#THE RED HAT REPORT #BETTER CHURCH GOVERNANCE #INTERVIEW
This interview first appeared in Roterdamus.com
On Sunday 17 February 2019 I intervied Philip Nielsen in Madrid, Spain. P Nielsen is the Founder and runner of The Red hat Report, a file-compiling effort on the Cardinals of the Catholic Church for a specific purpose. Nestled within Better Church Governance. All that there is, you can read here, first-ever interview to any one in charge of the Project. By Jordi Picazo.
Puedes leer esta entrevista en español haciendo clic en este enlace aquí.
"So, our Project is just about giving accurate information and we would as much as possible like to give information about the cardinals in their own words, rather than us interpreting what their priorities and teachings are. If they have written a book, we would want a summary of what they say in the book, or if they have had initiatives, we want to know what their initiatives are, or generally what their relationships are with other cardinals. Beyond that, we only want to have the information and then the cardinals and the hierarchy, when they have all that information, they can do what they want with it".
How will you gather the information?
"In a couple of steps. The first step is simply that we are hiring graduate students from different countries who research the public domain knowledge that is already out there and which many good reporters have already produced, and will be submitting in the form of an academic journal to the website.
"Then we will have professors check that, they will check the citations, they will check the sources to make sure they are accurate. And when we have that accurate information, we will then publish the preliminary file on the background of each cardinal. If there are two interpretations of something the cardinal has done or said, then we would like to publish both interpretations next to each other and not judge between them".
So, no spying? You mention in your first information releases that you would hire some ex FBI agents...
"It depends what you mean by spying".
"The first stage in the process is the graduate students doing research. Then we will identify the gaps in the research and where we don’t know enough about a given cardinal, we will research him further. We do have former FBI investigators that are working for us. They are very professional, they would never want to release any information that is not properly sourced, and they would be looking specially into the very few cardinals that have had connection to serious wrongdoing such as cardinal McCarrick; I just read today, he was laicized?"
Apparently, in these last days, yes.
"Yes, apparently laicized, yes. So, in a few cases. Hopefully no other cases, like cardinal McCarrick. They said in the United States after that came out that everybody knew what he was doing but, apparently, nobody had investigated. So, that’s what the investigators will do."
FBI guys. No CIA guys?
"There are CIA guys, I don’t want to lie, yeah".
The project, the Red Hat Report, is that the name, The Red Hat Report?
"Yes, the Red Hat Report".
It is nestled within the Better Church Governance, thing…
And it is you that have created it. So, how is Better Church Governance going to influence Church leaders, so they can elect more accurately and more efficacious a better Pope, as a Pope is the supreme Governor of the Church?
"There is a difficulty now in electing a Pope, it used to be that all the Italians new each other, and the Pope was Italian. Then the first non-Italian was Pope saint John Paul II and in many ways that was possible as he made many trips to Rome and knew many of the Italians. Also, because there were two conclaves -John Paul I had died- a month apart, and the cardinals spent twice as much time together. They got to know each other even better and they got to make a bold choice for John Paul II. For the last two conclaves, clearly there was not as much information and, in some ways, the election of the last Pope reflected that lack of information. There was more guessing and interpretation and we, for example know that, as many cardinals and many reporters have told us, many of the cardinals’ priority source of information regarding each other was Wikipedia: reading and printing Wikipedia pages. Specially more remote cardinals.
"We would like to give more accurate information than that. Everybody knows, a high-school student knows that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information".
Do you think that in the last two conclaves, before and for Pope Francis, the so-called “mafia” of St Gallen may have used this fact that cardinals do not know a potential Pope very well to push and pressurize their peers to elect Bergoglio for their own purposes? It is now open knowledge that the lobby of St Gallen was already pressuring to get Jorge Bergoglio elected instead of Pope Benedict.
"I don’ t know that particular case but it is true that when there is not wide knowledge it disenfranchises, it takes the power of the authority away of the cardinals that should have authority; the cardinal in Pakistan doesn't have enough knowledge to really make the choice that he should make, and in some way it is a disservice to the dignity of that cardinal's office".
You are the founder of the Project but, who else is behind it? Or perhaps no one else is, it is your own child, creature or fantastic idea? Or, are there other people, other forces, or lobbies behind the Red Hat Report?
"No there are not, except my wife. There are no lobbies behind the project except my wife! So, I started to think of this project over a decade ago, talking to friends about it.
"Our first thought was to have more accurate Wikipedia pages and we thought that we would work on those. Then we realized we added different steps as our project goes along, we realized we needed to build on our own website and that there would still be gaps. We needed to hire investigators or at least people to go to the different dioceses around the world to get more accurate information.
"We created a nonprofit because we realized we needed to hire editors and graduate students and so, we needed to raise some money in order to pay them. I am now travelling to do that".
So, you are now in Spain and travelling to Italy this evening. Where else, Africa, Asia...?
"There are two sets of trips. There are the trips as research and there is then the trips to get to know people. We need to know more South Americans. I am planning a trip to South America right now, and we are making trips around the US. We are just having dinners to raise money and to meet people and volunteers, so I am in the early stages of putting together all these trips".
What next step, what landmarks can we expect in the next few weeks or months. Can we expect for example that in the next three months we will have a super website where we can learn about every cardinal that could be a Pope?
"Yes. We will have the Website up and then we will have the preliminary files starting by the American cardinals. Because it is easier for us to get this information. Then we will expand to the other English-speaking cardinals, the Italian cardinals and the Spanish cardinals. Just one reason why I am in Spain is to help gather people who want to help research this information. And we will roll up progressively, we will add ten more, and ten more to the preliminary files and then we will continue to add to those. Then the investigations will go on and will fill that in.
"The website will be a living thing that continues to grow and we are hoping that this is something that will last for 30 years".
But Pope Francis may have gone to the House of the Father, as he himself pointed out little after he was elected. “In two-years’ time” he said. Fortunately we still have him with us after 6 years but in very few years Pope Francis will have gone because of his age, or will step down, he also mentioned that possibility, which some people dislike and others don't mind. Thirty years is a long time.
"We will have information up that is better than the information available, better than the Wikipedia pages very, very soon".
Do you feel pressured because Pope Francis’ papacy is reaching an end?
"No. this project is not about finding a successor to Pope Francis, it is just about providing information, it is not even about the Cardinals electing a Pope".
How popular or unpopular is the project so far in America and, what difficulties have you found so far in the middle of your way?
"As far as the popularity of the project, I think a lot of people are interested in it and see that something like this needs to be done. Also, many people are skeptical and at the same time interested to see how we go about it, to see if we do it professionally and in an unbiased way, the way that we are saying. And I think that, as we do that and show the professional academic standards of our project, and that it is not an attack project or something of the sort, I believe that the temperature around the project will cool a little bit. And the misreporting around the project will cool a little bit too. Then the popularity will grow.
"It is not a populist project though, it is really something that informs the small percentage of Catholics that really want to know. But even if it's not a large reporting thing for everybody I believe it can be beneficial.
"The biggest criticism to our project, I really think comes from fears that are born out of misreporting, the thought that our project was going to keep secret files on the cardinals. But we are not going to do that, what we find we will publish, and it will be public information; or fears that our project is somehow lobbying for the election of a particular cardinal, which is forbidden by canon law.
We are not doing that. We are just putting the information out there and cardinals can make their own choices; fears also that we are primarily interested in spying on the cardinals. That is not our project’s aim, we just want to get accurate information about the cardinals. Or fears that we are somehow secretly funded by some wealthy American Catholics: I am trying to raise money for our project, but we are not a very well-funded project.
"So, I think the real attacks on our project are when people read some of these things that are not true about our project".
Is there any bigwig or grandee behind you that supports you?
"No, George Soros is not behind it [he laughs]".
No of course not, I hope, what I mean is in the sense of good well reputed academics, Catholic or not Catholic.
"Yes, we have a Board of Directors, which we are in the process of forming. I cannot announce them. And we have professors and respected academics as our directors to take the stamp of authority and academic credibility in the project".
Any one, or two names?
"Janet Smith is going to be on the Board of Directors, she is a respected moral theologian at Sacred Heart Seminary in the United States. She has also been very interested in advocating on many of these issues in the Catholic Church, so she is an expert on many of these things. She is a serious academic and she is helping us put together standards".
So, you yourself are a Catholic… and I understand you have seven children before the age of forty…
"Yes, that's right".
Some people would say “wow, he is one of those conservative Catholics in the USA…"
"Yes, I have always thought of myself as a normal Catholic, I believe what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, and I am working on this project because I love the Church. That’s all there is to it".
Nice. So, thank you very much Philip Nielsen, here, in the center of Spain just with the Palacio de Oriente behind us...
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Puedes leer esta entrevista en español haciendo clic en este enlace aquí.
Jordi Picazo, BA (Hons), MA, PGCE, MCIJ
Member of The Chartered Institute of Journalists, UK
Member of RNA (USA) -Religion News Association
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