And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: "Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me."
It's a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense."
Uh...OK. Sure, proselytism has--now, in ecumenical dialogue--a negative connotation, smacking of coercion of the will. It has a rather more mixed one in the New Testament, just to let you know--sometimes negative, sometime merely descriptive of converts to Judaism.
The point is, Scalfari was talking about conversion, not coercion. From the context, it doesn't appear the Swiss Guards had their halberds menacingly lowered at Mr. Atheist. Scalfari was making a joke about mere conversion, not force.
Here's an analogy: an Eckrich salesman invites me over to his house, and I joke "Are you going to try to sell me some hot dogs?" and he replies: "Bratwursts are ridiculous."
Now, those of you who have no problem with the interview are probably going: "A-ha--see how clever the pope was: he was playing a smart rhetorical game with Scalfari here!"
Well, no. First, is it fair to Scalfari unlikely as he is to be up on the distinction between good evangelizing and bad proselytism? Isn't wordsmithing here a bridge too far?
Second, the distinction gets watered down later in the interview:
Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.
"We cannot know that, but I don't have any such intention."
I'm at sea here. Is any intent or desire for conversion of another, expressly-stated or not, proselytism?
No, no, no, no, no, we're reassured. No, not at all.
Well, I respect Jimmy and Kathy a lot, but there's a difference between terminology in a limited, technical church-y sense and terminology as it is understood by non-believers. Jimmy especially notes the difference between the common and the church-technical version.
But none of that was stated in the actual text of the interview. He's not being more precise, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, he's not giving you the material to make him say what you want him to. When you have to supply that much subtext and cross-referencing to make it "work," it's damage control. Pure and simple. All damage control at this point, and that's how it comes across.
Non-Catholics have this rather exalted notion that the Pope is a dictator, we hang on his every word, and that we march to him lighting up the Pope Signal or getting the Secret Message from the PBS test pattern after sign off.
A message that is being--stunner!--reinforced by the way the Catholic Left is brandishing him. Francis, unfiltered! The world's parish priest!
Compare Jimmy and Kathy with David Gibson of the Religion News Service. Also a Commonweal blogger, to say Gibson hates your orthodox guts...is entirely accurate. As he demonstrated on his Facebook page today, linking to his own deeply objective story gloating about the discomfiture of people who actually believe in what marriage really means, that abortion is evil, who struggle to follow Humanae Vitae:
"Don't worry about your right flank, Pope Francis -- American Catholics have your back."
But compare the first Gibson link with the attempted rebuttals. Gibson simply lets Francis speak for himself. There's nothing for him to have to explain, no multi-paragraph excurses on wayward sentences, none of that. Because there's nothing there to discomfit him. And just where do you think regular journos will get their Francis stuff from? Hint: RNS, the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Reese, Dick McBrien--the usual gang on speed dial. Not from Patheos.
And where do you think the average Catholic in the pews (you know, the ones who say "gay marriage--suh-weet!") will get their Francis fix from? The regular journos.
And why not? Gibson, NCRep, etc. are all poised, confident, and not engaging in damage control. But their read is wrong--or so I'm reassured.
In addition to drinking heavily, I recommend taking a look at this and pondering it carefully.