Monday, November 22, 2010

A Plea for Calm

39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:39-41)

Preliminary Note:

I fully expect someone to accuse me of accusing me of some sort of liberalism, modernism or other ad hominem simply because I advise discovering the truth and who has what level of responsibility before calling for anyone's termination from his position.  To those people I simply point to my weblog as proof I have always stood in support of the Pope and the Magisterium and have sought to obey the Church I believe to be established by Christ under the headship of Peter and his successors.

I do not write this article to exonerate Giovanni Maria Vian and L'Osservatore Romano.  If they have done wrong, then they should face the results proportionate to what they have done. 

Rather, I feel that the anger is beginning to head off in a destructive direction and must be reined in.  Whether Giovanni Maria Vian or another individual needs to be fired or reprimanded, I do not know.  However, I suspect most of the others do not know either.

I simply call for us to calm down and wait for facts, and not behave in a way to cause scandal to those outside watching us.


I figured it would happen somewhere though I didn't know who the target would be.  Some radical traditionalists have blamed it on Vatican II.  Some conservative Catholic bloggers have blamed the Pope for being "too egg-headed" or "academic." Others spoke about his assistants in general failing him.  I was half expecting someone to blame Peter Seewald but thankfully that didn't happen.

Now, however, we are seeing the blame go largely to L'Osservatore Romano.  Some of it seems justified.  Judging by reports, there seems to be some gross misconduct over their article (bad translation and breaking embargo), if the reports have it right. 

I believe that before calling for any action to be taken, we must determine what happened and who was responsible, and only then determine the proportionate penalty to the offense and apply it to the responsible.  This is not something determined by the blogging community, but by the proper authority in the Vatican.

An Article for the Prosecution

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, a blogger I respect introduces his case for strong action, and his article makes some good points here:

I want to ask a few questions about the occasion of this public relations fiasco, namely, the decision by L’Osservatore Romano to publish prematurely, out of context, and without commentary, the single most controversial paragraph of the pope’s book, Light of the World, in, if nothing else, apparent violation of the agreement in place between its various publishers concerning a coordinated release of the work.

Fair enough.  These are serious charges, though ultimately I believe it would be the Pope's call to do as he saw fit in response.

However, I am less convinced when he goes on to say:

Instantly, of course, the world formed exactly the wrong understanding of that paragraph that anyone could have predicted.

I have problems with this statement.  The reason this does not convince me is that it took more than just a bad editorial decision or even gross misconduct to create this debacle.  It took media and dissenters acting with misconduct to scream "Pope says Condoms OK!" to the world without seeking confirmation on this matter.

Now the problem is, at this time we have only secondhand reports of what the Italian says (at the time of this writing, the English edition is dated November 17 and does not have this story).  Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

Another thing which bothers me is the imputation of malicious intent which some are attributing to this action.

Philip Lawler is the editor for CWNews who calls for punitive action.  In his article, he says:

Why did L’Osservatore Romano violate journalistic norms, ignore obvious dangers, and print a potentially explosive statement out of its proper context? Was the editor hoping to stir up a ruckus, and push sales of Light of the World regardless of the pastoral cost? Was he hoping to stir up a new debate on condom use—something the Pope was quite obviously not seeking? Or was the editor blind to the dangers of publishing this excerpt? Whatever the answer might be, he has demonstrated that his editorial judgment cannot be trusted. As a necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican, Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano should be asked to resign.

This strikes me as problematic, and this attitude seems pandemic among certain Catholic blogs.  After certain bungles by certain individuals of the Pope's staff, people are saying they have had enough, and the editor should be fired.  I've had friends and family ask me why so-and-so is still working instead of being removed.  Some people want a clean slate in the Vatican and think people associated with certain problems should be fired.

In a Church Established by Christ, We Cannot Ignore Justice and Mercy

Why does this bother me?  Because ultimately the penalty should fit the crime.  So Giovanni Maria Vian should not be fired as a "necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican."  That's nothing more than scapegoating.

He should only be fired if his actions or negligence in editing the paper are actions worthy of being fired over.  By this I mean, either things he chose to do which he should not have, or not to do but was obligated to do, or by failure to offer oversight to people under him where it is reasonable to hold him responsible.  Only if this is worthy of termination, are calls for his firing just.

Rash Judgment

Might I remind my fellow Catholics of a couple of paragraphs within the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

I do not intend to say people like Peters and Lawler are acting under rash judgment.  Perhaps they have information we do not after all.  Rather I wish to point out that when malicious intent is being imputed, it must be proven and not assumed.

Not Defending Giovanni Maria Vian

Now don't accuse me of saying we should just ignore this incident.  If the accusations are true, something needs to be done.  However, Catholic teaching requires we find out what is true, before passing judgment, and recognizing that those with the proper authority and not the mob have this task of passing judgment.

Right now, we are justly angry at the distortion which the media has made of this case.  However, before calling for the head of Giovanni Maria Vian we need to ask if certain things are true:

  1. Did he knowingly make a mistranslation seeking to create an incident?  That is a strong charge and requires proof.  Does it exist?
  2. Did his staff incompetently translate the document?  If so, it requires correction, but does it require Giovanni Maria Vian to be fired?
  3. Did they violate the embargo? Since nobody who received an advance copy was supposed to discuss the book until 11/23 and the article was published on Saturday, this seems to be the case.  So who is responsible and what is the penalty?
  4. Did they know the media would take it out of context?  That's a hard case to make.  I read the quote from the AP article and it seemed immediately clear to me that the quote given did not justify the headline.  It became more clear when Ignatius Press released the pages in question that this is not what the Pope said.  So in this case, we have fault with the media.

Can We Claim We Know Enough to Judge?

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

Point #3 seems to be the main point of the outrage, and it seems to be valid.  Unless it turns out the Pope exempted them, it seems it is undeniable that they broke the agreement.  Let the penalty fit the offense in this case.

Point #4 is the main concern I have with the current anger.  Properly speaking, we must assess what the person who makes a statement means before we evaluate it.  We must make sure that we do not have a false understanding of what was said.

The media reports completely failed to do this.  They made a Todd Unctuous style report.   Nobody contacted the Vatican for a clarification.  Yes the blame is on the L'Osservatore Romano for releasing an excerpt contrary to the embargo is just. But insinuating malice as their motive or claiming they should have realized the media would misinterpret?  That's too hard for me to swallow without proof.


So ultimately I call on my fellow Catholics to avoid a rush to judgment of L'Osservatore Romano for what was done by the media of the world in response to this article.  Let L'Osservatore Romano be judged for what they have done or what they were negligent in not doing, and not assume malicious intent until we know such intent.

Ultimately any investigation will be handled by the proper departments of the Vatican.  We may see someone fired.  We may not see anything publically happen.  Whatever happens, we must recognize that the Holy Father has the ultimate authority.  Since I recognize the Holy Father as a man of great personal integrity who seeks to do what is best for the Church, I trust that whatever he will decide to do, he will do because he thinks it best.

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