By Charlie Johnston
Sorry I have not been around for a few days. I was in transit, but more than that, several things have been occupying my mind. Some of you will recall that, after my December 20th visitation, I was shaken by how very confused things were going to get in the coming year. Among the things I worried about was that Pope Francis might make a major blunder or a series of them on purely secular matters – and that divisions among Bishops would become greater and more visible. When Pope Francis met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, all who were there reported that the Pope said that Abbas IS an “angel of peace” as he gave him a medal and gave Vatican recognition to Palestine as an independent state. Now I have had a little experience with the vicissitudes of merely social diplomacy in public settings. There are times I have had to say pleasant things in public comments about people I held in contempt. When I have, I have tried to keep it truthful, but incomplete. I could see myself saying that Abbas is called to be an angel of peace, but there are no circumstances in which I would call a man who approves of the naming of public parks and major roads in honor of people who butcher Jewish children in their sleep an angel of peace. Not ever gonna happen. It capped off a week of shocking events in Rome for me, so I have been reticent about writing until I know precisely what was said and have fully vetted what I need to say about it.
Now National Review’s Ellen Carmichael has energetically said that what was reported was not what the Pope said at all; that, in fact, his construction was practically identical to the diplomatic construction that I say above could be used…that it was an aspiration that Abbas become an angel of peace, a perfectly reasonable and hopeful public aspiration. Her piece has more energy than merit. Carmichael is engaging in wishful revisionism rather than precise reporting. The director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, responded to the storm of controversy over the remark in much the same terms – except that he dissembled on what the Pope actually said. He claimed he wasn’t close enough to hear accurately what the Pope said; he did not argue with the unanimous witness of those who were close enough who said the Pope said Abbas IS an angel of peace, but explained that what the Pope meant was that he hoped Abbas would become one. What I know is that the Vatican accorded Palestine full recognition, even as it continues to call for the annihilation of Israel and genocidal destruction of the Jews. In this, if nothing else, the Vatican forfeited a ton of moral authority.
Pope Francis IS the Pope of the Storm, assigned to guide us through these troubled waters. On that score, I have no doubt. That does not mean he won’t make clumsy, sometimes offensive errors on matters that do not actually touch on faith and morals. I am afraid we are going to have many of the best, most holy Bishops make clumsy, sometimes arrogant, sometimes offensive proclamations in the next year. It does not touch on their legitimate authority – but it pleases God that they should get their fingers burned to encourage them to stick to their legitimate authority. It hurts, because a blunder on a temporal matter creates scandal and discredits the Church in the eyes of many who are not particularly religious but are watching. Things may get further confused as some of the worst actors are careful to be prudent, so as not to discredit themselves. We have a lot of chaos ahead. I am parsing the piece I am writing on it very carefully. It will be up tomorrow or the next day.
Meantime, I also am integrating my son, also Charlie Johnston, and my godson and nephew, Denton Brand, into the website as editors along with my sister, Kim Hocutt. I am writing out some guidelines for them. I am in the final edits of the “Go Forth” Prayer Booklets. I will meet with Lisa Fixler, owner of the Full of Grace Supply House Thursday afternoon to go over layout and printing. The long-promised buttons and stickers should be in later this week or early next. They will be available through Full of Grace – and I will take a bunch of them to distribute as I hit the road next month. And finally, I am actually working logistics this week for the first trip to the Southeast – and getting a helper on board to expedite arrangements for these visits. I will have a piece up tomorrow – sort of a checklist – on things that need to be incorporated into a visit, what a host needs to do to prepare and get others involved.
So I have not slunk into a hole, but am working to get a bunch of things taken care of. This is just one of those choke points where a lot of serious things come together at the same time.