Sunday 20 October 2013

James: I am taking my cue from St Thomas More...

The comment copied below has been sent to the blog in response to my previous post, and has been dutifully published. But I want to reply in the form of this new post...

The Comment:
Father, I have read your post and am unsure as to where you stand; I cannot make out whether you yourself are happy or unhappy with Pope Francis. Do you see in him Christ the Good Shepherd, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?  Many of us see a man who is proud of his humility and pleased to see it publicised; a man who is presiding over the Church as though it were his own property with its teaching up for grabs by any and every generation and by which he makes the Church a disciple of the world rather than teacher of the world. We see a man who implies that all other Popes and Councils have been wrong on matters of sexuality and ecclesiology; which means infallibility had been absent from the Church until he inherited St Peters’ Chair, bringing with him right knowledge about the Church, sin and salvation. Are you then, happy or unhappy with Pope Francis?

My Reply:
The great man St Thomas More remained silent on whether or not he supported King Henry VIII making himself Head of the Church in England (though Henry only succeeding only in creating a protestant body: the Church of England). You are asking me to say whether I think Pope Francis is a sound and dependable pastor or danger to the faithful, but I will follow the example of St Thomas More and stay silent other than to say I believe the man has a good heart, well-intentioned will and not planning a coup over established doctrine. I suspect a number of clergy, including Bishops, are taking the same line of prudent silence so as to avoid drawing lines between the ranks of the faithful, and between the faithful and their Pope.

I do not want to make a judgement about the man; like all faithful clergy I take what he gives us and read it through the lens of the teaching of the Church as given down through the centuries, knowing that no matter what Francis says in his off-the-cuff remarks, his interviews or his Wednesday Audiences; no matter what aspersions he seems to cast in the way of Traditional Catholics from the standpoint of his own ideology; no matter what ideas he has about abandoning the Dominical Command to ‘Go, teach all nations’, and no matter what sweeteners he throws out to homosexuals or civilly-remarried divorcees, we need not worry. Yes we can get frustrated and disappointed with Francis’ style; we might even get irritated by him. But we do not worry. At the end of the day we must presume that Francis is aware that he cannot promulgate any teaching that contradicts what previous Popes have taught without obliterating the authority of his own teaching; we must also presume that he knows he cannot sanction pastoral practices that split the lex vivendi from the lex credendi and remain a Catholic of integrity. I think respecting the office of Pope and trusting the Holy Ghost is the only position I can take at this time...

P.S.  Many in the Church today hold opinions inconsistent with the faith of the centuries, and claim that this is consistent with the ‘new vision’ given by ‘the spirit’ of Vatican II. They are wrong, and their error will eventually die out, as will the off-the-cuff remarks of Pope Francis or any other Pope.


  1. Father, thank you for this post and the preceding one: both are absolutely on the mark, while respecting Francis as a person and as the Pope.

    “ … we must also presume that he knows he cannot sanction pastoral practices that split the lex vivendi from the lex credendi …”. I hope this is so. I fear that “pastoral” measures could turn elements of the unchangeable teaching of the Church into a dead letter. I think we have seen some of this already in regard to contraception and the misunderstanding of conscience.

    Another fear is an echo from the 1960s, between the setting-up of the papal birth control commission and the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. I remember that at least one churchman claimed that the establishment of the commission put the Church’s teaching against contraception in doubt. He then quoted the saying “A doubtful law does not bind”. This encouraged couples to establish contraceptive habits in their marriages which they were unwilling to give up. In the period between now and the synod on the family there will be ample opportunity for such misleading guidance to re-emerge in regard to Holy Communion for the divorced-remarried.

    I think we should fasten our seat-belts, and continue our prayers.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Dorothy.

      I agree; there is, I think, a danger that pastoral practices can inform doctrine rather than the other way around and as you say, this has happened in the recent past. Official Church teaching on such as contraception has remained unchanged despite this inversion of values though, so I think we can be hopeful. In the end, Truth will win out over error, which might be said to be the absence of a Truth that ought to be present, just as evil is the absence of a good that ought to be present.

      The manipulation of the doubtful law case is worrying, but again, I think we can hope that simple fidelity to the truth by even a minority will be enough of a thorn in the side of error and those in error to ensure the continuance of the truth in the Catholic community.

  2. Father, with your silence you answered this question already. If you thought that the Pope is a "a sound and dependable pastor" you could say so.
    I think staying silent while so many faithful worldwide are confused is not the approach a priest should take.

    In the last judgement truth will completly win out over error but in this world it is possible that error wins over the truth if the few people who still know the truth stay silent and let others spread errors.

    Even well-intented people can spread errors that do great harm to countless souls. It´s not the intention that should be examined but the error.
    The deafening silence of almost all bishops and priests in the last months is really worrying.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Martina.
      I think it is fair to say that as long as Bishops and priests faithfully preach what the Catechism teaches the faithful will be able to discern for themselves when and where Francis makes a blunder in his words.
      As I said in the post, I think the silence of clergy results (as it does in my case) from a fear of dividing the faithful from one another and from the Pope.
      Personally, I think his words lack precision and even, at times, appear out of kilter with the Catechism (such as the comment about “Who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuals), but I think he is trying to be pastoral about people (we don’t judge people) while leaving Church teaching intact (we do judge concrete acts). That said, he does seem to be disorienting many by taking this line, and giving false hope to those who reject Catholic moral teaching. In the final analysis I think he has been dependable in doctrine as far as leaving it intact, but unhelpful in his pastoral style which disorientates and gives false, ‘risky’ hope.

  3. This Pope rocks! Fr Dickson don't like him coz Francis isn't a tea party stodge but he's too scared to say what he really thinks so he makes minimalist silent comments. I suggest you just get over it Padre!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Patrick; I am always happy to clarify my words.
      I believe I have indeed said what I think, which is that as Pope, Francis has left -and will leave- the authoritative teaching of the Church in place, but that his off-the-cuff remarks on such as homosexuality have disoriented many Catholics and, to use your phrase, ‘rocked’ their foundations; as such his remarks can be considered ill-advised or somewhat imprudent. I have also said that he is leaving himself open to personal criticism by saying “I have the humility to ...” -humble men rarely claim the virtue of humility for themselves publicly, and those who do invite scrutiny.
      P.S. I’m not sure where tea parties fit into this..or what a stodge I to think Francis doesn’t eat stodgy (heavy) cakes with his guests?

  4. Who on earth is 'Patrick Graham'? If the Pope rocks he probably also rolls & those roles seem to be in favour of truths of the Faith which do contradict the Faith we learned as children. I was always taught "hate the sin & love the sinner" but never was it intended that the sinner should be loved without him giving up his sin


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