Who Respects the Pope?

Regardless of their positions on other issues, Catholic “traditionalists” have tended in the recent past to have a strong sense of respect for the papacy. It’s beginning to look like that may have been contingent on the identity and ideology of the particular pontiff, though. Check out this WaPo report on reactions from different groups of Catholics to a request from the Vatican to ignore a leaked version of Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical scheduled to be released on Thursday.

The document had been closely guarded and was set to be released in paper form at the Vatican on Thursday morning, but midday Monday U.S. time, reports appeared in social media that the Italian copy had been leaked.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi on Monday told flummoxed reporters that the document was an “intermediate version” leaked in the Italian press and asked media organizations to maintain the original deal: Honor an embargo the Vatican had set for Thursday morning, when the final version was to be released.

Multiple experts — particularly those more aligned with the pope’s apparently progressive views on climate — declined to comment until the embargo lifted, saying they were respecting the Vatican.

That’s not how some conservatives are playing it.

The leaked document was in Italian, and many encyclical-watchers who don’t speak fluent Italian were wary about relying too much on Web translation services for accurate meaning. It appeared on the Web site of L’Espresso in a piece linking to it by Di Sandro Magister, a longtime Vatican analyst.

Magister is considered a conservative, said John Gehring, of the more liberal advocacy group Faith in Public Life.

“Magister is known as someone who is a savvy journalist but also someone who is a commentator, and has a point of view, and I think what’s interesting about this is, clearly, he’s trying to frame the debate early around this,” Gehring said.

So: the leak could represent a preemptive strike.

In Italy and other parts of Europe, Catholic analysts were couching the leak in sinister terms. Massimo Franco, an Italian newspaper columnist and author of insider books on the Vatican, described it as an incredibly rare lapse of Vatican protocol.

“I think this just confirms that there are people inside the Vatican who don’t like this pope,” he said. “It has almost never happened in the past and is quite strange. I can’t image that this is what the pope wanted.”

Father Bernd Hagenkord, head of the German-speaking section of Vatican Radio, wrote on his blog: “This is sabotage — somebody wants to actively undermine the pope’s message . . . I personally find this awful.”

And not very “traditional,” either.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.