First: John Allen's book review of the pope's latest controversial sayings or are these? (My comments in red!)
The first book (Pope Francis has) released as pope: “The Name of God is Mercy”, a conversation about his jubilee Holy Year of Mercy in 2016. Published simultaneously in 80 countries, it’s the fruit of an exchange with Italian Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli.
There isn’t a great deal in terms of news flashes, but two points are of interest.
One hot-button issue in Catholicism today, which Francis is expected to address in a forthcoming document drawing conclusions from two summits of Catholic bishops, is whether Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church ought to be able to receive Communion. (Currently, they’re barred.)
The pope calls that man “religiously mature.” It could be read as a hint that Francis is inclined to urge understanding, but not necessarily to change existing discipline. (I have heard confessions of non-Catholics in the confessional many times and as recently as yesterday. I can't give them absolution and in many cases their lives are canonically complicated. So no sacramental absolution but no shunning either, I offered a blessing and prayer at the end and prayed that God's grace would guide this poor soul!
Each Sunday numerous people who are not free to receive Holy Communion approach our altar railing nonetheless and they receive a blessing. God's grace is conveyed to them and depending on their receptivity to that grace, much good may well be accomplished for them. There is no need to bar Catholics with censures from receiving a blessing at Holy Communion and I think this is what Pope Francis is saying in this interview. I suspect there are rigid priests and bishops who are completely insensitive to the plight of grave sinners who nonetheless show up at our churches seeking prayer and blessing. This is not the same as actually offering absolution or Holy Communion! This is a pastoral solution not a canonical or dogmatic solution and it doesn't compromise the moral doctrines of the Church!)
Secondly, at another point, Francis comments on his famous 2013 soundbite “Who am I to judge?” about gay people.
The pontiff says he was “paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” referring to the official compendium of Church teaching.
“You can advise [gay people] to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it,” he says, again suggesting that he supports compassion and inclusion, but not a revision of Catholic teaching. (There is nothing controversial here and it is very Christlike!)
On the whole, the book offers a treatise on Francis’ understanding of mercy.
“The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy,” he says, conceding bluntly that Catholicism hasn’t always pulled it off.
“When it comes to bestowing grace, Christ is present,” he says, quoting the 4th-century St. Ambrose. “When it comes to exercising rigor, only the ministers of the Church are present, but Christ is absent.” (And yet this is what Pope Francis says about priests who commit crimes, again pointing to his inconsistency about such matters as judging:
“I am the first one to judge and punish someone who’s being accused of these things...")
Francis rejects “a formal adherence to rules and to mental schemes,” insisting that “mercy is the first attribute of God.”
(I would disagree, respectfully with Pope Francis here and once again, His Holiness strikes me as an enabler of people's peccadilloes. Many parents are like this and we can see Pope Francis as very paternalistic in an enabling way. This is not good for the head of the Catholic Church to do and it is more a psychological quirk than a doctrinal problem. We need to condemn mass murderers, ISIS, serial rapist, child molesters and those who support and enable abortion among other vices and crimes. Unfortunately Pope Francis continues to come across as a 1970's bleeding heart. This caused a catastrophe in the Church up until the 2000's when bishops were more compassionate to the crimes of perverted priests and nonchalant to the misery and perpetuation of victims! Both the Old and New Testaments show God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being rigorous with sinners who choose the way of perdition and the prophets warn them in no uncertain terms. One wonders what Bible and what Catechism the pope is reading!)
Classifying the Catholics who have a beef with the pope
Struggling to put together the pontiff’s personal popularity with statistics showing drops in church attendance, and also indications of internal Catholic resistance to the pontiff.
(There is) a distinction between what (is) called “soft” Catholics, meaning those on the margins of the Church, and “deep” Catholics, meaning people highly committed to the faith. (Some wonder if) Pope Francis’ appeal is mostly to “soft” Catholics, and his problems are with the “deep” group.
It’s true that some... “deep” Catholics get nervous when the world applauds the pope, any pope, because they fear something must have been lost in translation.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of “deep” Catholics — people who go to Mass regularly, who believe what the Church teaches, and who make a sincere effort to practice it — who are strongly pro-Francis. One place to find them is many of the religious orders in Catholicism, including his own Jesuit community.
If the distinction between “soft” and “deep” Catholics doesn’t quite explain the diversity in reaction, what does?
I said I’d put at least five other ways of analyzing Catholic life into the mix.
1) There’s the usual taxonomy of liberals, conservatives, and moderates.
Roughly, I define a “liberal” Catholic as someone who’d like to see Church teaching change, for instance on female priests or homosexuality; a “conservative” as someone who not only supports the teaching, but wants it expounded and enforced with conviction; and a “moderate” as someone who embraces the teaching, but would like to see greater compassion and flexibility in implementation.
Put that way, Francis’ natural base is among moderates. On both the left and the right, some Catholics are wary: liberals worried he won’t go far enough and conservatives convinced he’s already gone too far. (No one including John Allen should politicize Church teachings by using the political terms, "conservative, liberal or moderate." We are "orthodox, heterodox, or tepid!")
2) There’s the psychological distinction between personality types inclined to resist change, of any sort, and those eager for it, often before they even know what it is. In a faith as bound to tradition as Catholicism, that’s an especially keen force, because instincts on change are bound up with theological and spiritual convictions.
For good or ill, Francis is a break-the-mold sort of pope, so he doesn’t always play well with those who view change with alarm. (For the record, I share some of that aversion myself; just ask any of the waiters at my favorite restaurants in Rome who can tell you, with precision, what I order every single time I show up.)
3) There’s a distinction between what one might call “political” and “apolitical” Catholics.
A “political” Catholic is one who follows Church affairs, who reads, thinks, and talks about what the pope is doing, and develops his or her own views — whether the Latin Mass ought to be more widely used, for instance, or whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion.
An “apolitical” Catholic is one who doesn’t follow such matters, and doesn’t have strongly held opinions about them. For them, it’s enough to go to church on Sunday, pray a little bit, and feel closer to God.
This is not the same thing as a “soft” Catholic, because these people are often ferociously committed to the Church.
My grandparents were perfect examples. I recall once asking my granddad, virtually a daily Mass-goer, what he thought of John Paul II, and his startled reply was: “He’s the pope, son … what do you mean, what do I think of him?”
Francis’ problem, like any pope, is always going to be with the political group.
4) There’s the West and the rest of the world — or, to use Francis’ vocabulary, the “periphery” and the “center.”
Francis is a man of the periphery — both biographically, as the first pope from the developing world, and in terms of values and outlook. As a result, his strongest appeal is always going to lie there, and to some extent, the historic centers of the faith will always see him as not quite “their” man.
5) There’s social and economic class.
Francis’ incessant emphasis on poverty, not just as a social concern, but also a spiritual value, has left some middle class and affluent Catholics ambivalent, wondering if he sees any virtue in them or their lifestyles. (Not to mention, of course, wondering if he still wants their money.)
Simply put, sometimes he makes them feel guilty, which is always an unpleasant sensation.
Some of that guilt may be a healthy stimulus to an examination of conscience, but some of it may reveal a pope who hasn’t quite found a way to reach people who’ve achieved prosperity for themselves and their families through hard work, with integrity, and who don’t want to feel that their pontiff scorns them for it. (Good point! Pope Francis strikes me as a man stuck in the 1970's. Prior to becoming pope he did not take a vacation, never left Argentina for any length of time and seems to have transferred traditional Catholic guilt from sex to not caring for the poor--being rich is the preoccupational sin rather than sex! This was typical of hippie type priests, religious and laity of the 1970's whose bleeding hearts were with the poor, like an obsession, a sexual obsession! In spending so much time becoming poor and being with the poor, not watching television or keeping up with the world and Church since the 1970's Pope Francis may well be stunted to a 1970's Utopian vision or eliminating poverty here and now, a very horizontal theological view, a very kumbaya worldview, imminent rather than transcendent Catholic view, a 1970's eschatology which I was taught very well!)
In sum, I told my colleague that if we’re going to tick off categories of Catholics with whom Francis may run into problems, there are at least seven overlapping subsets: “deep” Catholics, liberals and conservatives alike, people with change-related anxiety, political types, those at the center, and the (comparatively) wealthy.