At a news briefing just ended, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi sought to quell speculation in news reports (including yesterday’s posting here) that Rome was considering changes in the canonical statute of limitations to make it easier to laicize future clergy abusers.
Reports, especially a front-page story in The New York Times today and from the Associated Press, wrote that Levada said changes were in the offing. Levada told AP’s Eric Gorski (who has a recording) and Laurie Goodstein of the Times and myself that “There are some things under consideration that I’m not able to say.” He indicated they referred to changes in the statute of limitations.
At today’s news briefing, Lombardi said Levada told him the reports are incorrect and that “there is nothing to to expect.” Levada was only referring, Lombardi said, to “changes already in place and which will be in effect in the future.” He reiterated several times that Levada was talking about changes already enacted.
How that squares with what the cardinal told us yesterday remains unclear, unless he misspoke. Perhaps he was speaking about changes that have been enacted but not made public. Or perhaps the Vatican saw the headlines and grew nervous that the reports ginned up expectations that would not be met.
In other news (pardon the delay–internet went out in the press room), reporters at today’s mass noted that Rudy Giuliani–former New York mayor, GOP prez candidate, thrice-married, pro-gay rights, pro-choice Catholic–took communion, though Lombardi noted it was not from the pope. It would seem that this development, along with the fact that other pro-choice pols have taken communion at papal masses, would make it harder for advocates of refusing communion to such public figures.
Lombardi said the pope was “very happy” with the visit so far and not too tired. “Sta bene,” was his phrase. The Jesuit spokesman did note that at Day Four of the visit, everyone was a bit fatigued, but “when things go well, one feels this a bit less.” One especially uplifting moment for the pope, Lombardi said, was when he went outside the Vatican embassy to the UN (where Benedict is staying in New York) last evening to greet about 100 people who had gathered to sing for him. “There are not many moments for direct contact with people on these visits,” Lombardi said, acknowledging the tight security and tightly-scripted program. Last evening was “a very moving moment of direct contact with people.”
Lombardi said the pope has not read his own press (smart move) but said he was encouraged that “people understand his message.” He added: “We had the impression of a real good acceptance by the simple people, not only the important authorities.” He said the pope wants to stay positive, even while recognizing “the reality” of issues like sexual abuse.
Lombardi did say there was concern among Vatican officials that the media was not paying sufficient attention to the pope’s more complex speeches, in particular his address to the United Nations yesterday. “It was a discourse in a very Ratzinger style,” Lombardi said of the dense address, “very rich in concepts.”
Yet Benedict also seems to recognize that not everyone will dwell on those talks. Immediately after the cathedral mass he went into a small studio near the sacristy where the Sirius satellite radio network’s Catholic Channel broadcasts various events. He recorded a brief message, saying (according to CNS): ““On the occasion of the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter, I would like to take the opportunity to greet and thank all those who have joined us by radio and other media, espcially the listeners of the Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.
“Indeed, these means of communications assist me in sharing the saving message of the Gospel. I am pleased that on the Catholic Channel so many people can follow the daily life and activities of the church. God bless you all.”
Not a bad plug. (Or, “Now a word from our sponsor”?)
As far as observing this, the third anniversary of Benedict’s pontificate, Lombardi said he had only a low-key lunch after the mass at the cathedral rectory. “He [the pope] is not one to spend a long time at table. He’s a very austere and moderate person.”
Finally, the Vatican spokesman confirmed reports that Benedict will meet with Cardinal Avery Dulles this afternoon before (I believe) the youth event at St. Joseph’s Seminary. That is close to the Fordham campus where Dulles, whose health has grown precarious in recent months, is living. It is likely to be a poignant moment between two renowned theologians. Dulles has difficulty speaking now, due to complications from childhood polio.