Sunday, January 10, 2016


John Allen has a good article on Catholic reactions to the papacy of Pope Francis and a summary of his most recent book length interview (joy, joy, more off-the-cuff non magisterial opinions, which popes can have and we can disagree, respectfully, I might add). 

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.)
In the book, Francis tells the story of a man who married one of the future pope’s nieces before his previous marriage had been declared null by a Church court, and thus was excluded from the sacrament. The pope said the husband went to church every Sunday and said to the priest, “I know you can’t absolve me but I have sinned, please give me a blessing.”

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.


Anonymous said...

Why is the possibility of Catholics committed to living in adultery being allowed to receive communion without amendment of life even being discussed? No person conscience of mortal sin can receive communion without first receiving sacramental confession and absolution.

But being realistic, does anyone believe that the majority of Catholics in 2016 would hesitate for one moment to even consider not going up and receiving communion regardless of the state of their soul? The problem is that the Church, the hierarchy, refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the collapse of the Faith. Not that it might happen but that it has already happened. It's just like the pedophile scandal which was handled unbelievably badly. Either sin is tolerated and condoned or it isn't. God Himself said Thou shalt not comity adultery. Period, there is nothing to discuss.

This fantasy that communion is being denied to anyone, that homosexuals and people living together outside of marriage are being shunned is insane. That Church doesn't exist. Anything and everything is tolerated in the Church except adherence to what the Church teaches, that is the truth.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. I was told that a priest has said that in our largest diocese 75% of priests have said they will give communion to couples living in de facto relationships or divorced and civilly remarried. The damage has been done. It will take a new pontificate to restore Church teachings. Like anonymous at 10.05, I don't think that anyone is in any doubt of the dire situation we are now in. It's just that some won't admit it ...

Rood Screen said...

Anonymous asks some good questions and makes some good points. I suppose the principal question about the popularity of Pope Francis could be: is his popularity increasing conversions to the Gospel?

Jusadbellum said...

Maybe the disconnect is deeper than theology and enters the realm of the lived experience. 99% of Catholics are laity. Most laity who work have goals or degrees of competence in our work load against which we are measured by and if failing in, we risk termination.

This is such a "the sky is blue" reality, that we don't even think about it. We assume that the CEO knows something of the business he's running. The Coach knows about the sport and how to organize a team to compete and win. We assume if someone works their way up a hierarchy that it means they are competent. One of the most universal of emotions is disgust with nepotism and 'affirmative action' hires where an objectively incompetent person is given great power and authority and influence NOT on account of his or her actual accomplishments or character but for some other, extrinsic reason.

So with St. JP2 we were edified by a truly heroic life story: worker, student, secret seminarian, facing Nazis and then Communists...a successful and popular priest then bishop then archbishop. An expert sent to Vatican II, a brilliant and holy cardinal and finally a young, energetic Pope.

Similarly, Benedict XVI was widely known and respected as one of the smartest theologians in a hundred years. He led the CDF brilliantly despite a secular and often even Catholic world of "intelligentia" (so-called) against him.

Neither of these Popes were "affirmative action" hires. Catholics could rightly be proud of their achievements and accomplishments as they were elevated up the hierarchy.

But then we get Pope Francis.... and there's no brilliance, "wow" factor in his past other than the prosaic "rides the city bus, cooks his own food, is humble". When half the planet can claim the same qualities as the Pope it hardly gives us pause and makes us confident in his qualifications.

When we look at the historic trajectory of the Church in Buenos Aires it gets worse. It's not like Buenos Aires was widely known as a hot bed of successful Catholicism. No booming seminary. No flourishing religious orders. No runaway successful lay evangelization. No dynamic successes rolling back secularism politically or producing an economic miracle ala wealth redistribution schemes.

So the problem I think is that quite apart from what he says and all the media dust ups and tempests in a tea pot that accompany his daily ministry, there's a bit of unease with the Pope precisely because he seems so ordinary and 'humble'. Given all we know of the titanic challenges facing the world and Church, it's human nature to seek a Messiah-like figure. Thus we got the Messianic fervor over Obama in 2008 where he was lauded as the 'smartest president EVAH" and given the Nobel Peace Prize just for showing up. People do instinctively crave some super-man as our King or Emperor, President or Pope.

It's human nature. Even Our Lord had to perform miracles before people would give him the benefit of the doubt when listening to the Gospel message. Healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead all have ways of making people consider that this 'unlikely' message just might be divinely inspired after all.

Anonymous said...

Fr McDonald a further excerpt of what Fr Ripperger has to say, and it certainly sums up my experience of conservative priests these days and what is lacking:

"Inevitably, this magisterialism has led to a form of positivism. Since there are no principles of judgment other than the current Magisterium, whatever the current Magisterium says is always what is “orthodox.” In other words, psychologically the neoconservatives have been left in a position in which the extrinsic and intrinsic tradition are no longer included in the norms of judging whether something is orthodox or not. As a result, whatever comes out of the Vatican, regardless of its authoritative weight, is to be held, even if it contradicts what was taught with comparable authority in the past. Since non-infallible ordinary acts of the Magisterium can be erroneous, this leaves one in a precarious situation if one takes as true only what the current Magisterium says. While we are required to give religious assent even to the non-infallible teachings of the Church, what are we to do when a magisterial document contradicts other current or previous teachings and one does not have any more authoritative weight than the other? It is too simplistic merely to say that we are to follow the current teaching. What would happen if in a period of crisis, like our own, a non-infallible ordinary magisterial teaching contradicted what was in fact the truth? If one part of the Magisterium contradicts another, both being at the same level, which is to believed?

Unfortunately, what has happened is that many neoconservatives have acted as if non-infallible ordinary magisterial teachings (such as, for instance, the role of inculturation in the liturgy as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) are, in fact, infallible when the current Magisterium promulgates them. This is a positivist mentality. Many of the things that neoconservatives do are the result of implicitly adopting principles that they have not fully or explicitly considered. Many of them would deny this characterization because they do not intellectually hold to what, in fact, are their operative principles.

As the positivism and magisterialism grew and the extrinsic tradition no longer remained a norm for judging what should and should not be done, neoconservatives accepted the notion that the Church must adapt to the modern world. Thus rather than helping the modern world to adapt to the teachings of the Church, the reverse process has occurred. This has led to an excessive concern with holding politically correct positions on secular matters. Rather than having a certain distrust of the world – which Christ exhorts us to have – many priests will teach something from the pulpit only as long as it is not going to cause problems. For example, how many priests are willing to preach against anti-scriptural feminism? The fact is that they have adopted an immanentized way of looking at what should be done, often from an emotional point of view. Coupled with political correctness, this has incapacitated ecclesiastical authorities in the face of the world and within the Church herself where the process of immanentization, with its flawed understanding of the nature of man and his condition as laboring under Original Sin, has severely undermined discipline. Even those who try to be orthodox have become accustomed to softer disciplinary norms, which fit fallen nature well, resulting in a lack of detachment from the current way of doing things and a consequent reluctance by neoconservatives to exercise authority – precisely because they lack the vital detachment required to do so.

All of the aforesaid has resulted in neoconservative rejection of the extrinsic tradition as the norm. This is why, even in “good” seminaries, the spiritual patrimony of the saints is virtually never taught."