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Caution: don’t put much confidence in Vatican rumors

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 04, 2013

The internet world is highly democratic; anyone can post a story. But not all stories are equally reliable. In the interests of preserving equanimity, at a time when far too many Catholics are overwrought, let me remind discerning readers that rumors—and especially rumors issuing from the Vatican—should be handled with care.

Several times now, we have seen second-hand reports of something that Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI has allegedly said to a visitor. Let’s be clear on what we’re getting: not a reporter’s summary of what Benedict said, but a reporter’s summary of what someone else—an unnamed source—said that Benedict said. Even if the reporter is trustworthy, we don’t know whether his source conveyed the former Pontiff’s ideas accurately. If you’ve ever played the “telephone game,” you know how stories can be distorted as they are retold by multiple parties. Add the possibility that the “unnamed source” has his own agenda, and you realize that these reports must be viewed with extreme caution. They may be entirely accurate; but that’s just one of several possibilities.

Since his resignation took effect, Benedict XVI has issued only one statement for the record: his open letter to an Italian writer. So we know the retired Pontiff is still perfectly capable of making cogent public statements when he wants to do so. If he maintains his public silence on other issues, it’s fair to conclude that he doesn’t want to make public statements on those issues.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, has made quite a few surprising and provocative public statements recently. Yet curiously enough, there have been very few “leaks” during these first months of his pontificate. Virtually no one, aside from the editors themselves, had advance notice of those bombshell papal interviews. Apart from his naming of Archbishop Parolin to be Secretary of State (which was widely anticipated), his other appointments to Vatican posts—including his creation of new commissions—have been made without the usual crescendo of rumors in the days leading up to the formal announcements. Not even seasoned Vatican reporters have shown much ability to predict what this Pontiff will do.

So when you see reports about what the Pope could do to reform the Roman Curia, or the appointments he might make to certain dicasteries, take those reports with a grain of salt. The Pope could do any number of things. As to what he will do, the old adage applies: Those who tell don’t know, and those who know aren’t telling.

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