Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Granted, what I reproduce below from "The Vatican Insider" is a reporter's story of what Pope Franics said often in his famous "off-the-cuff" ways which I would say is a new "low" (of-the-cuff-statements) in terms of how seriously we as Catholics should take what the pope is saying. It ain't infallible in other words. But the pope only speaks infallibly in the extraordinary magisterium of the Church which is, well, extraordinary. Most of what any pope teaches is ordinary or below that.

What Pope Francis imprecisely articulates is a "pastoral theology" which began to take shape as named in the late 1960's and 70's. In fact, Pope Francis has brought us back to this period as His Holiness must see this period of time as a "golden age" for the Church. Pastoral theology was meant to help priests to deal with the messiness of their parishioner's lives. Much of it is well advised.

Priests can live in a world very different than what most lay people live and when marriage and sex are integral to their lives, even if there is no marriage, priests sometimes can exhibit arrested development in terms of what normal laity have experienced at different levels of their lives. Many priests have a sort of ideal view of sexaulity on the academic level although deep down they know how conflicted it is for so many people and where perfection is seldom or ever attained.

So the messiness of lives, Pope Francis believes, means cutting people some slack but leaving the door open for conversion. I agree with His Holiness. We cannot control people. We are not moral poloicemen and morality is about liberation from sin and death not oppression by the Church.

Canon Law and the legal aspects of the Church should be respected. However, even in the so-called more legalistic or rigid days prior to Vatican II, the Church always allowed dispensations from certain aspects of the law. Sometimes this leads to a sense of arbritrianism. When I was a child in the pre-Vatican II Church and in peace time, military families were dispensed from the Friday abstinence! Why?

So here is another example of our pastoral pope raising more questions than he answers and seeking a more realistic Church when it comes to how people live their lives. He could have said this in an academic, uncontroversial way but then who would being reading it or discussing it?
On Thursday, Francis  inaugurated the annual Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome. In his speech, he talked about the demographic crisis resulting from a “cursed economic wellbeing”, preparation for marriage, the children of teen mothers and Cardinal Müller
Francis opens the Convention of the Diocese of Rome at St. John the Lateran.

A “rigid morality” is to be avoided but so are laxism and rigorism. Everyone must be accompanied, even sinners, leaving them space for conversion, because “morality is an act of love always, love for God, love for one’s neighbour”. Pope Francis spoke about the family at the inauguration of the annual Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome at St. John the Lateran. First he gave a speech that picked up on points discussed at the double Synod of 2014 and 2015, then he responded to three questions from faithful, touching on a diverse array of family issues, from Italy’s falling birth rates which are the result of a “cursed economic wellbeing”, the “cruelty” of not baptising the children of teen mothers, the childish faces parents pull at their new-born children – which Francis imitated – similar to God’s attitude towards humans, the need for a solid preparation for marriage that is able to counter the current “culture of precariousness”, superstitions and cultural prejudices and the consumerist tendency to focus on the celebrations and the wedding bombonieres rather than the beauty of the sacrament. The Pope’s speech was sprinkled with punchlines, personal memories and jokes that drew laughter and applause from his audience of faithful, for example, when he said: “Don’t go telling on me to Cardinal Müller”, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Neither rigorism, nor laxism are the truth, the Gospel chooses another way,” Francis said in answer to a woman’s question on how to avoid a “double morality” between rigorism and laxism. “Welcome, accompany, integrate and discern… without sticking your noses in the moral lives of people”. The Pope recalled that in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, the “Amoris Laetitia”, as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a “great theologian”, said, “everything is Thomist, from start to end, it is irrefutable doctrine. But,” he continued, “we often want irrefutable doctrine to have a mathematical certainty, which does not exist, both with laxism, open-handedness and rigidity.” The Pope referred to some examples from the Gospel, first the adulterous woman (“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”), then the Samaritan (who, Francis said, making faithful laugh, “had lots of medals for adultery, a very decorated woman…”): “Let us go towards the Gospel, let us go towards Jesus. This does not mean throwing the water out with the child, no, it means seeking the truth: morality is an act of love always, love for God and for one’s neighbour, it is an act that leaves space for the conversion of the other, it is not quick to condemn”. The Pope then talked about a piece of advice given to him by a predecessor of his – Juan Carlos Aramburu – in Buenos Aires: when you discover that your priest has a double life, the cardinal said, call him, tell him and then send him home, telling him to come back in 15 days. At first he will deny what you say, then he will have time to reflect, repent, admit to his own sins and ask for help.

“This man celebrated in moral sin for 15 days, according to morality: but what is better?” the Pope said, “that the bishop had the generosity to give him 15 days to think things over or a rigid morality?” Francis went on to talk about a fellow course mate at university, who gave a very theoretical answer in an exam on confession, saying: “This is found in books, not in reality”: “But speaking of this, please don’t go telling on me to Cardinal Müller!”

Individualism, the Pope said, in response to the first question, “is the axis of this culture”, “it has many names and one selfish root”. It means “not taking others, other families into account” and can even go as far as “pastoral cruelty”, Francis continued, mentioning his experience in another diocese when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires: “Some parish priests didn’t want to baptise the children of teen mothers and treated them like animals.” Individualism also taken on hedonistic traits, “I was about to use a strong phrase but I’ll say it in inverted commas,” he continued, that “cursed economic wellbeing” which has caused us so much harm. Italy today is witnessing a fall in birth rates, I think it’s below zero: this started with that culture of economic wellbeing 20 years ago. I met many families who preferred – but please don’t go to animal lovers telling on me, I don’t want to offend anyone – to have two or three cats or a dog instead of a child,” the Pope said. “Because having a child is not easy,” “you give life to a person who will become free” and while “a cat and a dog will give you an affection that is preset and not free,” children will be free, they will have to face life with all its risks and this is the challenge that scares people”. But sometimes “we are afraid of freedom, even when it comes to pastoral care” and if you go along with a “clean-hands type of pastoral care, like the Pharisees, where everything is clean, everything is in order, everything is great,” you do not realise “how much misery there is outside this environment, how much pain, how much poverty, what a lack of opportunities for development”.

“Hedonistic individualism is afraid of freedom, it is an… individualism that traps you, it locks you in a cage and won’t let you fly,” Francis said. Instead, we need to “take risks”. And we need to show tenderness: “This is God’s caress. In a synod I attended years ago, a suggestion was made “to revolutionise tenderness” but some fathers said it didn’t sound right… today, however, we can say it: tenderness is lack, we need to offer caresses, not just to the sick but also to sinners. Tenderness is a language for the youngest among us, those who have nothing, children for example. I like to hear mothers and fathers become children and talk like this,” the Pope continued pulling a child-like face, “this is tenderness, lowering myself: this is the path Jesus laid, he did not see being God as a privilege, he lowered himself and spoke our language, using our gestures”.

As far as preparation for marriage goes, “I remember I once called a boy here in Italy whom I had met a while back, at Ciampino and he was getting married,” the Pope said, answering the last question put to him. “I called him: your mum said you’re getting married. To which he replied: we’re looking for a church that’s suitable for my girlfriend’s dress and then there are so many other things, the bombonieres, finding a restaurant that isn’t too far away. Are these the concerns of future spouses?” The Pope criticised the way in which marriage is seen as a “social event” but at the same time urged the Church not to shut its doors but to concentrate “patiently” on the solid preparation of young couples for marriage: “Preparation for marriage must be done by showing closeness, without fear, slowly: there are boy and girls who are immensely pure and have a great love, but there are few of them. There are good young people in today’s culture but they have to be guided until they are mature enough. That is when the sacrament is celebrated with joy. It takes a lot of patience, without getting scared.” During the speech he gave off the cuff, the Pope attracted laughter and applause from faithful on various occasions. For example, when he talked about a “superstition” that established itself in north-eastern Argentina, where couples start off by having children, then then get married in a civil ceremony and finally, when they are elderly, they get married in Church because, they claim, “having a religious wedding scares off the husband… we need to find against these kinds of superstitions too, these cultural facts”. Then there is the complexity of families, the presence of in-laws… “I heard something beautiful…women will like this: when a woman hears from the ecographer that she is pregnant with a boy, that’s when she starts learning to be a mother-in-law.” 

During his speech, before answering questions, instead of focusing on the “Amoris Laetitia”, the Pope underlined some questions that emerged during the Synod that preceded the Apostolic Exhortation, identifying three points in particular. Firstly, that the “life for every person, the life of every family needs to be treated with a great deal of respect and care”: we cannot “speak in abstract terms” or “ideologise”, not for the sake of being “politically correct” but out of respect for real life situations: “This forces us to leave behind statements of principles and instead enter the beating heart of Rome’s neighbourhoods, where like craftsmen, we can mould God's dream into this reality, something only people of faith can do, i.e. those who do not close the gate onto the action of the Spirit.”

Secondly, “let us beware of implementing a pastoral plan of ghettoes and for ghettoes”: evangelical realism, he said, “does not mean not being clear in terms of doctrine”; “It does not mean not putting the evangelical ideal forward, on the contrary, we are invited to experience this in history, with all that it entails”. In relation to this, the Pope spoke about an ancient medieval capital depicting Judas on one side and Jesus carrying the traitor on his shoulder on the other: “Don Primo Mazzolari gave a beautiful speech on this, he was a priest who understood the complexity of the Gospel’s logic well: getting one’s hands dirty like Jesus did, he was not clean, he went and met people and accepted people as they were, not as they should be”.

Finally, Francis talked about the elderly: “As a society, we have deprived our seniors of their voice. This is a social sin, of our time,” he said, stating: “This is the time for the dreams of the elderly”, which young people can turn into a reality. The Pope urged faithful to “stay away from ‘niches’ which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and enter instead into the reality of other people’s lives’ so as to know the power of tenderness”. Francis, accompanied by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, began his reflection by remarking that “the five aisles are full, there’s clearly a willingness to work hard!” 


Victor said...

His words are so reminiscent of the 1970's pastoral theology where so much doctrine was thrown out the window, such as traditional morals of sex which were treated as outdated. But this is 2016. The reason why most people abandon or are alienated from the Church is because faith is challenged by godless thinking. People are bombarded by anti-God ideology that encompasses explanations for life and the universe. The clergy needs apologetics in this area, not some vague sentimental pastoral "theology".

Gene said...

So, you are caving to the indifferentist, universalist mentality of the neo-protestants...just like the Pope. Either God's Word is true or it is not. Doctrine is, indeed, about absolutes...we hate that word today, just like we hate words like sin, confession, and damnation. We are not too big on words like duty, responsibility, and morality, either. Just because God's law is impossible for us to follow to the letter does not mean it needs to be watered down. It is this "absoluteness" that makes us aware of our sin, of this world that is passing away...this realm already consigned by Christ to Satan, and moves us to repentance. Just as the old gospel song says, "This world is not our home," and we need to stop trying to live in its false morality and twisted value system by, for God's sake, bending doctrine and practice to fit it.