A Glimpse Behind the Scenes in Rome

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I have been speaking to sources in Rome over the past week, and several interesting pieces of information have emerged. As is often the case with what goes on at the Vatican, these remain firmly planted in the realm of credible rumors, not hard facts. And while rumors are something I generally avoid trafficking in, these are pertinent to what we have seen (and will see) play out as regards the yet-to-be-settled question of how Pope Francis will handle communion for the divorced and remarried.

One source close to the Vatican tells me they have it on good authority that the Scalfari phonecall really did happen. This person relayed to me what they have been told: during the Synod, Pope Francis was, in fact, dead set on finding a way to give communion to the divorced and remarried.

Only there was a problem.

There was too much push back on the issue, and it was quite aggressive. Another source has revealed to me that news of the Synod Walkout petition made it all the way to the Holy Father himself, who was upset to hear of its existence. He appears to think he has his finger on the pulse of the Church, and is therefore surprised, even”rattled” when his agenda faces real opposition. Several progressive cardinals are said to have advised Pope Francis not to push the issue too hard. Surprising names. Marx. Daneels. Schönborn. Those whom one would think would be among the most aggressive proponents of the push for communion to the unrepentant. But these men have a great deal of experience playing the long game. They have all worked to advance heterodoxy without losing their positions. They recognized that the media backlash could be significant if they made the wrong play, as could the reaction from the faithful.

There is also, I’m told, a general fear of social media within the higher echelons of our Church. It is not well understood, and they are unable to gauge effectively the power that it wields in shaping the narrative. This makes them vary wary of provoking a viral firestorm of opposition. The petition, for example, may have only garnered 2800 signatures, but it was brought up during a Synod press conference with Cardinal Pell. It was the reason I was invited to write an op-ed about the Synod in the Washington Post. It was then referenced by Vaticanista Antonio Socci.

In other words: the idea had legs, and it had reach. Combined with other forms of public resistance, it signified the potential tip of an iceberg.

So perhaps for these reasons, perhaps also for others, Francis relented. He was advised to find a more subtle way of accomplishing his mission. A back door. Based on the tenor of his final speech, we can tell that he was not happy. Those “doctors of the law” were nipping at his heels, transforming “bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick…that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens.”

And when it comes to getting these difficult problems out of the way, of pushing inconvenient ideas out into the public forum, there is always Scalfari.

So we return to the phone call, which I am told almost certainly happened. We return to the idea that the pope told Scalfari that for the divorced (and remarried) who ask, communion will be granted. This is a way, as I said yesterday, for him to get this agenda piece out into the mind of the public. Perhaps one could consider this a trial balloon, perhaps a stalking horse, or perhaps more of a beachhead. There is something to be said for constantly pounding ones enemies with the idea that you will do something they don’t like, but then making them wait. It exhausts them. It softens their resistance.

Pope Francis is nothing if not determined. And he is very, very good at finding a way to do these things surreptitiously.  He makes surprising and newsworthy (but totally deniable) phone calls. He puts people in place who will see things done so that he doesn’t have to. He creates secret commissions that write documents nobody sees coming until they are suddenly imposed. His hands almost always stay clean. Others — like Scalfari — take the public beating. They seem willing enough, though. They are excited to be part of this new thing that is happening, I suppose. They have a role to play in the papacy that is remaking the Church.

This is, perhaps, why Francis hates gossip so much. Not just because it is sinful, but because it is the only way his subterfuge can be exposed. There is no evidence. Only Vatican sources speaking on condition of anonymity. Only credible rumors. The kind of thing that raises suspicions, but never gives certainty.

I do not like rumors or gossip. I like facts. But I tell you these things anyway because I trust my sources. I tell you these things because they have the ring of truth. I tell you these things because we must be prepared for what comes next, and it is good to know what has already happened that has worked in our favor so far.

They are aware that we are fighting back, and they do not like it. So we will keep fighting until the fight is won.

 

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