It all started in June, when the new mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, banned 49 books from the city's preschool libraries. After a major controversy erupted, he rescinded the ban on all but two books, one of which was Piccolo Uovo.
|Gay Penguins, Lesbian Rabbits, and a Rainbow|
Piccolo Uovo, or "Little Egg," is a children's book written by Francesca Pardi. Among the fans of the book is gay pop icon Elton John, who, along with his male partner, have obtained two little boys, four-year-old Zachary and two-year-old Elijah. The book-banning became an international incident when Sir Elton blasted Brugnaro in the press. He described Piccolo Uovo this way:
Here is one of the Furnish-John family's favourite storybooks. It champions an all-inclusive world where families come in all shape, sizes and colours. And most importantly, that families are about love. Our boys adore it.Piccolo Uovo also champions families headed by gay penguins and lesbian rabbits.
It is important to note that this whole situation unfolded against the backdrop of a high-profile controversy. There is every reason to believe the Vatican was aware of this controversy. As we shall see, the Vatican had in its possession pro-homosexual books by the author sent by the author herself. The point to remember is that the response by the Vatican was done with eyes wide open.
At some point, the author of the book, Francesca Pardi, sent an unknown number of copies of her books to Pope Francis. They included seven or eight books expressly dealing with homosexual issues. Accompanying them was a plaintive letter that Pardi showed to a reporter from The Guardian. According to that newspaper, her letter included the following plea:
Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us,” she wrote. “We have respect for Catholics ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?Pardi was surprised to hear back from the Vatican. In a letter dated July 9, Msgr. Peter B. Wells, a senior official in the Vatican secretariat, wrote back on behalf of the Pope. It said:
His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.Msgr. Wells, an American, was appointed to his position by Pope Benedict. According to Vatican-watcher John Allen, Wells is far more than an ordinary functionary. He is a bellwether of Vatican opinion and a man of significant influence. In 2013, Allen wrote this in the National Catholic Reporter of Wells.
Cables revealed as part of the Wikileaks scandal show how much diplomats rely on Wells for readings of the Vatican's take on sensitive issues, such as the church's sexual abuse scandals. Other players know the score, too. In 2010, when parishioners in Boston wanted to appeal the closing of nine local parishes, they consulted a couple of canon lawyers about the best way to get the pope's attention, and the reply was to address the petition to Wells.Msgr. Wells seems like the last fellow to do something that did not reflect the Pope's sentiments.
After the Guardian story broke on Friday, the Vatican Press Office issued issued a terse statement which placed responsibility for the letter squarely on Msgr. Wells. It did not mention homosexuality specifically, but explained the letter was not meant to endorse anything "not in line with the Gospel." "In no way does the letter from the Secretariat of State mean to endorse behaviour and teachings not in line with the Gospel."
The letter from Wells to Pardi on behalf of Pope Francis was also supposed to private.
The emerging narrative is that this was merely a polite, routine letter to an author of children's books. The problem with this is that it completely ignores the context, which in this case, is everything.
So what happened?
First of all, note that Pardi's letter discusses the controversy and expressly asks for support of "the whole hierarchy of the Church." In other words, she is asking the Pope -- to whom she sent the letter and the books -- to take her side in the controversy. And that's exactly what she got, albeit in very careful language.
Second, the letter on behalf of the Pope speaks for itself. How the Vatican Press Office imagines one can praise an author for children's books that favor homosexuality and yet not endorse "behavior and teachings not in line with Gospel," is quite the mystery. Clearly, this is damage control to shift the blame to Wells and backtrack when the Guardian made the papal endorsement public. lt seems to have worked. The accepted narrative is that this was just a routine, polite letter to an author of children's books, and the Pope had nothing to do with it.
Yet Wells obviously felt he had the authority to speak on behalf of Pope Francis on a well-known controversy involving a children's book featuring gay penguins. It would take a real Vaticanista to know if Wells would do that without the Pope's knowledge, but it seems unlikely to the Bear. If this had been some under-the-radar thing, the Vatican might plead ignorance. This was a matter of controversy, however, as shown by the public record, Pardi's letter and the books she sent.
It is interesting to consider once again John Allen's assessment of Wells. "[D]iplomats rely on Wells for readings of the Vatican's take on sensitive issues." This is a man acutely sensitive to his boss's positions. How likely is it that Wells misread Pope Francis on the controversial book?
Well's letter is admittedly pretty generic. (Query: does praise for spreading "genuine human and Christian values" seem odd coming from the Vatican?) Even so, it is blandly encouraging to an author who writes storybooks on lesbian rabbits for children. This is really the bottom line.
As the Bear asked in the previous story, what would it take to get Msgr. Wells, on behalf of the Pope, to encourage the aggressively orthodox Catholicism contained in this blog? The sun standing still comes to mind, but probably not even that. And yet Francesca Pardi gets an attagirl from Pope Francis for writing Elton John's and David Furnish's favorite gay storybook.
This might be dismissed as an aberration were it not for Pope Francis' -- and indeed most of the hierarchy's -- famous tolerance for sexual deviance. This is the "Who am I to Judge" papacy, the "Bravo!" Church. Pope Francis' priorities do not include teaching on the evils of abortion, homosexuality and contraception. He is a "son of the Church," but finds "it is not necessary to talk of these issues all the time." Or, as it turns out, any of the time.
This is not gratuitous criticism of the Pope. It recalls the context which makes it seem plausible that Pope Francis told Wells to "send a nice letter to the lady who writes about love and acceptance for children with gay parents." So whatever the details of this scandal, in a real sense, Pope Francis owns it.