“People who need people,
Are the luckiest people in the world … “
A wonderful song, true for a wonderful time that was stopped dead in its tracks by the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, it’s the people who most need people who are suffering the most from the imposed social isolation of our life-protecting human “bubbles.”
I say this, because one of his essential qualities as Pontiff is that Pope Francis is a “people person,” and it is reported by those close to him that the restraints of pandemic life have been hard on him. In 2019, he visited 11 countries and went on a month-long road tour. In 2020, he’s gone virtually nowhere. “Removed from the people,” says an aide, “he’s like a fish out of water.” The word the Pontiff has been reported to use to describe how he feels about the common-sense precautions prescribed for all 83-year-olds living within Italy: “caged.”
It’s a gilded cage, the Papacy, but the limits aren’t just about health or security or ceremony. Recent events at the Vatican suggest there are institutional limits on Pope Francis’ freedom of speech.
Street savvy and touchy-feely, this first straight-out-of-Argentina Pope is a talker, but it now appears, when he doesn’t watch what he says, someone else in Vatican City has the power to remove anything he wishes the Pope had left unsaid.
For instance, Pope Francis said in an interview recently revealed in a documentary, Francesco, that he was proud of his record of inclusion of LGBT-Q people in the Roman Catholic congregation, reiterating his view that gay people are children of God. “I stood up for that,” he said.
And although still opposed to same-sex marriage within the Church, he said, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
This was news. Never before had a Pope given approval to same-sex unions as a legal if not a religious institution.
But it turns out it was old news. The interview in which Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions wasn’t done – as claimed – in 2020 by the documentarian Evgeny Afineevsky, but in 2019 by the Vatican Correspondent of the Mexican television network Televisa. Only the Vatican had cut the comment from the material they released back to the network.
Who gagged the Holy Father in 2019, and how did the censored video clip get released a year later? And what does all this tell us about the Vatican communications interface with the Catholic laity and the world?
John Thavis grew up in Minnesota, attending Catholic schools and graduating from St. John’s University. After studying classical languages, he went to Italy as a student of archeology, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. In 1978, the day Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, he walked into the offices of the Rome Daily American and was hired as a headline writer, eventually becoming news editor. That year he witnessed two papal conclaves, culminating in the election of an intriguing “foreigner,” Karol Wojtyla.
He returned to Minnesota, working as a reporter and then news editor of the Mankato Free Press, a daily paper in his home town. In 1982 he and his wife relocated to Italy. They landed in Rome with meager savings and a suitcase, the beginning of a 30-year Italian adventure. He wrote a guide book to Rome and worked part-time for Associated Press, ABC News and the Wine Spectator. In 1983 he took a reporting job with Catholic News Service and began covering the Vatican daily. It was a fascinating beat, in Rome and abroad. He traveled with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to more than 60 countries, and reported on other religious stories from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He became CNS Rome bureau chief in 1996, and served three years as president of the Association of International Journalists Accredited to the Vatican — the only American ever elected to that position. He has won numerous journalistic awards and has lectured on Vatican affairs in the United States and Europe.
In 2012 Thavis retired from his CNS position to devote full time to writing, and moved back to the United States. His book, The Vatican Diaries, was published Feb. 21, 2013, by Viking-Penguin and immediately became a New York Times best-seller. He did live commentary for ABC News in Rome during the conclave of 2013, and on his blog the day before the conclave began he singled out Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the candidate to watch. A revised and updated paperback edition of The Vatican Diaries was published in February 2014.
His book, The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age, was published by Viking in 2015. It is based on research and interviews with leading Vatican officials, experts on miracles and demonology, Catholic visionaries and others.