My Take: The secret thoughts of a Vatican spokesperson
The Rev. Thomas Rosica is assisting as a spokesman at the Vatican during the papal transition.
March 5th, 2013
09:37 PM ET

My Take: The secret thoughts of a Vatican spokesperson

Editor's Note: The Rev. Thomas Rosica is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is serving as English language assistant to the director of the Holy See Press Office during the papal transition.

By The Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B, Special to CNN

(CNN)–When my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told me to come quickly to Rome to assist him, I understood that help was needed in dealing with a deluge of media requests in the aftermath of the pope’s surprise resignation announcement on February 11.

Having run a World Youth Day in Canada in 2002 and then founded, set up and led Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in Canada since 2003, I knew something about media and press relations.  Little did I know what would be awaiting me in the Caput Mundi when I arrived more than two weeks ago.  It was not a deluge but a veritable tsunami!

The most amusing questions, however, have been those that come from people who know me from back home and those who never met me until now.

“How are you surviving in the midst of chaos at the Vatican, a resigned pope, intrigue among cardinals, scandals and back-room skullduggery going on inside the Vatican?” “How can you breathe amidst a church that thrives in secrecy and prevents you from speaking the truth?”

I smile, because I have experienced none of the above.  Rather, I have encountered an incredible interest in things church from many of the 5,000-plus journalists and media types accredited to these momentous events.

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Through more than 120 interviews I have done since arriving in Rome, and responding to hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls from every corner of the globe, and even amidst some of the most superficial or pointed questions raised publicly or privately, I realize that no matter how many mistakes we have made in the church, people still look to my faith community as a beacon of hope, a pillar of strength and bearer of goodness to our crazy world.

I marvel at the creative invention of some Italian journalists who give new meaning to reality shows and make tabloid journalism look good!

I am amused at bloggers who seek to have their texts substituted for what I have venerated in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!

When journalists at press briefings have been enthralled with the shoe color of a pope emeritus, or expressed intense fascination for the livelihood of a retired pope’s cats (I am not sure that he has cats), or wild interest in his breakfast menu at Castel Gandolfo, or the intrigue surrounding the smashing of Pope Benedict’s fisherman’s ring and seal, I ask myself, “What is it about this church and her leader that excites people so much?”

I will tell you how I survive in the midst of all of this tempest hovering over Vatican City.

I celebrate Mass early each morning with my colleague Sebastian, either in the Jesuit Generalate where I am spending these weeks, sharing first-class Ignatian hospitality with some great members of the Society of Jesus or at a side altar in St. Peter’s Basilica or in the Vatican crypt.

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In the center of that massive church, way beneath the papal high altar, excavators found in the 1940s a shrine, the tropaion (the Greek word for trophy or victory monument): a classic structure with columns supporting what may have been an altar.

At the back of the tropaion was a red wall.  When archaeologists unearthed the buttressing wall, they found it covered with graffiti.  One piece of graffiti seemed to say, "Peter is [here!]"  [Petros eini].

These are the remains of a Galilean fisherman, which would have been among the most jealously guarded relics of the ancient Roman Christian community.

Among the fragments of bones of the fisherman were found Peter’s skull, vertebrae, arms, hands, pelvis and legs.  But there was nothing from the ankles on down.  If a man has been crucified upside down, as tradition says Peter was, the easiest way to remove what was left of his body would have been to chop off the dead man’s feet and pull down the rest of the corpse from the cross.

Peter, like his Lord and master, died a scandalous death.  Scandal has marred this faith community from the beginning.

These days as cardinals are gathered in the upper room of the new synod hall to examine the state of the church and assess successes and failures at various levels of the church, they gather around the bones of Peter, the rock upon whom this whole operation was built.

And after some days of reflection, they will enter the Sistine Chapel to elect a successor to Peter.

What keeps me going these days is a remembrance of Peter, a personal friend of Jesus of Nazareth, who had to remember his own failures as he undertook leadership within the church.

Rather than incapacitating him, his remembrance enabled him to be a merciful and compassionate leader.  Peter learned his lesson well; he would imitate Jesus the rest of his life even to the point of giving that life as a martyr, dying upside down on a cross on the Vatican hill.  The last thing Peter would have seen before dying was the obelisk that now stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.

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This reality we call Catholicism does not rest on some kind of pious myth, a pie-in-the sky story from long ago.

It is a story that has weathered many storms, and withstood the fury of the gates of hell.

It is a story about real people and real things that happened to them.  People who staked their lives, and continue to do so, not on fables and fantasies, but on what they came to understand as the truth.

It is that same truth that we are trying to serve these days as we tell the world an ancient, at times incredible story that continues to excite and entice the whole world.  It’s ultimately about Peter and the one he loved so much that he gave up everything to follow him.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Thomas Rosica.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Vatican

soundoff (60 Responses)
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    November 25, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 8, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      March 8, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie.

      March 8, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  4. Kevin B.

    Good article. Whether you are a believer or not the history of Christianity is interesting.
    I don't know if there is a god or not, but I think believers and non-believers alike should be careful in their utter certainty in anything. We all have generally limited experience in this world and we are all wrong more often than we are right, we just end up dead before we get the chance to find out. Why don't we stop putting each other in boxes that keep us separated and start reaching out to each other because of our commonalities.

    Stop the hate.

    All of it.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  5. Henry Spelter

    It is not shocking neither surprising the contempt and hatred that was fumed over the unexpected change of resignation and soon coming selection of a new Pope of the Catholic Church. How much wasted time and brain-damage endured to express these infantile characterizations of faith, religion, belief. The supernatural was always as captivating to humans as the natural and always will be. Naturalist, materialist, the learned and unlearned, simply waste their time to understand or demolish the mysteries of faith. Belief in something good brings happiness, trying to deprive others of this hap[piness is inhuman and cruel. Studying world-religions I came back to settle with Catholic Christianity, and I fill my whole life with it, even in the unlikely (and to me impossible) event that a space-ship may will bring a person who may call himself Jesus and tells the world he is from another world and there is no need to search for anything supernatural. I personally find the Jesus-centered and purpose-driven Christian life so attractive, because I did not find anything that can satisfy my human life and desire so completely with beauty, goodness, and love. All the desperate and twisted human logic to dismantle any Christian life could have been used for something good, and not just wasting the limited gift of time for nothing.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  6. mjschriner

    Bless me father for "YOU" have sinned!

    March 7, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  7. rock woman

    Wait...a...minute. Peter is the rock upon which the church is founded, yes? The pope figuratively wears the shoes of Peter the fisherman, right? So a shrine holding Peter's bones in the basilica somehow gets forgotten - by the very church which regards Peter as its founder and designates the pope as his successor - and is not rediscovered until 1940? Unbelievable. Wow.

    March 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Dennis

      Have you ever been to Rome? Do you understand archeology? Things from centuries past continue to be discovered in Rome and around the world all the time. The real point is that these bones cannot be 100% verified as the remains of Peter, which is recognized by the Church. However, historical data relates that this is the site where Peter was executed, the carbon testing verfies the time frame of the bones, and the inscription on the wall seems to indicate that it is Peter's final resting place. Even if the bones aren't Peter's ... he lived and died a terrible fate for someone whom he knew personally and though to be the Messiah.

      March 7, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  8. JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

    I like the idea of the pope being a woman. I recommend Kim Upton.

    March 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  9. Patrick

    interessant article

    March 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  10. sandra

    a person does not have to have a religious afiliation, any one whether believes in God or not can see the frutage of a rotten tree, no good can come from a religious, political or social organization where corruption, greed, lies, abuse of power... is being the motivating factor to control masses... by their fruits you will know who are my followers said Jesus the Greater Man who Ever lived. What ever we sow we reap. We can denay, reason or justify our actions but consequences are atached inmediately to the action/ choices we make. False religion has been guilty for centuries of wars, blood guilt, and confusion among their followers. The reason many are lost spiritually, angry, depress without hope.

    March 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  11. Portlander

    Nice try, but this guy covered up pedophilia in the 1970's in Portland, OR.
    The pope's official spokesman – indeed.

    my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

    March 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  12. magscanner

    Time to choose a new Pope. Why not a woman?

    What's the official Vatican line to this? I don't recall where Jesus said the Pope had to be a man.

    C. Q. Yarbro wrote a book "Magnificat" about the election of a woman to be the new Pope, and the changes she made in the Church to bring it into the modern era.

    In the years since she wrote the book, the scandals and conservative backsliding in the Church have only gotten worse. Yarbro never imagined that a Vatican bank would be thrown out of the EU banking compact for refusing to investigate itself about money laundering. And no one could have predicted the depth of the paedophile priest crisis. No one except the insiders, of course.

    March 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Canada

      I recall Jesus saying their should never be a pope or "His holiness" other than God. I'm pretty sure there was something in the Bible about that.... idolatry maybe? and kissing a Gold ring? burning incense? Most Christians think Islam is bad... But deceiving the elect under the guise of Christianity and ignorance to the teaching...even more deceitful.

      March 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  13. charles darwin

    Very interesting to see the roman catholic church crumble into ashes .
    Same thing they did to human beings burned alive at the stake.
    Horrible religion!

    March 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Intuitively Obvious

      Correct! This cult-like denomination is quickly Self-Destructing due to its continued narrow viewpoints on mankind.

      March 6, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • DustyOnes

      That was the Calvinists that burned people at the stake...

      March 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • Akira

      Dusty Ones:
      Does the name Mary Tudor mean anything to you? She was the famous "Bloody Mary" Queen of England...right before Elizabeth I.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Anna Maria Von Ludwig's Descendant


      Yes the Calvinists did it in their Salem Witch Trials, but it was done elsewhere in the world, including to my ancestors in 17th century Germany by Catholics who persecuted the new 'heretic', 'devil' followers of Martin Luther.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  14. theresa1962

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This article finally some truthful reflection rather than Catholic bashing. Our church is beautiful. There are millions of good deeds for every mistake.

    March 6, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      There is NOTHING that is done in the name of religion that can’t be done by purely secular means. And usually better, and for the right reasons.

      March 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Howard

      When the Church labors to conceal the most embarrassing of her mistakes, even as she sacrifices the mental well-being of the victims of those mistakes ... all the good deeds in the world are nothing more than a rationalization.

      March 6, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • integrity has no compromise

      Integrity has no compromise. Cover-ups is more than an unintended crime.

      March 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Portlander

      Nice try, but this guy covered up pedophilia in the 1970's in Portland, OR.
      The pope's official spokesman – indeed.

      my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

      March 6, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • notogop

      Making mistakes is normal and the Catholic Church has made a great number of them; the Inquisition, the Crusades, pedophilia, etc. Lying and covering them up is not going to win many converts and certainly is not made right by any good deeds done in the past or the future.

      March 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Canada

      or Deceiving Christians themselves! with ignorance to the bible. Confess to God in heaven, not to a man falsely fathered. SO many abominations to the teachings. like Changing the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday.... in the ten commandments, it's the only law that says Remeber. "REMEMBER the sabbath, and keep it holy." as if he knew we would forget the true sabbath. Read Revelations.. and the Woman riding the Beast, and pray on it... you'll see the truth then.

      March 6, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • End Religion

      There's just no end to the kooks. Haven't you people ever heard of a con artist? Have you never seen a magic show and then seen how the trick is done? Are you not aware of the slimy tactics of a car salesman or snake oil peddler? Have you never watched an episode of the Simpsons?

      Religion is a fraud. It couldn't be any more transparent unless Jesus himself came down and told you, except right after doing so you'd all claim it was the 2nd Coming and immediately restart the "end times" claims for the next eternity. Religious people are what are known in the biz as "marks" and "suckers." Wise up people.

      March 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Southernsuga

      This definitely a beautiful article about the beauty of the church and the most blessed St. Peter.

      March 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  15. Annie's Daughter

    Reverend Father Rosica, thank you for your insights and comments. As a practicing Catholic my faith is very important to me, in fact, it is a life-saving religion. I can not speak for others but for myself, I am nurtured, inspired, awed, and comforted by the Catholic Church. Bless you and the works of all the holy men and women who hold and teach the Catholic faith.

    March 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • integrity has no compromise

      What'd one expect – the Church has always defended its reputation at all costs – the extensive and systematic cover-ups show.

      March 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Portlander

      Nice try, but this guy covered up pedophilia in the 1970's in Portland, OR.
      The pope's official spokesman – indeed.

      my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

      March 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  16. errybody's problem

    The typical day of an atheist consists of patting oneself on the back for his or her success; going around and telling his or her friends that “God doesn’t exist”; getting offended by every person walking out of a church; looking for a four leaf clover; trying to memorize all of Stephen Hawkins’ arguments; throwing a penny into a wishing well; carrying a horse shoe; checking the Internet to make sure that their favorite celebrities are still atheists; watching their favorite episodes of “Survivor” and “Amish Mafia”; and disrespecting anyone with a religious background.

    Plus, jumping on to the atheist bandwagon in the hopes that others will perceive him or her as being "smart" and "non-conformist" when in reality, he or she is just an average person with a small number of acquaintances, and very low self-esteem. You see, it's fun when you get on the bandwagon of atheism! You feel like you're fighting the good fight! You no longer feel like a loser or a loner or a dropout or an idiot, but when you look in the mirror, you're still a loser, a loner, a dropout, an idiot, and most likely, extremely ugly.

    March 6, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • The Devil

      Loves you too !!!

      March 6, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • End Religion

      I guess it gets hard for you to tell what a fact is after a while.

      March 6, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Ruby

      Oh come now, surely you can understand the logic of "Whatever I don't know cannot be true" can't you? Heaven knows, I don't, but perhaps the athiests know something I don't, just as I know something they don't .

      March 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • typical athiest

      I disagree. As an athiest my typical day consists of working hard at my job and spending time with my friends and family. I never think about religion. I am perfectly happy with my life and feel no void or no sense of superiority towards others who believe in a god. Sometimes, though, I feel bad for those who live their lives so afraid of what, to me, is clearly a fictional being, and expend so much energy vehemently hurling insults and hatred towards those who believe differently.

      March 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Will

      Wow! That was surely some of the most embarrassing hateful speech I have ever heard directed at either believers or atheists. I don't see you claiming to be Catholic, and for the sake of Catholics everywhere I sincerely hope you are not. To rage against atheists in the same way unintelligent atheists rage against believers is ignorant, and there's no part of the Catholic religion that wants anything to do with you.

      March 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Todd

      Like the religious people Atheist fall in many different shades of Gray. You have the evangelical Atheists who hate all things religious, than you have the more moderate ones who respect people of religion however they personally do not believe in it. But this is true for a bunch of groups you have Die hard democrats and Republicans or Pro and Anti-Union. Even what freaking Operating System you choose to run on your computer or web browsers that you view on.
      Religion or lack of it doesn't cause people to be stuck up jerk, they are just that way.

      March 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Howard

      I am not an atheist, someone who rejects the possibility of a god. I suppose I am an agnostic, someone who concedes there is much we do not know, and therefore a good could exist within that realm.

      However ...

      The god you believe in apparently created an eminently logical universe for us to live in. It is a universe governed by physical laws that we are still learning, but know far more about now than we did 200 years ago. It's likely we'll know even more 200 years in the future than we do now. I submit, therefore, that it is illogical for the creator of a logic universe to be an inherently illogical being.

      And yet ... you would have everyone believe this logical creator wishes to be worshiped by all of us. Why? What could possibly be meaningful to such an inconceivably vast and powerful intelligence as being worshiped by such pitifully insignificant beings as ourselves? It is illogical. For that matter, wouldn't the very desire to be worshiped and praised be, in itself, ungodly by any normal assessment of someone state of mind?

      You believe god created all of us and invested with "free will." Yet, so many of you see nothing wrong with praying to this god to commit various acts that in themselves would be a rejection of free will. You can't have it both ways. Either god was correct to invest humans with free will, and therefore he can't interfere with or influence any human actions or behavior, or free will is sometimes a mistake ... but god is infallibly omniscient, so he can't make mistakes. But god apparently created the fallen angels led by Lucifer, and that certainly wasn't one of his shining successes. And as for interfering with human free will, it is not only logical, but even reasonable, to point out that any contact between god and humans must inevitably be so overwhelming powerful that no mere human could do other than as directed by god. That means when god gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he was admitting that free will was a mistake.

      I could go and on, but my point is ... it doesn't take very much sober thinking to realize that much of what you've been taught by Roman Catholicism doesn't fit together in any logical way.

      March 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • integrity has no compromise

      "god doesn't exist" is better than "no our priests didn't r a p e!"

      March 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Steve C.

      Well put, Howard.

      March 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • ellid

      You have not the slightest idea what you are talking about. "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

      March 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  17. EX catholic

    Like, who cares? Well yeah.. IDOLATERS do care about all of this asinine nonsense. Leave it to Idolaters and the foolish Atheists.

    March 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • End Religion

      Poor Doug trapped in his closet. No room for anything but him and his loathing.

      March 6, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Mohammad A. Dead Subject

      look in the mirror what do you see Ex Catholic? some 60 years old looser, thrown out of local Church, because he was so annoyingly stupid!! lol!!

      March 6, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  18. Matthew

    I enjoyed the article as well as the sneak peak of roaming through the catacombs. Thank you.

    March 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • Akira

      I found the passage about Peter's tomb fascinating, as I do about archeology in general. I would so love to go there one day. It's on the bucket list.

      March 5, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  19. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Thomas, it won't survive the nature of the men, for that's all we are, the strange and celibate men who assumed the place of the fisherman between Man and God. AMDG

    March 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  20. .

    This essay is all over the place, and poorly written. I wonder if the good Father suffers from ADD?

    March 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Akira

      I found "...excavators found in the 1940s a shrine..." To be a little awkward, but hey. That's why he's a SPOKESman, lol.


      March 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Ruby

      Akira, it is a curious statement, what were they doing in their all these years?

      March 6, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.