinal structure.”

Likewise – Scalfari says – “monotheistic religions were born of stories,” because “God has no voice, and no imaginable figure,” while “the Son has, and this is the reason why Christians invented it.”

This is how the culture of encounter pursued by Pope Francis has been completely overturned.

How much Scalfari’s words and reports are reliable, one cannot assess: no proofs are provided that Pope Francis has worded his thoughts the way Scalfari wrote them down.

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