Vatican: Scalfari Interview Misses Details, Conflates Facts

In a remarkable development concerning Pope Francis’ sensational interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published this week, the interviewer has admitted to neither recording nor even taking notes of the exchange.

Eugenio Scalfari has said he did show the text to the Holy Father for approval, but it isn’t clear how closely the Pope read it.

In a statement, the Vatican has stressed that the text was an “after-the-fact reconstruction” and so “run[s] the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview.”

It has nevertheless attested to the overall "trustworthiness" of the interview.

The revelation comes after Le Figaro’s Rome correspondent, Jean-Marie Guénois, wrote to 89 year-old Scalfari to ask how the interview was conducted. He felt prompted to enquire after passages of the text failed to withstand scrutiny.

The disclosure has been greeted with some surprise in the Vatican. “I find it totally crazy that you go to an interview with the Pope and you don't record it,” one senior official told me. “Anybody intelligent would take two tape recorders.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, one of the cardinal-electors in the March conclave, confirmed one particular error in the text concerning Pope Francis’ immediate reaction to his election. His account, shared today with Vatican correspondent John Allen, differs from that published in the La Repubblica interview.

The Vatican today corrected these errors in a statement to reporters this afternoon (see below).

The obvious question arises as to why the Pope was not better advised, even if just to check that the interview was being properly recorded. Both this and the interview with La Civilta Cattolica the week before have raised many questions and concerns over the confusion they have caused, even if much of their content has been welcomed. 

But the picture emerging is of a Pope who does whatever he wants with little or no consultation with his closest aides. “The irony is that the Pope is very much into consultation, and consulting across the globe,” said one Vatican source, referring to the international council of cardinals on curial reform that met earlier this week. “But he’s clearly not consulting too much here.”

He’s also viewed as being “totally unpredictable”, preferring to do things arbitrarily and on his own. The Holy Father also surprisingly feels confident about giving interviews despite an admitted reluctance to do them before his election. “Journalistic interviews are not my strength,” he once told his biographers Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti. The authors noted also that he placed “no conditions” when giving them interviews that formed the basis of their book.

He only gave a handful of interviews while Archbishop of Buenos Aires but has already given two major ones as Pope, plus a lengthy press conference on the plane back from Rio.

It’s not clear if Pope Francis has any more interviews planned, although he has told La Repubblica that he wants to do another one, this time on the subject of women.


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Pope Francis’ recent interview in Italy’s “La Republica” newspaper with the Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, has caused several questions to be raised both in the Holy See Press Office and among many journalists who receive this daily bulletin. Due to the world-wide attention to Pope Francis’ visit to Assisi yesterday, I delayed responding to  your messages and stated that I would answer some of the most frequent questions today.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ has attested to the overall “trustworthiness” of the Scalfari interview.  Nevertheless, some minor, unprecise details have caused a stir among you.  One of the details involves hesitation on the part of Pope Francis in accepting the election to the papacy and another, a so-called “mystical experience” of Pope Francis on the night of his election to the Papacy, March 13, 2013.

What follows below may be an answer to your concerns and Scalfari’s “conflation” of facts, details and sequence of events.

1) Immediately after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio, SJ, received the necessary number of votes (77) to be elected Pope, he went through the ritual of acceptance and selection of his name.  He, himself related this sequence of events in his first General Audience to Journalists on Saturday, March 16, 2013 in the Paul VI Audience Hall

“Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

The newly elected Pope was then led to the “Room of Tears” to the left of the main altar of the Sistine Chapel where he removed his cardinal’s robes and was vested with the simple white cassock. He chose not to wear anything else that was presented to him. He kept his own black shoes and preferred his own pectoral cross instead of the gold cross presented to him by the Pontifical Master of Ceremonies.

Pope Francis was then received the greetings of his brother Cardinals and was led out of the Sistine Chapel to the Pauline Chapel where a moment of prayer took place before proceeding to the loggia for the “Habemus Papal” moment.

2) 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.  Scalfari has stated that he showed the text to Francis for his approval, but it’s not clear how closely the pope read it.

At one point in his interview, Scalfari speaks about a mystical experience of Pope Francis which has generated much interest in the press.  In the English translation of Scalfari’s interview in “La Repubblica”, we read:  When Scalfari asked if the Pope had ever experienced a mystical experience, the Pope is said to have responded:

“Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the ‘Habemus Papam’.”

Scalfari implies in his interview that Cardinal Bergoglio, overwhelmed by the election, and needed time to reflect on what had happened before accepting the papacy.  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. There was never any indication of hesitation, a need for serious reflection on the election that had taken place, or rethinking what had befallen him!

The so-called “mystical moment” of Pope Francis is most probably referring to the moment of prayer in the Pauline Chapel.  That moment is clearly explained in an exclusive interview given to the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in Canada by Monsignor Dario Viganò, the Director of the Vatican Television Centre. This excellent television interview, taped in late June 2013, will air Sunday evening on our Catholic TV network in Canada.  I offer it to you here to for the first time, so that you may learn what transpired in the Pauline Chapel as Pope Francis prayed before walking with his brother Cardinals to the loggia for his first appearance to the world.

Link to Salt and Light WITNESS interview with Msgr. Dario Viganò

[Description: A 50-year-old Italian priest, Dario Edoardo Viganò, born in Rio de Janeiro, began his new job at the Vatican on January 22, 2013, only weeks before the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Viganò’s main mission as director of the Vatican Television Centre (CTV) is to provide global TV and Internet feeds for what unfolds in the Vatican’s inner sanctums, to which CTV has exclusive access.  Within a few weeks of beginning his new job, his first major assignment was to tell the world the story of the resignation of a pope, the Sede Vacante, the Conclave and election of a new Bishop of Rome. Under Viganò’s artistic eye, magnificent images of those events went around the entire world. Join host Fr. Thomas Rosica in this exclusive WITNESS interview as he speaks with the head of Vatican TV about Viganò’s mission to keep an age-old institution firmly in the 21st century.]

Monsignor Viganò, who was an eye-witness to this moment in the Sistine Chapel via the Vatican Television live coverage, clears up any ambiguity or confusion over what some may have been misled to believe.

Thank you for viewing the Viganò interview for yourself and discovering once again the deep spirituality and peace that are so evident in the person of Pope Francis, before, during and after the momentous, historic events of the night of March 13, 2013 in the Sistine Chapel.

On behalf of Fr. Federico Lombardi and the Holy See Press Office, thank you for your continued interest and collaboration.

Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., CEO
Salt and Light Catholic Television Network