St Mary Magdalene, Mgr Battista Ricca and Public Reputation

I have been taking a little holiday from blogging for all kinds of reasons, not least that I had nothing to say that others were not saying better, but today’s feast of St Mary Magdalene and the allegations made against Mgr Battista Ricca have made me think about public reputation and I’ve decided to share my thoughts, such as they are, on this blog.

Most of us don’t have to worry about our public reputation. We are so obscure that, beyond our immediate family, only a handful of friends and acquaintances have any opinion on the matter. Those who have had their characters blackened by others are more sensitive on the subject. They know how unfounded rumours are transmuted into facts, and long after they thought all was ‘done and dusted’, the untruths continue to shape the narrative of their lives. St Mary Magdalene, for example, is often misidentified as a notorious sinner. Down the ages she has been portrayed as a whore and worse. We are told that Jesus cast out seven demons from her (which is morally neutral at the least), but beyond that, everything we read about her in the gospels is positive. She dearly loved the Lord and saw him more clearly through her tears than any of her un-weepy brethren. To her was entrusted the first news of the Resurrection. So, why, then, is she often spoken of in slighting terms? I think it has something to do with that misidentification I spoke of earlier. Although long regarded as a misreading of the text, something of the mud has stuck. If she was not a notorious sinner, she was too ‘womanly’, too ’emotional’. I suspect myself that she was quite steely when need be, and she remains part of the gospel narrative because the evangelists simply couldn’t write her out of the story. She is too important for us who come after; and the attempts of some to downplay her importance merely underlines her significance for believers.

Now take the case of Mgr Battista Ricca. When I read Sandro Magister’s original article, my heart sank. My first reaction was to believe everything he wrote and to become angry. Another priest who does not live chastely and brings the whole Church into disrepute! But then I began to think rather than just react. Who was providing the information and why? It might be true, it might be false, but why was it emerging now; who would profit by it, and who would lose by it? Put like that, the whole thing became much more complex, involving as it does the pope’s attempts to reform the Vatican Bank and the rumours of corruption and vested interests at the highest levels of the Curia. The most measured article on the subject I have yet read is to be found here. The author makes several important points, but one of the most important will pass many people by: the right to a good name. We do not yet know whether Mgr Ricca is guilty of any of the things alleged against him. If he is, words fail me. If he is not, those who have made the accusations have gravely injured him.

Perhaps we all need to take more care in what we say and write about others. It is a short step from the suppressio veri to the suggestio falsi. That does not mean we should naively believe that all allegations of misconduct against someone are false, or that we should not take seriously warnings and advices we are given. On the contrary, we should weigh them and heed them. But we also need to cultivate a certain generosity of mind, a fairness and decency which refuses to make assumptions that are injurious to others. St Mary Magdalene’s reputation has suffered through many centuries because someone somewhere first thought about her meanly, then expressed that meanness of thought in words. May she pray for us, that we never do likewise.

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7 thoughts on “St Mary Magdalene, Mgr Battista Ricca and Public Reputation”

  1. Once again, as I read iBenedictines, I find that I do not immediately move on to another site, but I sit and consider, thinking how it might apply to me. Mostly, I compose a couple of comments, which usually are discarded because someone else has already said it better than I could.

  2. It seems to me that often those doing the reporting have their own agenda. Whether there is truth or not, they seem to make much more of it, to sensationalis it to such an extent that fiction might actually be taken as truth.

    The old adage of ‘No smoke without fire’ springs to mind.

    I agree that St Mary Magdalene has been badly treated in historical accounts – and at this distance it’s sometimes difficult to sort the truth from the fiction, but my view is that in her case, as in the case of the Women at the Well, and others, Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness overcomes any sins that might have been committed.

    In terms of the case of Mgr Battista Ricca, surely Pope Francis will inquire into the allegations made, but whatever the circumstances surely the Mgr is entitled to the same mercy and forgiveness that Mary Magdalene received if such allegations turn out to have some substance. I sincerely hope that they are proven unfounded for the sake of the Mgr, and the wider church.

    I recall that Pope Francis was subjected to such allegations after his accession as Pope – and these have been proven to be fictional scandal created to discredit him and the wider church.

    Why can’t they just leave things alone?

  3. The trouble with articles like Magister’s is that they become a straw man (see number 41 http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ ).
    Then, if you question the veracity of the article, you are presented as an apologist for the straw man position rather than a sceptic of its validity.

    This has been particularly evident in the case of Jimmy Saville: as he is dead and there is no legal case to answer, every allegation has been treated as if it were true. Yet if you voice doubts over whether all the claims are reliable, the reply comes back “So you think it’s OK to go round abusing children do you?”

    So, sadly, I read any such story with a lot of questions: who is making money out of this? Whose wrongs are being concealed? Whose vanity is being massaged?

  4. I hope I am not about to shock or worse!
    I always thought that they were married.
    Jesus kissed her tenderly and at the time a young jewish man had to marry.
    Why did the early Fathers ignore the Gospel of MM. too scary for them?

  5. Thank you for your comments. As regards Alexander’s point, the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married is a gnostic heresy orthodox Christianity has never accepted. There is no historical evidence worthy of the name, and it is contrary to the early belief and teaching of the Church. The Fathers were well aware of the gnostic gospels but treated them rather as many today treat Dan Brown . . .

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