Monday 17 June 2013

Lessons from the Saga of Pope Francis and CLAR

I have refrained from making any comments about Pope Francis for fear they would be taken as a disregard for him and for his ministry as Pope. This is what appears to have happened following a recent post by Fr Hugh of Dominus mihi adjutor. But there is much sense in Father Hugh’s post, and I for one did not see any vitriol or disrespect toward our Holy Father in it.
Let us be clear: reigning Popes have never, from the time Paul confronted Peter, been above criticism. As such, I feel able to express disappointment with any Pope without questioning his integrity, holiness or over-all competency. In regard to Pope Francis, I simply think that by allowing himself to be portrayed as the ‘humble pope’ by ditching papal regalia/etiquette and dumbing down the liturgy, it can seem that he is saying “look how humble I am”. This can only be corrected by making use of the papal regalia/etiquette that define not him, but his office; it would show he has subordinated himself to his office. Second, since every priest and bishop in the world could say we are generally competent in our office but at times said or done something we later felt was ill-advised, why should we not allow for this same reality in a pope? After all, indefectibility is not part of the Papal office.
To add my two-bob’s worth to the Francis saga then, let me simply say that Fr Bergoglio does seem unaware that his words and actions are scrutinised to the zenith degree now that he is Pope and that for this reason he must be very careful in what he says and does. But we have to give him time; I am sure he will learn this in much the same way as we all do –by our mistakes. Over-all, my impression is simply Pope Francis does not want the adornments of his office to be seen as self-aggrandisement; that he wants to be seen simply as a co-follower of the Lord; as a kind of ‘parish priest of the world’ rather than Supreme Pontiff. But he must not ignore that he is, in fact, the Supreme Pontiff, and that this brings serious obligations and responsibilities for safeguarding the Faith and the faithful. To be free and easy with words can, rather than endear any of us to the folk, irritate a fair portion of our flock, become a cause of division and, in fact, be imprudent simply by their nature of being off-the-cuff, un-thought out, remarks. For all of us –Pope, Bishop, Priest or Layman- imprudent remarks can make us something of a liability.
Can I suggest however, that we all have something to learn from the Pope’s remarks to CLAR? The Pope must learn that imprudence is inherently possible with off-the-cuff remarks and be more careful in the future; we, on the other hand, have to stop reading the words of a Pope as absolute, precise elucidations of his thought on every occasion that he opens his mouth; we need to give him the same leeway for imprudence we expect for ourselves, since we all have the possibility of making mistakes in everyday conversations. We cannot expect the Pope to live under the pressure of watching every word he says from the moment he gets out of bed in the morning.

It would be useful if this learning was to take place now for both Pope and for us, since his remarks to CLAR (at least as they were reported) seem to cast a slur against many devout Catholics around the world who simply hold to ages-old, tried and tested liturgy and devotions. Indeed it is because of this that they are likely to be among his most faithful subjects; they simply do not go in for dissent as do the ‘Progressives’ and are not unthinking ‘Conservatives’ who blindly follow all that comes from Rome. Rather, they are intelligent, devoted sheep who weigh up and seek to clarify and harmonise what we are given by Rome today with what Rome has given in the past. Unfortunately the Pope’s remarks have presented him as having no concern for such intelligent, devoted sheep. I am sure that this is not the case; I am sure that his genuine solicitude for every person on the planet cannot be seriously doubted.


  1. Given that most people don't read official documents and the media fails to undrstand them, the Church's teaching gets filtered to much of the laity by people who don't understand or believe in it. Pope Francis doesn't seem to be very adept in responding to questions in interviews or realize the possible implications of what he says, as he is no longer Archbishop of Buenos Aires who used to travel in the subway. He recently called the Argentine Ambassador to ask that his pasport be renewed, apparently not wanting to travel with a Vatican diplomatic passport. Supposedly that would bring him down to the level of ordinary folk. However, how many Argentines can just make a call to the ambassador and ask that his passport be renewed. Likewise travelling in a little car on arriving at Rio de Janeiro and getting the car going down the wrong street is another example of such efforts of his to be ordinary. However, just like a President, he cannot avoid being "handled" by security personnel, or else he could imprduently put himself in danger and also put such personnel in danger. Besides, it seems to be to be a greater manifestaiton of humility and simplicity to listen to others such as experts in security and do what they recommend. With a year into the job, I would expect that he would have learned that he has to fit himself into the office and that requires much humillity and simplicity.
    The matter is not oly gestures, but he has also mentioned the Orthodox example of granting divorce thatks what the calle "oikonomia". His remarks plus the quesionnaire sent to to bishops conferences have sparked off what seems to be a sterile debate regarding allowing divorced and remarried to receive holy communion. As a result we have Cardinals attacking one another. Cardinal Madariaga of Honduras, chair of the commission for the reform of the Vatican, has accused Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a theological heavyweght, of lack of flexibility. Madariaga seems to suggest that doctrine can go on one track and "pastoral" on another, an impossible kind of schyzophrenia. . Of course, nobody mentions why there seem to be so many invalid marriages. Why do the bishops who promote the reception of holy communion by divorced and remarried not begin by tightening up the system of preparation for marriage and make sure that those who enter into it know what it means, and what commitments they are undertaking? It is simply impossible for the Church to conform its doctrine to the tastes of every epoch. It has never done it, nor did Jesus who preferred that the apostles leave him than change his teaching on the Eucharist. Likewise St. Paul in the Letter to the Galatians. The fact that the Orthodox have divorce is a betrayal of the clear and undeniable teachinng of Jesus in the Gospel and one of the consequences of their schism from Rome. So, it is not prudent to raise false expectations. This already happened years prior to the publiication of Humanae Viitae with nefarious consequences. Henry VIII´s attempt to get Rome to declare invalid his marriage to Catherine of Aragon provoked a schism and the los of England for the Church. This is a serious matter.

    1. Thank you Thomas, for a well considered comment.
      Francis does appear to need direction in how to enter into the office and be lost beneath it. Unfortunately so much that he does to show that he sees himself as insignificant just brings him more and more attention, and is therefore counter productive.
      As for the marriage issues, you are spot on: his is a serious matter, and many sound Catholics harbour worries that the leaders of today's Church have forgotten that we are bound by our past Doctrinal teaching -which we believe to be from the mind of the God is is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews).
      God bless you and yours.


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