When speaking off the cuff: What does Pope Francis really mean?
Once again, there’s a media frenzy. This time it’s been generated by Pope Francis who allegedly has spoken of the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Curia. Rumors had been circulating and, it was alledged, confirmed in a “secret” report Pope Benedict XVI prepared for his successor prior to the conclave. Some in the media also believed the “Gang of Eight” cardinals selected by Pope Francis would address the issue.
The details of what Pope Francis said “off the cuff” to the Conference of Latin American Religious (CLAR) on June 6 are well documented elsewhere, the most oft-cited being “In the Curia…there are holy people….[but also] a current of corruption.” According to notes taken at the meeting and released by some who were present concerning the secret report, the Pope said: “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there….We need to see what we can do….”
All of this has become even more complicated with the Catholic News Agency (CNS) reporting today that CLAR officially states that the Pope’s assertion “cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father” (italics added).
As important as those statements rightly or wrongly attributed to Pope Francis and disclosed to the media may be, other statements—some of potentially greater significance—have not been as widely reported.
For example, La Stampa states that Pope Francis also told CLAR’s leaders to “keep moving forward” and not be “afraid to take risks by approaching the poor and new emerging figures across the continent.” That sounds fine. But, place that statement in its larger context:
Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) [CDF] will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing….But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward….Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up….
It takes time for the contours of a papacy to take shape. Early into this papacy, much has been made about the Pope’s first appearance at St. Peter’s Basilica and his humility. This “pastoral” Pope has washed feet, kissed babies, visited parishes, and heard confessions. This “Pope of the People” has eschewed living in the Apostolic Palace and is now chauffeured not in a Mercedes Benz but a Volkswagen.
The media loves all of this…and hopes for more, interpreting this Pope’s actions as symbolic of what many in the media long for: A Roman Catholic Church that is more open to and accepting of the forces of what some in the media define as “progress.”
In an attempt to understand more clearly the overall direction the Holy Father intends to steer the ship of the Church in today’s murky waters, The Motley Monk reads the daily homilies Pope Francis has been delivering at St. Marta’s as these are reported by ZENIT.
Overall, the Pope preaches in a style reminiscent of the early Church Fathers, dotting his homilies with folksy applications of scripture to this generation’s moral challenges. He invokes little, if any, “hierarchical” language. Instead, it’s much more “lateral.” There’s no insensitive reiteration of Church teaching “from on high,” but a sensitive response on the part of a pastor who knows his people—having heard their confessions—and speaking candidly about what is afflicting them and keeping them from the Kingdom of God.
In sum: Anecdotes that make the daily Scriptures strike home.
The problem: Others can apply those anecdotes in ways the Holy Father may not have intended.
For example, take the Pope’s statement “do something where life calls for it.” This statement has the potential to open the door to a host of unintended interpretations, especially when what has preceded it is “Explain [to CDF] whatever you have to explain, but move forward….”
Don’t overlook this particular statement because, The Motley Monk is sure, Pope Francis means it.
The question is: What precisely does the Pope mean?
In a homily to his congregation, a pastor can say “I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up….” The members of the congregation would understand exactly what is meant. Plus, that seems to be sound pastoral teaching.
But, the papacy differs from the local pastorate.
Yes, the pope is the Universal Pastor. Yet, he is also the “Rock,” charged personally by Christ with safeguarding Church teaching. It’s one thing for a local pastor to translate the Beatitudes into acts of compassion for those who live on the margins and to challenge the members of one’s congregation to err in favor of compassion rather than to dictate moral positions. It is an entirely different matter if a pope were to intimate—even in private—that bishops should err on the side of heresy and “Explain whatever you have to explain [to CDF], but move forward… (wink).”
Pope Francis certainly does not mean that.
But, some in the media would have him mean that, and are calling upon the Pope clarify precisely what he means. It’s a “lose-lose” proposition, one that will center upon the legitimacy of and the Pope’s stance vis-a-vis Church teaching.
During the 20th century and early into the 21st, the Holy Spirit has blessed the Church with extraordinarily good, if not saintly popes. The contours of this papacy have yet to be clearly defined. As Pope Francis learns to navigate the Church to confront directly this generation’s moral evils which the media may tout as “progress,” Catholics should pray that the Pope teach as Jesus did, “with authority” that stuns those today in his hearing who “are sick for being closed up” in their secular ideologies and unwilling to listen to the Truth, as the Church teaches it.
To read the article in LaStampa, click on the following link:
To read the CNA account, click on the following link: