How to read the news: a lesson from Tornielli on Veneto’s favourite “married gay” priest
I was doing this on Twitter, but I think it’s more important than that.
So we’re going to do a quick lesson in how to do Vatican commentary and analysis: “Asking the Right Questions.”
Here’s the sample story of the day, La Stampa’s take on the hot-hot Italian Catholic news of the week; a “gay” priest in Veneto who “married” his “partner” in Spain, then came back to Italy to (ahem) carry on as usual.
The former parish priest’s gay wedding and the problem of “wandering” seminarians
(Lately I’ve been hearing a lot that I am a great writer and analyst, but that my “tone” and animus against bishops is a bad thing. Really? That’s what I should be worrying about? That I’m “disrespectful” to the clergy… Uh huh…Yes, I’m sure that should be a very high priority…)
This story is all over the Italian media for the last couple of days, having broken on July 3rd. If you surf around you can glean the raw data.
This is from Corriere della Sera:
“The bishop did not take it very well. For the Diocese you are still a priest in all respects …
“I’m not anymore since 8 February, when I asked to be relieved by the presbyteral ministry with a letter. The next day I met the bishop, I reiterated my decision and if he denies it he is lying: I recorded the interview and the tape is now in the hands of my lawyer. In April, a few weeks before marrying Pablo, I received an e-mail in which he reproached me with some ideas I had expressed and which contrasted with Church positions, but also with other issues, such as the fact that I have tattoos and I wear an earring. I told him never to write to me again.”
In truth, given where we’re “at” in the Church globally, this story by itself is a bit shruggable. Mostly it’s just more confirmation of the general state of collapse. Yes, we’re at the stage where its a bit humdrum that a homosexual man was ordained and then abandoned this calling (in fact, a phantom, since a man like this can’t have an authentic vocation to the priesthood) to actually participate in a sham, blasphemous, parodic “wedding” ceremony, who then gets discovered by the secular media and boasts about it all.
So, what do we really want to know? What part of this isn’t shruggable?
Right: “What’s the pope’s opinion?”
This question is answered by this piece of analysis in La Stampa’s magazine, Vatican Insider. So, let’s pretend you are a newbie traddie/conservative Catholic commentator. What’s the very first question you should be asking? The first thing you check?
Who wrote it?
Now if that name isn’t already familiar, you Google “Tornielli, Pope Francis”.
Did you find this?” As Papal Criticism Mounts, Vatican Insiders Fire Back“.
What do we learn here about Tornielli? That he’s more or less the Bergoglians’ minister of propaganda for the Italian language section. He’s THE lead voice in Italian for the papal apologists, a “mouthpiece,” giving us the officially papally approved interpretation of everything noteworthy in the news. This, in other words, is where you will find out what Pope Francis wants us to take away about this story.
So, what is the next question that logically follows? What is this take-away? What does the pope, through his Italian journalistic mouthpiece, want us to think about the story of the priest who ran off with his homosexual paramour to undertake a fake, blasphemous “marriage” ceremony in Spain? What are the priorities of the regime on this issue? Is it the “gaying of the clergy”? The turning of blind episcopal eyes in seminaries and chanceries to bad characters? Is it the condition of seminary programmes, how young men are screened? The way they’re taught moral theology? Is it the question of how this guy got ordained and by whom and whether there was collusion on the part of a bishop?
Well, sort of. But of course, this is La Stampa and Tornielli, so there’s going to be a twist on the plot.
What’s the real issue? “Wandering seminarians”.
And because you’re all good students you’re already asking the next question: “What does that mean?”
It means seminarians who switch to other dioceses and other bishops for various nefarious reasons.
The one of the Veronese priest is one of the cases of wandering seminarians: a week before ordination, the way to the priesthood was blocked by the then bishop Attilio Nicora, evidently for serious reasons. It is more than legitimate to wonder why no one had raised objections before and the almost “don” had been ordained a deacon. But it was a period of transition in the life of the seminary, which had seen three different rectors succeed each other within a few months. Giuliano Costalunga then left the seminary of Verona starting to turn over Italy in search of a bishop who would ordain him and landed in Rieti, where he was received by the bishop Giuseppe Molinari who ordained him a priest.
Interesting that Tornielli here brushes lightly past the question of what the “serious reasons” might have been for refusing this man ordination, and gives us a bit of fluff and palaver about how he slipped through the cracks. I suppose we could guess pretty easily now what those “serious reasons” were, but why is he doing that? Because it is peripheral, or even irrelevant to the main point.
The bad thing here is not (necessarily) “gay” priests or seminarians – he doesn’t rule it out as an issue: “Si, certo, veramente, it is an issue, ma non e solo, e non e centrale, capito?...”
Putting all that other debatable “affective” business aside, what the case really brings up is these “wandering seminarians,” (“seminaristi vaganti”) “It’s a big problem, no?”. He doesn’t touch much in the piece on homosexuality at all, in fact. He writes, “The video of the wedding has been around the web and Costalunga said that this act comes after a ten-year history with Pablo, already his collaborator.” The intention here is not to talk about the subject, per se, but to gin up a little of that pearl-clutching outrage: “This has been going on right out in the open?!” It’s to set a mood, get your blood pumping.
That’s the bait. Here’s the switch:
This outrage, this horror, could have been avoided if there had not been this ongoing confusion in the seminary allowing this person to become a dreaded “wandering seminarian.” (Why do I suddenly think of “The Walking Dead”? or the “wandering sickness” of Things to Come where the diseased and delerious “vaganti” had to be shot on sight?)
Tornielli continues in a (possibly ironic) placating tone about the homosexuality itself, saying, “With all due respect…for the personal choices of the former parish priest, the story once again not only reiterates the urgent need to form priests who are mature from the affective point of view [note the Vaticanista euphemisms], without unresolved problems that then drag on condition their ministry, but also reopens the problem of ‘wandering’ seminarians.”
Really? It does? This is the big take-away? Not that a flagrantly and unapologetic homosexual proudly flaunts in the national papers that he was allowed to be ordained in Veneto, but that there are all these seminarians moving from place to place.
Here’s where a journalist needs a good memory. The first thing I thought when I read that was, “I bet he’s talking about the FFIs and Albenga.”
Aaand sure enough…
There may be and there have been several cases in which misunderstandings, environmental incompatibilities, etc. make healthy a change of air and the passage from one seminary to another without for this to arrive at the priestly ordination of unsuitable people. But there have also been many examples, even in very recent times, of dioceses and seminaries that have become the receptacle of every fugitive who has been removed from the seminary of his diocese of origin.
One of the most frequently used motives in the last few years to ask for acceptance was that of not being sufficiently understood or being discriminated because one wanted to wear the cassock and perhaps learn to celebrate in ancient rite. While in reality the problems were of a different nature, as unfortunately demonstrated the case of Albenga.
Oh… wait… What was that, you ask? Here’s where we google “traditional Mass Albenga”
“…he wrote a stern pastoral letter in 2012 ordering his priests to implement the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum faithfully…”
So, now we know where we’re going with this. In brief, Albenga Imperia was a place where the Fransican Friars of the Immaculate had no fewer than three houses, and where some of them fled as refugees when the persecution began. We recall that this was at a stage in the proceedings when the FFIs’ Vatican-appointed Commissioner, Fr. Volpi, was appearing at meetings of the Italian bishops’ conference uttering threats against anyone taking in FFIs.
Oliveri was in trouble from the start, of course…
Because of his reputation, the little diocese of Albenga-Imperia, along the coast of Liguria, near the French border, has long been known in Italian Catholic circles as a refuge for conservative and traditional-leaning seminarians and priests from all over Italy, and even beyond.
Obviously he would have had the crosshairs on him from the start of Bergoglio’s reign. Not that Francis himself would have cared, but it is clear that a lot of people are using this pontificate as a chance to settle some old family business.
To make a long story short, Oliveri made a mistake in taking in the wrong man, and this was dealt with in the usual Bergoglian manner; he lost his see in 2016.
So, now we have the last question: “Who is really the target audience here?” And it’s the Albenga reference that tells us it is “conservative” bishops in Italy. As with the FFIs he sheltered, the names of Mario Oliveri and Albenga are a byword among Italy’s tiny handful of “good” “conservative” bishops about what happens to you if you go too public in your rejection of the New Paradigm. And this is the lesson that Tornielli is driving home with this little bit of “analysis”.
This is Tornielli/Francis telling bishops not to accept “wandering seminarians” because you never know when you’re going to get another Giuliano Costalunga, an embarrassing scandal, in other words. (With, of course, the added bonus insinuation that the problem of homosexuals in the clergy is related somehow to the “problem” of tradition-minded seminarians wanting to wear cassocks and learn the old rite.)
But the real message is, “Don’t make me Albenga you.”
The “commentary” piece is, in fact, a carefully couched threat. (Wouldn’t be a message from Francis without one, right?) It’s written in code that only bishops would really understand, but once you crack the code and understand the context, this is clearly a message from the CEO warning subordinates to behave. It’s also a message to the rest of the world’s “conservative” bishops and seminarians: “We’re cutting off all avenues of escape” … certainly a big theme of this pontificate.
The message would be loud and clear to those men, anyone here who might have ideas of gathering in and sheltering these rigid, crypto-Lefebvrist “conservative” “wandering seminarians,” (who are probably also secretly perverts… a message that still holds a little weight in Italy) fleeing New Paradigm loyalist dioceses like, say, Chicago (just off the top of my head.) I don’t think anyone among the lay audience is going to suddenly think, “Gosh yes, this whole problem comes from this problem of these “wandering” guys switching dioceses…” This isn’t something lay people think about. But it sure is something bishops think about… quite a lot. The poaching of seminarians is a capital crime among them. As is taking in guys who have been rejected by another diocese. This “breaks fraternal unity” between bishops. It breaks the Old Boy’s Network that has been the single most important operating principle in the Catholic Church throughout the world since the late 70s. Not doctrine. Not the crisis of faith. Not even politics.
Make no mistake. Bishops don’t care about homosexuals in the priesthood. None of them does, not even the “good bishops”. I once had a conversation with Canada’s “best bishop” about this subject, and he earnestly told me that the issue was not with men with the wrong “orientation” but with those who don’t have enough self-control not to molest underage kids.
But bishops really, really, REALLY care about the Boy’s Club.
You have to hand it to Tornielli, though. Once you understand it fully, this is actually a pretty clever bit of propaganda. A masterful piece of deflection, bait and switch. He uses a subject that a lot of faithful Catholic people are pretty het up about to generate a lot of sharply indrawn breaths, a lot of fanning and pearl-clutching. Essentially he’s using this “conservative” issue – the “gaying” of the priesthood – and allowing us to deplore it and be outraged by it for a few minutes, and then taking that outrage and re-directing it, to a different issue, one that is in reality of interest to no one outside the episcopate.
Hats off to you, sir.