The controversy about the Pope’s words in reaction to Mel Gibson’s film is “a wake-up call about the dangers of reliance on anonymous sources, a fact of reporting life in the Vatican,” said Catholic journalist John Allen.
In his weekly column “Word from Rome”, Allen said the “he said, she said” saga in the press over the Pope’s comments makes reporters “look like naïfs who have been spun every which way, or worse yet, like willing partners in someone's dishonesty.”
Allen said officials at the Vatican “rarely speak on the record,” so Vatican reporters are constantly dealing with unnamed sources. “This incident,” wrote Allen, “undoubtedly has raised the bar on caution for all of us.”
But those who come out looking the worst in the whole affair is the Vatican, Allen said.
“Even if officials were acting for the noblest of motives, they have stretched the meaning of words, on and off the record, to their breaking point,” wrote Allen. “Aside from the obvious moralism that it’s wrong to deceive, such confusion can only enhance perceptions that the aging John Paul II is incapable of controlling his own staff, that ‘no one is in charge’ and the Church is adrift. These impressions are not healthy in a time when the Church’s public image, especially in the United States, has already taken a beating on other grounds.”
“No one can have ironclad certainty about what the pope said,” wrote Allen.
Allen added that his original source for his breaking story continues to insist that the Pope did, in fact, make that remark. “On the other hand,” said Allen, “there is no [official] confirmation of the remark.”