Italian writer stirs a hornet’s nest with doubts about Pope Francis

Italian writer stirs a hornet’s nest with doubts about Pope Francis

ROME — For those in and around the Vatican, the most talked-about piece of rhetoric during the holiday season has been Pope Francis’ Dec. 22 blast at the Roman Curia. A close second, however, has been Vittorio Messori’s own Dec. 24 fusillade at the pope, published in the Italian paper of record, Corriere della Sera.

Under the headline, “Doubts about the turning point of Pope Francis,” Messori wrote that “my evaluation of this papacy oscillates continually between adhesion and perplexity,” and also asserted that Francis’ unpredictability has caused even “some of the cardinals who were among his electors to have second thoughts.”

Messori did not name any repentant cardinals, but his claim has been taken seriously because he is Italy’s most famous living Catholic writer, the man whose 1984 interview book with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report, made the future pope a star.


In other words, he’s the kind of person in a position to know what at least some segment of the College of Cardinals is thinking.

What has truly rankled pro-Francis commentators, however, isn’t the idea that some cardinals have their noses out of joint, which for them is part of the pope’s appeal. Instead, it’s Messori’s claim that the “average Catholic” — which he defined as believers “not in the habit of thinking much on their own about faith and morals, exhorted to simply ‘follow the pope’ — finds his “tranquility disturbed” by the pontiff’s mixed signals.

According to Messori, those average Catholics today are confused about which Pope Francis to follow. He offers three instances of what he sees as contradictions:

  • The Francis of the morning homilies at the Santa Marta, full of classical pastoral wisdom and even repeated warnings about not falling into the devil’s snares, versus the Francis who called up Marco Pannella to wish him well in his work. (Pannella is the legendary leader of Italy’s Radical Party, a passionate advocate of legalized abortion and divorce, euthanasia, gay rights, and almost every other liberal cause.)
  • The Francis of his Curia speech, who defined the Catholic Church as the mystical body of Christ, versus the Francis of an interview with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, in which the pope supposedly said “God is not Catholic” — thereby, according to Messori, suggesting that the Church is no more than an “optional accessory” to the Holy Trinity. (The qualifier “supposedly” is obligatory because Scalfari later conceded he didn’t tape the exchange or take notes, so he was working from memory.)
  • The Francis who knows from direct experience the massive losses Catholicism has sustained in Latin America to Pentecostals and Evangelicals, versus the Francis who took a day trip to wish good luck to a friend who, according to Messori, “is a pastor of precisely one of the communities which is emptying out the Catholic Church with the very proselytism [Francis] has so harshly condemned among his own flock.” (In July, Francis traveled to Caserta in Italy to visit a Pentecostal community led by Giovanni Traettino, a friend from his time in Buenos Aires.)


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