The Pope and the H-Bomb

by Bob Schwartz

Richard Chaberlain in The Thorn Birds
From The Guardian

The Vatican has attacked reports in the Italian media linking Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation to the alleged discovery of a network of gay prelates as attempts to influence the cardinals in their choice of a new pontiff.

The Vatican secretariat of state said in a statement: “It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave … that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

Whether or not that statement was written by Church lawyers (and even for lawyers, they serve the cause of language and reasoning with uncommon precision and conscientiousness), the denial is carefully constructed. The stories are described as one of three things: unverified, unverifiable or completely false. Note bene that two of these categories do not necessarily include or even imply falsity. Just verification. The reason for this care is that there is a top ten directive about false witness—which includes labeling as false that which is not.

Almost everyone willing to talk openly about the workings of the Church, and particularly its seminaries, will admit that there is a homosexual element of the enterprise. To say “everybody knows” is a ridiculous overstatement. But to say “nobody knows” or “not true” are equally ridiculous. Many know, some talk, most don’t.

The speculation that Pope Benedict resigned because the H-Bomb was about to drop will remain unverified and unverifiable, if the Vatican firewall holds, and it may. But whether you call it a code or a conspiracy of silence, speculation calls for and ultimately begs for verification.

Both law enforcement and the Church depend on the urge to confess. That urge is rooted in the complex and inchoate thing called conscience. In the case of the police, suspects are torn between punishment and a clean(er) heart. This is exactly the same tension for Catholics in the booth. But at this much higher level, the stakes and the choice to tell are much more momentous.