With his book "Sua Santità" the journalist and author Gianluigi Nuzzi has kicked off the Vatileaks affair, in the Suddeutsche
Newspaper he defended publishing Vatican internals by saying he wanted to "make the church better". Father Bernd Hagenkord rejects this argumentation in his guest commentary for our site back as mendacious.
Dear Mr. Nuzzi, thank you very much for your article yesterday in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, in which you explain the motives for publishing confidential Vatican documents in a book. A very insightful article. I'm sorry to tell you that I don't believe all this. Except perhaps the headline (the one in the newspaper, not the one on the Internet).
Only the truth makes the church better
This is what you call your contribution to the SZ. I will gladly agree. It's a big word that must remain unchallenged as it stands. Who does not want to be on the side of truth? The word is big, it is emotional, and it does not tolerate contradiction for moral reasons. It also opens the field for debate on journalism, but more on that later. They are on the side of truth, virtually an instrument of truth, and the Vatican has shadow zones. The stage is set.
Right versus rights
You accuse the Vatican of talking about "criminal activity" when it is "about nothing other than the right to freedom of information." Let's do the counterexample: I take your book, copy it as a pdf and put it – in the name of freedom of information – on the internet. What would your publisher say to that?
This is not meant as malice, but only to show that all communication follows rules. A book can only be published if there is a publisher, and a publisher only works if the people who work for him are paid. There must be rules, rights (of being paid) that would be punishable by law if violated in this case. A right to freedom of information cannot kick other rights out of the way. Rights end when they infringe on the rights of others, or at least there must be a balancing of rights.
So when I say that it is theft and therefore a criminal act, this is what I mean: a very strong justification is needed to justify this misappropriation. And I don't see that far and wide with you.
Honor, Part 1: The profession of journalism
You write that it has nothing to do "with the profession of journalism" to "distill", i.e. to choose to publish something and not something else. With all due respect, this is exactly what journalists do for a living. To select, classify, explain, follow up on some things and research more fully.
You didn't do any research at all. You have published documents in a book. What do you need journalists for, if not exactly for that: to report with knowledge of the things? But maybe I'm too old-fashioned.
You write that you didn't make the decision to publish easily. But you believe "that a journalist cannot act otherwise". That is a gladly taken appeal to the professional ethos. I find this questionable. You made the decision, so please stand by it, and please don't hide behind an ethos or an unquestionable "I had to". Who forced you? No one. So please take responsibility and write in the first person singular!
You write that some don't like the publication, citing "self-interest or misperceived loyalty" as reasons. I don't know if you would include me, but I myself have put the word "treason" in my mouth and under the keyboard, so I feel addressed. And I disagree with you: I'm not going to have my motivations tossed aside in two terms that themselves find no justification in your article. You just say that. That is not enough. That's why I claim "No, that's not true, it's not self-interest, nor is it falsely perceived loyalty". You claimed that, the burden of proof (the journalistic one at that) lies with you.
Honor, part 2: Being a man
You also report about a number of people who gave you documents because they did not want to see any more how bad everything was in the Vatican. "At some moments in life, you are a man or you are not," you quote one of your anonymous sources. My goodness, it doesn't get much cornier than that. This form of honor went out of fashion with John Wayne. The world is a little more complex than you can make a point in it with a saying like this.
Do you take that from your sources? That they acted in a kind of mental liberation? In need of conscience? Are you sure that you are not part of a game in which the anonymous set the rules and let us dance to their tune, because we accept as a complete story what they offer us as fragments?
Transparency is what I want to publish
You speak – and this is my favorite argument – of "rules of transparency" which would not apply in the Vatican and which therefore would have provided you with the motivation to publish the documents at your disposal.
I would almost buy your argument if you didn't use, to paint the picture of the evil Vatican, the Index of Forbidden Books and Paul Marcinkus [ehem. Head of the Vatican Bank] would bring in. You are building a backdrop of evil and bad against which you look good as an apostle of transparency. But if we take away this backdrop, we are left with the fact that transparency means publishing everything. Or what fits into a book.
So let's ask about transparency: if we follow your argument, we get to the question of who decides what constitutes a violation of the "rules of transparency". Why, for example, you do not name your sources? That would be an important piece of information that would help me assess the nature of the leaks. This would be an important piece of information, which would help me to assess whether the remorse of "real men" that you put forward is true, or whether there is not an evil game being played here as well. Where does it come from, why do they do it, and so on. But you do not. Here you violate transparency, and with good and understandable reasons. So transparency – according to your own conviction – cannot mean that everything is always on the table or in a book. It takes confidentiality and protection, how to protect your sources.
What then are the "rules" that transparency follows and where you see a violation? You state that it is secrecy that is the "antechamber of doubt and suspicion". At the same time, however, you admit that there must be areas of non-publicity in every institution. Through the book you have now determined what of this secrecy may be violated and what not. And all this in the name of "truth. What remains as rules of transparency and therefore can serve you as justification for publication is not much. Or better, I can't tell from your article. It consists only of appeals.
Emotion instead of reason
This seems to me to be the basis of your argument: It is ultimately nothing more than a reliance on professional honor or the honor of men and on the very vague concept of "truth", in whose service you see yourself. These are all things that cannot be questioned. You are playing the emotional card, because we all want to be on the side of truth and transparency, and above all we want the Church to be better. But you leave it at the emotion. You didn't make the decision easily, you say, and again there's emotion, you demand respect for a very personal decision. We are supposed to take away your decision based on the appeal to an inner struggle that is hidden behind the word "difficult decision".
The emotion is then garnished by some scandals: Legionaries of Christ and abuse, confidential knowledge of Vatican opinions on Italian events, all located in the area of sexuality. In addition for the German reader the word Holocaust. These are all purely emotional excitements.
What you avoid with this emotionalization is argument and reason. It sounds cheap to write about the "right to freedom of information" when you can't say what that means, except that you are right.
Dear Mr. Nuzzi, you are not transparent. I understand that you want to justify yourself, but I do not understand how. It takes more than emotional appeals in an emotionalized debate to be able to explain your actions. Your article is therefore particularly revealing. It shows nevertheless, how purely emotional the whole debate is actually.