L’Affaire Babini

An interesting development in the Babini affair is the content of the monsignor’s retraction. He denies having ever said anything anti-Semitic. “Certain words have been attributed to me which I never said…about my brothers the Jews.” There is fuzziness surrounding this interview. One of two things is going on, though. Either Babini gave the interview as published (in a kind of threat, Potifex claims to have the “tapes” of the  interview), and then retracted it in a sort of vague and non-committal way, or the whole thing is a fabrication.

I say non-committal because what is “anti-Semitic” in one person’s eyes may not be so in another’s. Perhaps there are those, like L’Osservatore Romano in its anti-Semitic heyday, who play the game of distinction between “good” and “bad” anti-Semitism. The good kind is actually anti-Judaism, or hatred of the Jewish religion. The bad kind is, presumably, violence against the Jews themselves. This is an extremely dangerous “distinction,” however, which led to the demonization of an entire people and sowed the seeds from which the Shoah grew. This “distinction” has also allowed the Catholic Church to wash its hands of any true responsibility in the Shoah. The brute killing was carried out by a “pagan” regime. Where might they have gotten their most dangerous ideas from? Why did they find the masses so indifferent and even willing? Could centuries of the most poisonous anti-Jewish propaganda by the Church have had something to do with it?

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s “semi-official” newspaper, skips the entirety of the 20th century. There is simply a widget reading, This section has no content. We learn nothing about what it actually published in its glorious heyday leading up to the Second World War: it’s vicious anti-Semitic campaign in the 1890s, its uncritical acceptance of ritual murder charges against Jews, its endorsement of Italy’s racial laws of the 1930s. Today L’Osservatore prides itself in “presenting the genuine face of the church and the ideals of freedom.” “145 years as the ‘genuine face of the Church,'” reads an article in the Catholic News Service from 2006. One hundred of which have no content, apparently.

Why bother about L’Osservatore Romano, though? Because it seems the Vatican is playing a never-ending game of hide-and-seek with “official” “semi-offical” and “unofficial” pronouncements. One might infer that the only “official” voice of the Church is that of the pope himself. That leaves a huge margin for bishops, priests, cardinals and the like to voice various “unofficial” points of view, some of which push the limits of free speech up against a wall. When Lilli Gruber of Otto e Mezzo, a popular evening news program in Italy, recently invited a cardinal to speak on the pedophilia scandals, Gruber smilingly acknowledged that the cardinal could not say certain things. Is his therefore an “official” voice, constrained to silence on touchy issues? Who can know? Can “offical” voices become “unofficial” if they lead to scandal or a worsening of the Church’s public image?

If the interview is indeed a fabrication, one would expect serious action to be taken against the Pontifex blog by the Church itself. One would expect the Italian media giants to have caught on to it by now and have published some kind of editorial apology. But none of this is happening.

I couldn’t, say, fabricate an interview with Hillary Clinton, quoting her as saying, “We’re going to nuke those sand niggers in Iran” (I’m being entirely facetious here), have the story picked up verbatim and uncritically by the New York Times and Washington Post and countless other media, then have Clinton retract her statement as “having said nothing against the Iranian people” and still keep the interview up on my blog without some serious legal action.

But that’s kind of how things stand at the moment with the Babini affair.

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