Grumbling among Vatican journalists: an ominous development for the Pope

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 26, 2018

Pope Francis gave his usual in-flight press conference on Tuesday, as he returned from a visit to the Baltic region. But the Pope did not make any shocking statements. Instead, reporters were mumbling about what the Pope didn’t say.

Pope Francis didn’t answer questions about sexual abuse.

After fielding several questions from reporters about his time in the Baltics, the Pope was asked by an Austrian reporter about a statement he had made in Estonia, about responding to sexual abuse. The Pontiff said that he would not answer the question at that moment; he wanted more questions about his trip. But he did promise to address the issue, saying “it will be the first question after the trip.”

One more question followed, about Lithuanian immigration. Then the papal spokesman, Greg Burke, acknowledged that there were no more questions about the trip. Rather than answering questions about the abuse issue, the Pope addressed it himself, in the course of a lengthy, rambling statement. After touching on other topics, he said that a) things are much better than they once were, and the grand-jury report in Pennsylvania reflected “the way of thinking in previous times…” He assured reporters that he had never offered leniency to a priest who was convicted of sexual abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

If the Holy Father had allowed questions on the topic, an enterprising reporter might have pressed him to speak about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose name he had not mentioned. Or about Archbishop Vigano, whose name was also missing from the Pope’s remarks. Or about Mauro Inzoli, who was removed from ministry by Pope Benedict XVI but restored by Pope Francis—temporarily, until new abuse charges forced his laicization. But the Pope wasn’t taking questions.

And reporters were not happy. A Twitter comment by Cindy Wooden conveyed the mood:

“Shot down by Pope Francis. He only wanted questions on the trip to the Baltic countries. I said that I had questions left unanswered since returning from Dublin. They were travel questions. But not for this trip. #frustratadi new # Viganò “ [sic]

Cindy Wooden is not a troublemaker; not a gadfly, not a sensationalist. She is the Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, the agency owned and operated by the US bishops’ conference. If she was giving voice to her feelings, you can be sure that other reporters felt at least equally frustrated.

Thus far in his pontificate, Pope Francis has enjoyed remarkably favorable media coverage. He has not been pressed to answer awkward questions: about the dubia, about the dismantling of the Secretariat for the Economy, about declining morale in the Roman Curia, about Chile and McCarrick and Vigano and Wuerl and Pennsylvania and Germany. But now reporters are grumbling.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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