Saturday, November 15, 2014


My comments first: What Pope Francis has been able to do in a papacy going on almost two years now is to recover the stark divisions in the Church prior to Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Under their papacies, the 1970's was thought to be well on its way to the grave. But the God of surprises has brought back the divisions in the Church that many of us thought should stay in the pre-John Paul II and Benedict days.

The South African Jesuit priest, Fr. Russell Politt from a more progressive perspective makes some very interesting points that Pope Francis isn't really a part of the paradigm he has brought back in terms of 1970's theological and ideological battles, not to mention doctrinal and moral, divisions of that sad period. He is something else and few have seem to grasp it especially Cardinals Burke and George!

I think Fr. Politt raises many good points. One point I had considered before but not as explicitly as Fr. Politt is that we are dealing with a pope from a religious order. In the 1990's there was concern from the hierarchy that priests of religious orders had a different theology of the priesthood and thus the laity than priests and bishops, including popes, who are secular or diocesan. I can't go into that now, but there is a difference and the powers that be at the time did not like the religious paradigm.

But the other thing that is a point well taken is how religious orders "updated and so-call 'renewed'" themselves after Vatican II. The process which included dialogue, confrontation and synthesis is what counted not the outcome. Thus most religious orders entered not into renewal but self-destruction and the dying and death of religious life. But that didn't matter, the process to this disaster is what is extolled. This is what Fr. Politt is doing in this article. Does he know it? Or is he in denial? Maybe the 1970's have returned and the Holy Father is still operating from that 1970's paradigm of religious orders updating and "renewing" themselves but now he is applying this paradigm to the universal Church. Will it have the same self-destructing results despite the extolling of the process that leads to this?

The article below is: 

Top Story

The Catholic Church: Is it a ship without a rudder?

  • Russell Pollitt
American Cardinal Raymond Burke was removed last week from the head of the Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s judicial court in Rome), and appointed to the ceremonial post of chaplain to the Knights of Malta – a charity group. The Vatican gave no reason for this unusual demotion and redeployment – seldom are Vatican officials removed from their posts. But, last month, Burke himself said that he was expecting to be removed from his post. Earlier this year Pope Francis removed him from another influential position: a department that appoints bishops. He has given a series of interviews in recent months in which he has been critical of Pope Francis. In his latest interview, with a Spanish publication, he compared the Catholic Church under Pope Francis to “a ship without a rudder”. Is Burke’s removal a case of “tit-for-tat”? By RUSSELL POLLITT.
Burke is, as far as cardinals go, in the prime of his episcopacy – he is only 66 years old. Bishops in the Catholic Church are required to retire at 75; cardinals remain papal electors until the age of 80. His removal is not simply ‘business as usual’ in Rome. Burke has regularly clashed publicly with Pope Francis since his election in 2013 and seems to be more and more out of sync with the current pontificate. He reacted defensively to the first in depth interview that the Argentine Pope gave in September 2013 to a number of journals and magazines conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ (Antonio Spadaro is editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica and several other major Jesuit journals around the world).

The Pope said, among other things in the interview, that the Church should not just focus on sexual moral issues, like contraception, abortion and homosexuality, but also be concerned with social justice issues. The Pope suggested the Church should be more merciful to the divorced and remarried and look for ways to help them participate more fully in the life of the Church (divorced and remarried people are free to attend Holy Mass but cannot receive Communion unless they have an annulment). The tone of the interview suggested a vision of a Church that was much more welcoming and merciful.

Some interpreted the Pope’s comments as a change in church policy or teaching, but this was certainly not the case. It was, however, a significant shift in style and attitude. Burke, in an interview with the conservative American Catholic TV channel Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), reacted to what the Pope had said and made it clear that he did not agree. He quickly mobilised the support of conservatives and was soon equated with the centre of resistance towards Pope Francis.

Last month Burke emerged as one of the most vocal critics of any possible change in the Catholic Church at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He slammed suggestions that there be more conciliatory language used when speaking of people whose lifestyles are contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships. The cardinal told an American reporter that a statement from Pope Francis reaffirming traditional doctrine on those matters was “long overdue”. Burke strongly resisted a proposal by German Cardinal, Walter Kasper, that it should be made easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion.

Days before his removal as head of the Apostolic Signatura, Burke again stoked the fires of division. He said if bishops, in the months leading to next year's second gathering of the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome, were seen to move “contrary to the constant teaching and practice of the Church, there is a risk [of schism] because these are unchanging and unchangeable truths”. In the same interview, he urged Catholics to “speak up and act” and said, “at this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder”. Burke’s suggestion of schism got many talking and speculating – including the UK based The Spectator, which, in a headline, suggested, “Catholic civil war has begun”.

Sources in the Vatican told me that the Pope saw Burke’s outspokenness as part of the so-called “culture wars” among Catholics that the Pope wants to avoid. However, it is clear that deep divisions have emerged between the more liberal and conservative elements in the Church. Another source said that Burke, in a one-on-one conversation, was a very “angry, demoralised and disappointed man who has become more and more anxious as this welcoming, informal styled and evangelical pontificate unfolds”. Judging by the enthusiastic crowds in St Peter’s Square and according to anecdotal evidence, this style is welcomed by the majority of Catholics. However a minority of conservative Catholics shares Burke’s sentiments. 

The Burke case points to a much deeper problem on both the so-called right and the left of the Church: the inability to grasp the paradigm in which the Pope is operating. This lack of understanding has led to many of the recent spats that have emerged from within the walls of the Vatican.

A comment by another leading American Cardinal, Francis George of Chicago, affirms this lack of understanding. In an interview at the opening of the bi-annual meeting of the Bishop’s Conference of the US in Baltimore, George, who is about to retire, said bishops are struggling to follow the lead of the Pope. “He says wonderful things,” George said, “but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?” George also said he would like to travel to Rome to see Francis. “I’d like to sit down with him and say, Holy Father, first of all, thank you for letting me retire. And could I ask you a few questions about your intentions?”

Bingo! That’s exactly the problem – what is the intention of the Pope?
Pope Francis has opted to operate from a paradigm that many of the current bishops, appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are not used to working from. The previous two Popes made decisions the rest of the Church was expected to implement. Francis, on the other hand, is operating out of a different model; for him communal discernment is at the heart of deciding on a way forward.

Discernment is necessary if one is going to read the signs of the times. It is no secret that the Catholic Church faces major problems that need to be assessed and responded to in an appropriate way. An appropriate response is not simply to change everything in order to “get with the times”. On the other hand an appropriate response may also not be simply reaffirming everything as it has been. A process of discernment should empower the Church to assess critically where things are and how, at this time, it could and should respond. Maybe change is necessary – maybe things need tweaking.

And, it is not unusual for there to be many different ideas and some ‘messiness’ when one does embark upon a process of communal discernment. This should not give rise to anxiety and defense – which leads to division – but rather a sense that there really is something that needs to be carefully discerned which is critical for the future. 

Francis has opted for a “Jesuit way of proceeding”. This is rooted in the teachings of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. To discern means to engage in a process of trying to discover the will or desire of God in a given situation. Discernment includes a time of reflection, prayer, talking, listening, some division, and even some debate so that different perspectives can emerge. At the opening of the recent Synod, the Pope asked all present to speak boldly and listen with openness – two key concepts in communal discernment.

In his closing speech at the Synod Francis made his position clear; once again many have not grasped the paradigm from which he is operating. He spoke of the process being “a journey” which has different moments. He used classical discernment language by referring to moments of “consolation” and “desolation”. He spoke about the temptation to be “hostile” and “inflexible” and not allowing oneself to be “surprised by God”. This is a key prerequisite to any process of discernment: that one is in a place of “interior spiritual freedom” to enter fully into the process. Being spiritually free means that one truly wants to discover what God wants. To do that means to not rigidly cling to one’s own position (whatever that might be) but to enter into authentic dialogue. It is a process of discovery as people listen together for what seems to be leading towards an increase of faith, hope and love and a growing sense of peace. From reports it seems as if some of those who were at the Synod – from both the right and the left – need to grow in this openness to different points of view; hostile reactions and defensiveness can indicate a lack of interior freedom.

Francis gave other clues too. He spoke of the “temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness”. He then went on to say, again using discernment language, that it is a temptation to want mercy and to bind wounds without first curing them and treating them – this must surely be words for those on the left that want change in Church teaching and policy. On the other hand he suggested that those on the right, or as he says “traditionalists”, should not be tempted “to hostile inflexibility”.

In the process of Ignatian discernment, in which Francis is well schooled, those discerning are warned not to be tricked into holding onto a position under the guise of good. Very often it is even our virtues and deeply held values that can get in the way of really listening in a particular situation. This is a temptation for the both so-called conservatives and liberals. Francis speaks of the differing points of view and says that these are fundamental (and should not lead to “disputations”) if good decisions are going to be made for the future of the Church. The very fact that, despite Burke’s public call for him to make a stand, Francis has tried to listen carefully without offering non-negotiable statements about things, shows that he truly does want the Church to read the signs of the times and respond appropriately to them in a way that will ensure the Church’s tradition is respected but also its integrity is preserved.

Pope Francis has not let “liberals” or “conservatives” down. Those, on either side, who claim that they have lost confidence in him, have misunderstood his modus operandi. Some conservatives have called the recent Synod a “mess” or a “disaster for the Pope”. The biggest mess or disaster is not what Francis has done; it’s the inability to be open to a shift in mindset. Burke, unfortunately, is symbolic of this inability and has fueled the fires of suspicion and division for over a year now. Burke’s removal was mostly of his own doing. It is not because Pope Francis is unwilling to listen to alternative voices – over and over he has listened. Burke himself has shown an aversion to any meaningful engagement.

The divisions in the Catholic Church are not simply ideological or doctrinal. The real crisis is the inability to listen openly and attentively to views that are not necessarily in line with a single worldview. A lack of understanding of the process of discernment is the real problem that assails many bishops and lay people in the Catholic Church. Burke’s removal should not be a moment of rejoicing for so-called liberals or lamenting by conservatives – that’s futile and immature. It poses the sobering question: can we really listen to each other – especially in the Church? DM


Marie said...


If "discernment" is truly the "Jesuit way to ponder a "non-negotiable" matter, that Order might as well stop calling itself the "Society of Jesus."

It's an insult to every orthodox Jesuit to think he can debate with the Lord about things written up in the Bible and how His Church has interpreted them over the centuries.

It's an insult to suggest that belief and practice are two separate things. For God sake, Catholics are the original multi-taskers. They can believe and practice their faith at the same time. They can chew gum and walk at the same time.

That's why I don't buy the "Well, he's a Jesuit" excuse each time someone tries to explain what the Pope is saying. It's an insult to Sts. Ignatius, Francis X, Peter Canitius, Francis Regis, etc. who worked and died faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

There are Jesuit public figures in these more recent times who speak clearly, who faithfully explain their Lord and His Church, yet they remain as Jesuits.

Think of Fr. Fessio, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the late Fr. Raymond Dunn, the saintly Fr. John Hardon, and even the late dandy ex-Jesuit, Fr. Malachi Martin. They taught and wrote clearly with well thought-out ideas before opening their mouths.

Pope Francis is of a different sort, and one wonders if he's really acting and thinking his age. He's a few years older than me. Like him, I am neither North American nor European. Both he and I must have learned our catechism lessons and prayers in our respective native languages when we were children. He was not a Jesuit from childhood.

Why does he, more often than not, act like he believes the Church got started only in 1968? Is he, in fact, not yet 50 years old in mind and spirit?

Sorry, this explanation from a "fellow Jesuit" just doesn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

Blither blather. Not worth deep analysis and bunches of words.

George said...

When Jesuits missionaries of long ago, such as Francis Xavier, were attempting to convert those they encountered in foreign lands, people existing in an alien culture, they were not averse to incorporating aspects and elements of that culture which were not contrary to Church teaching. What we are dealing with today is a secular culture which is hostile to the Catholic faith in particular and Christianity in general. There are those Catholic prelates and Protestant ministers who have incorporated elements of our present worldly culture into their worship services and theology. The evidence we see so far is that this is not working out too well.I know that the Holy Father being a Jesuit has been formed in Ignation spirituality but I can't believe that his position is that Ignation discernment would (or should )lead one to compromise with the corrupting influences of the present culture.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the state of the Jesuits is well known. In Australia, for example it was reported that some years back a quiz was held on the 10 Commandments and the Jesuits present couldn't even list them! I have wondered too if Francis actually does know the Church's teaching. I mean that in all seriousness. A lot of the Church's teaching from Vatican II was modified in fact by Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Has Francis kept abreast of it?

I think some of his off-the-cuff remarks have pointed to the fact that he hasn't. In particular, his point about all sorts of people of any religion getting to heaven without necessarily accepting Christ.

In contrast St John Paul II said:
"The mystery of salvation is continued and accomplished in the Church, and from this single source it reaches the whole world. There is no salvation outside the Church. From her
alone there flows the life giving force destined to renew the whole of humanity, directing every human
being to become a part of the Mystical Body of Christ."
Losservatore Romano Oct.12,1981"

A Canon lawyer such as Cardinal Burke would know what the Church teaches. That is why he said we can't go to the peripheries empty-handed, without faith.

Benedict XVI's recent statement also seems to corrects Francis when he says:
"Many today think religions should respect each other and, in their dialogue, become a common force for peace. According to this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality. The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world. It is nevertheless lethal to faith."

This Jesuit is behaving as many priests in the 70s did. They seemed to think that people are ignorant of their faith and will accept anything that a priest says as gospel. Are we to believe that someone like Cardinal Burke is "“angry, demoralised and disappointed man". What rubbish. Cardinal Burke is an intelligent man who sees what is going on - and what is pretty obvious to most by now - that that the attempted deliberate destruction of the faith by Kasper et al. Cardinal Burke is steady and shows the leadership and clarity in the truths of the faith where the voice we are accustomed to hearing has grown silent on truth and very muddled and, as Bishop Tobin more or less says has created a mess.

I am sure the Knights of Malta have received a shot in the arm for their cause with the promotion of Cardinal Burke as their patron - although I believe he has been a member since 2011. Apparently many influential people are within their ranks and they have been instrumental in fighting for the faith in the crusades in the past. What better leader could they have in that task than Cardinal Burke?


Anonymous said...

"To discern means to engage in a process of trying to discover the will or desire of God in a given situation."

The will of God in ANY situation is that man should repent and come to Him. Period. If the course of action chosen doesn't work toward and will not ultimately achieve this end, then it's not God's will.

I think any other kind of "discernment" is just trying to get God to affirm what WE want to happen. And that is a wonderful trick of the devil.

To claim St. Ignatius' rules for discernment were to do the latter, and ignore the former, is a real shame.

Joseph Johnson said...

Talk about incorporating worldly elements into the liturgy--right now I am watching a Ukrainian Divine liturgy for the installation of a new bishop in Parma, Ohio.

No "Gather Us In" and ugly polyester vestments in this liturgy! It's a beautiful liturgy worthy of its purpose in worshipping and glorifying God.

That picture of Cardinal Burke at that OF Mass in the gold vestments would be a Latin Rite version which would parallel the beauty of the Divine liturgy I am still enjoying on EWTN with the beautiful singing (not in the vernacular). Unfortunately, most OF liturgies have way too much of the modern worldly ethos incorporated into their style.

Those Ukrainian Catholics are part of the post-Vatican II church as well. Why did they get to keep their beautiful ancient liturgy with its beautiful externals while most Latin Rite Catholics get what is typical in most American parishes today?

Those Ukrainian Catholics live in modern-day American culture just like us. Why did we need liturgical "reform" (by putting "reform" in quotes I am showing my sarcastic eschewing of the typical OF fare--not the OF itself) and they didn't need reform?

Unknown said...

More rubbish from a Jesuit...yawn. As I said before I tire of this needless rehashing of things that don't need rehashing and just create Chaos. I don't believe it's discernment, again, I believe it is looking for the loopholes so we DON'T have to do what God wants us to do, because that might be hard, rather, it is doing what is easy, emotional and "culturally acceptable."

We are well past the time for theological or intellectual shadow boxing. 50 years of Chaos has resulted in the wreck of the Bark of Peter. Time for Church leaders to snap out of it and pull their head out of their backside defilade position.


Православный физик said...

I echo Jan's comments...

Religious life is not something that is meant to be imposed on the Church Universal.

Charles G said...

"The real crisis is the inability to listen openly and attentively to views that are not necessarily in line with a single worldview. A lack of understanding of the process of discernment is the real problem that assails many bishops and lay people in the Catholic Church."

Sorry, not buying it. Our faith is based on magisterial teaching. Some things are simply not up for debate and "discernment", like the deposit of faith. Thank God for Cardinal Burke in upholding the teachings of the faith.

Anonymous said...

Cardinal Burke is again calling on Pope Francis to state what the Catholic Church's position on homosexual relations and giving holy Communion to the divorced/remarried:

He also reiterated his call to the Pontiff, made during last month's Synod on the Family, to clarify "at this point" where the Catholic Church stands on homosexual relations and on giving Holy Communion to divorced and civilly remarried couples.

Cardinal Burke told RTÉ News there is growing confusion about what the Church really teaches and that the impression is being given that it is a democracy in which a second synod of bishops will vote on these matters next year.

Cardinal Burke, who is now the Cardinal Patron of the Order of Malta, said neither Catholic doctrine nor discipline is decided by the votes of bishops.

The conference in Limerick is being organised by "The Catholic Voice" newspaper and was attended by the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Brendan Leahy and the former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon.


Anonymous said...

The ironic story about this will be His Grace Cardinal Burke being elected Pope and saving the Church from destuction and restoring the Traditional Latin Mass, pray for Raymond Leo Burke for he is under assault from demonic forces.

Anonymous said...

I admire the skill that the Jesuit uses to convince the reader that he is a man of reason and that our pope is using a sophisticated method of achieving consensus that is so advanced that primitive minds like Burke and George can’t understand it. For the readers of this blog his sleight-of-hand technique doesn’t work, but I think it’s effective for 85% of the Catholics that like to associate with a moderate voice of reason. The don’t realize that what is being proposed is actually the extreme radical view because it craftily makes the rejection of God’s will to be the desirable end as long as it is performed through grueling discernment. Father Rus is a guy who has the talent to know exactly how to slow cook the lukewarm Catholic frogs in a pot and bring the temperature to the boiling point at just the right time.

Bee: 110% in agreement. I would just change your last word to “sham”.