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Words never said

· "The Guardian" denounces misinformation in reporting Benedict XVI's discourse to the Diplomatic Corps ·

The following is our translation of almost all of an article posted on the website of the British daily, “The Guardian”.

On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican at which he didn't say a single word about gay marriage. You can read the whole thing here . So why is it news? Because Reuters and, following them, many other people reported that he had denounced gay marriage as a threat to western civilisation. Philip Pullella, who is one of the very best and most experienced Vatican correspondents, led his story : "Pope Benedict said Monday that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined 'the future of humanity itself'."

So far as I can see, Pope Benedict just didn't. He did speak in favour of the family "based on the marriage of a man and woman". He did say that "policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself". But there was no suggestion that gay marriage was the most important of these and he didn't mention it at all, whereas he did take up several other sexual issues.

He went out of his way to praise a recent European court ruling that outlawed patents based on human stem cells . He said that "legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity". That may be right or wrong. But it's not an attack on gay marriage, or even on homosexuality.

Nor was it the main or the most important part of his retrospective. What he said was the most important event of last year was the global economic and financial crisis. So far as I know, he is the most significant European political figure to be saying things such as: "The crisis can and must be an incentive to reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension, even before we consider the mechanisms governing economic life: not only in an effort to stem private losses or to shore up national economies, but to give ourselves new rules which ensure that all can lead a dignified life and develop their abilities for the benefit of the community as a whole."

Again, he doesn't have to be right in what he says. But he managed to say it a lot better than Ed Miliband .

He also has sensible, if unoriginal, things to say about the Arab spring, where he wants human rights to be protected against the tyrannies of the majority: "Respect for the person must be at the centre of institutions and laws; it must lead to the end of all violence and forestall the risk that due concern for popular demands and the need for social solidarity turn into mere means for maintaining or seizing power … the building of stable and reconciled societies, opposed to every form of unjust discrimination, particularly religious discrimination, represents a much vaster horizon than that of short-term electoral gains."

For my money, the news line in his speech was his environmentalism. How many newspaper readers would expect the pope to say: "Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development." Surely this is an opinion that would startle a great many American Republicans who think he's on their side.

The pope is a Catholic; perhaps it's in the nature of the news business to be freshly astonished by this fact every couple of months.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 26, 2020