■ Catholic Herald ■ Nonagenarian journalist Eugenio Scalfari made the claim in La Repubblica

The Vatican issued a statement today flatly rejecting a report from a senior Italian journalist who is an atheist and a personal friend of Pope Francis, which claimed on Wednesday that the Holy Father had denied the divinity of Jesus.

The statement came from Dr Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, at the end of the daily briefing on the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

Dr Ruffini’s statement followed one that came from Press Office Director Matteo Bruni yesterday, which discredited the direct report of speech — the part in quotes — but left some question regarding the general purport of Pope Francis’s alleged remarks.

Dr Ruffini’s statement read in full:

“On this [latest editorial by Eugenio Scalfari], as you know, there has already been a clear denial by the Director of the Press Office, Dr [Matteo] Bruni. However, I would like to reiterate that the Holy Father never said what Scalfari wrote that he said. Therefore, both the quoted remarks, and the free reconstruction and interpretation by Dr Scalfari of the colloquies — which go back to more than two years ago — cannot be considered a faithful account of what was said by the Pope. And that will be found rather throughout the Church’s magisterium and Pope Francis’s own, on Jesus: true God and true man.”

In his editorial on the Amazon synod for Italy’s leading centre-left La Repubblica, the 95-year-old Scalfari — who founded the paper — had claimed, “Whoever has had, as I have several times, the good fortune to meet [Pope Francis] and speak to him with the utmost cultural confidence, knows that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, man, not God incarnate.”

As anyone with five minutes’ catechism ought to be able to tell, that is naked heresy of the worst sort.

Nevertheless, the report caused an uproar. The initial response from the Vatican press office left several journalists on the beat puzzling over why it was not more forceful.

Scalfari’s claim was incredible, not only on the face of it, but under the circumstances: Scalfari would have been sitting on such a remark for more than a year, only to use it as a throwaway in an editorial about something else. Francis has a history of granting interviews to Scalfari, who takes no notes and reconstructs his reports of conversations from memory. There have been other similar episodes following Scalfari’s printed reconstructions, followed by other less forceful statements from the Vatican. That history likely did not help put a damper on the story.

The statement from Ruffini not only discredits Scalfari’s most recent claim. It is also the most forceful rejection to date of Scalfari’s imaginative reconstructions. There have been several since 2013. After each one, journalists have wondered why the Vatican wouldn’t just say Scalfari made it up. Now they have.