VATICAN CITY — Following skepticism of the accuracy of a recent interview with Pope Francis, several sources have suggested that the printed text, while faithful overall to the Pope’s thought, may not have captured his exact words.
“Eugenio Scalfari did not tape his interview with Pope Francis, nor did he take notes, so the text was an after-the-fact reconstruction. Such texts run the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview,” wrote Father Thomas Rosica, who helps the Vatican Press Office conduct its English-language business, on Oct. 5.
“Scalfari has stated that he showed the text to Francis for his approval, but it’s not clear how closely the Pope read it.”
Scalfari, the editor of the Italian publication La Repubblica and an atheist, conducted an interview with Pope Francis that was published Oct. 1.
On Oct. 3, staff at La Repubblica told Jean-Marie Guénois, deputy editor of the French daily Le Figaro, that “the interview was not recorded, nor were notes taken. What is reflected in the interview is fruit of the memory of that which the Pope and Scalfari said during their encounter.”
La Repubblica continued, saying that “the text, once completed by Scalfari and before its publication, was sent to Pope Francis, who approved it.”
One of the main points of skepticism surrounding the interview’s details is associated with the recounting of Pope Francis’ supposed “mystical experience” after his election as Pope.
The day after the interview was released, Vatican observer Andrea Tornielli wrote in La Stampa that, in an “attentive reading of the interview, there are particulars which don’t add up.” He said that his doubts were “consolidated” by what was related about the “circumstances of the election.”
The interview published in La Repubblica quoted Pope Francis as saying that, before he accepted his election, he left the Sistine Chapel for a moment to go to a small room off the balcony of St. Peter's, and there he had a mystical experience that left him with peace.
“It is known,” Tornielli wrote in response, “that there are no rooms next to the balcony overlooking the square. … This episode can be, in my opinion, an indicator of the fact that the published text of La Repubblica does not represent an exact, word-for-word reconstruction of the dialogue with Scalfari.”
Also on Oct. 2, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists that the “sense” of what Pope Francis said in Scalfari’s interview in La Repubblica was accurate, but would not confirm that each word was in fact spoken by the Pope.
Nonetheless, he said that if Pope Francis had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.
In fact, the text of the interview is currently posted on the Vatican‘s website, in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, among the Pope’s speeches.
In his own statement, Father Rosica noted that Father Lombardi has “attested to the overall ‘trustworthiness’ of the Scalfari interview.”
And yet, he continued, “cardinals who witnessed the events have categorically stated that the newly elected Pope never left the Sistine Chapel for a period of reflection before finally accepting the papacy, other than his entering the ‘Room of Tears’ for vesting.”
“The so-called ‘mystical moment’ of Pope Francis is most probably referring to the moment of prayer in the Pauline Chapel,” Father Rosica said, referring to Pope Francis’ time of prayer before ascending to the balcony of St. Peter’s Square and after having accepted the Petrine office and greeting his brother cardinals.