Yo, scribes: During this papal in-flight presser, the news was what Francis refused to discuss

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Want to take a wild guess what Pope Francis wanted to talk about during the informal press conference during his latest flight back to Rome?

Yes, he wanted to talk about his trip to the Baltics. It appears that he also wanted to talk about other issues linked to foreign diplomacy — like the Vatican’s stunning deal to cooperate with the Powers That be in China when choosing Catholic bishops.

Now, want to take a guess what the pope did not what to talk about?

If you guessed that papal press aides basically banned questions about the life and times of Theodore McCarrick — including questions about the searing document (full text here) released by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s former U.S. ambassador — then you’re a winner.

Think like a journalist for a moment. One would assume that this “please don’t ask The Question” rule would have, in its own way, been a newsworthy topic. Imagine the pope declining to answer questions about the Pennsylvania grand jury document, in what is usually an informal meeting with reporters.

This raises a familiar question: What is different about the #ChurchToo sins and crime child-abuse cases linked to McCarrick?

Try to find a reference to the “no McCarrick questions” ground rules in this Associated Press story, which clearly is about the in-flight presser:

(ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE) — Pope Francis acknowledged Tuesday that his landmark deal with China over bishop nominations will cause suffering among the underground faithful. But he said that he takes full responsibility and that he — and not Beijing — will have the ultimate say over naming new bishops.

Francis provided the first details of the weekend agreement signed during an in-flight news conference coming home from the Baltics. The deal aims to end decades of tensions over bishop nominations that had contributed to dividing the Chinese church and hampered efforts at improving bilateral relations.

China’s estimated 12 million Catholics are split between those belonging to the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is outside the pope’s authority, and an underground church loyal to the pope. Underground priests and parishioners are frequently detained and harassed.

The entire AP story focuses on questions about the China pact — which is a very important story (click here for a “Global Wire” piece by our own Ira Rifkin).

This was clearly the approach that reporters were supposed to take. You can see the same “Nothing to see here” approach here at The New York Times report on the inflight-presser and over here at The Washington Post.

Now, for those who like to read news sources for themselves, the Catholic New Agency did print a transcript of the presser. As it turns out, Pope Francis did make a tiny reference to You. Know. What. Here it is:

… When there was that famous communique of an ex-Apostolic Nuncio, the episcopates of the world wrote me, saying clearly that they felt close, that they were praying for me. The Chinese faithful wrote and the signature of this writ was from a bishop, let’s say it this way, of the traditional Catholic Church and from a bishop of the Patriotic Church, together and faithful, both of them. For me, it was a sign from God.

So both of the Catholic flocks in China are united in their desire to move on, avoiding all comments about the network of cardinals linked to the protection of McCarrick’s career?


As you would imagine, some observers were not amused. A reader at Rod Dreher’s blog offered this translation of some commentary published by Italian journalist Marco Tosatti:

It was an “armored” press conference held by the Pope [on Tuesday, September 26] on the flight which took him back to Rome after his trip to the Baltic Republics. The Pope — who according to several correspondents on the plane appeared nervous and in difficulty — did not wish to respond to any questions which were not on the topic of the journey he had just finished. Meaning there were no questions allowed on the McCarrick case, on the testimony of Archbishop Vigano, or on the case of Cardinal Murphy O’Connor.

This detail (look at the presser transcript) is especially interesting:

In fact, none of the English-speaking journalists were allowed to ask questions — the ones who would have been most determined to ask for explanations on these burning issues. When one correspondent came forward to repeat the question asked by Anna Matranga of CBS on the flight returning from Dublin — namely, when was Pope Francis first informed of the crimes of McCarrick — she was asked whether her question concerned the trip to the Baltics. The correspondent said no, it is a follow-up to the questions asked a month ago. She was told in reply, “You need to wait, first we will talk about the trip.” And afterwards of course they never gave her another chance to speak.

So that is that.

I really sense that Pope Francis and his handlers are trying to run out the clock on the elderly McCarrick, knowing that many mainstream reporters are not anxious — to say the least — to dig into cases in which a cardinal, for decades, sexually harassed and abused young men directly under his authority.

No questions about that? Sure. No news here. Move along.

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