Category Archives: Pope Francis

Pope Francis by Muris–Let’s get this straight:

Let’s get this straight: Concern about Pope Francis is not rooted in dissent, but in dismay.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | Mar 17, 2017

One wonders where Pope Francis finds the people who provide articles to L’Osservatore Romano which attack those who raise questions about his leadership. The latest is Father Salvador Pié-Ninot, who has criticized what he calls “dissent in the form of public criticism” of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Of course, I do not know that the Pope actively recruited Fr. Pié-Ninot. As evidenced by the broadside released by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, there are plenty of churchmen who are happy to preach tradition and orthodoxy when those who can promote them are traditional and orthodox, and to condemn those who value tradition and orthodoxy when those who can promote them are not.

This is nothing new, though I freely admit the uncertainty of assigning motives in particular cases. What I really do know, however, is that the arguments made by Fr. Pié-Ninot completely misrepresent the nature of the concerns of the faithful in this matter. Since Fr. Pié-Ninot is a theologian, one has little choice but to surmise that such misrepresentation is either deliberate or unwittingly driven by ideology—even if we grant that this is only a reasonable assumption, not a known fact.

I say this because Fr. Pié-Ninot’s criticism is based on the claim that some Catholics are guilty of “dissent in the form of public criticism”. But there are two glaring errors in this claim. First, criticism is not dissent unless it takes the form of denying the truth of something the Church has taught. Second—and this is the main point—as a general rule those who have criticized the Pope’s approach to divorce, remarriage and Communion have not denied the truth of anything Pope Francis has officially taught.

Two Issues

I regret that, even in some of our own commentary, we have used a kind of shorthand, talking about the controversy over Amoris Laetitia. But the controversy which is shaking the Church at present is not over what Amoris Laetitia actually says but how it is to be interpreted in practice. The questions arise precisely because Pope Francis himself has encouraged bishops and pastors to address these marriage questions in ways that (a) are forbidden in Canon Law; (b) violate both Catholic tradition and the clear magisterial teaching of Pope John Paul II; and (c) are not, in fact, taught in Amoris Laetitia.

The only problem which reasonable critics have discerned (to use one of Pope Francis’ favorite words) in Amoris Laetitia is an unfortunate (and perhaps tendentious) lack of clarity. This affects two particular issues:

Gradualism:

In section 8 of the document, Pope Francis repeats Pope John Paul II’s conclusion that gradualism in moral theology can be used to describe the subjective stages of moral growth but can never be understood as “gradualism of the law”. Though Francis does not say so, gradualism of the law would mean that different moral teachings apply to persons at different stages of moral growth: What is sinful for a saint will not be deemed sinful for a person who is less advanced spiritually. This, of course, would be nonsense. Sinful behaviors are objectively wrong. Only degrees of personal guilt can vary.

Unfortunately, instead of clarifying this point, Pope Francis continues with a discussion that can be interpreted to lapse directly into what he has just denied, namely gradualism of the law. He suggests (but does not clearly teach) that it is possible to recognize that a sinner may be doing the best he can even though he has chosen to persist in his sin (as opposed to repenting of it but sometimes falling again). This leads to (unstated) speculation about whether the person should be judged to be actually sinning. The Pope suggests (but does not clearly teach) the idea that such a person may be pursuing a lesser good that simply falls short of the ideal. Insofar as this text can be taken to undermine the Church’s confidence in the liberating grace available through Christ, the discussion would be construed as drifting tacitly into gradualism of the law.

Admission to Communion:

On the question of changing the traditional Catholic teaching and discipline concerning the reception of the Eucharist, the text of Amoris Laetitia does not directly address it. Rather it offers two uncertain hints. First, in #300, the text states that since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.” Footnote 336, attached to this sentence, is not much clearer: “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline…”.

Second, in #305, the text reads: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin—which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such—a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” But there is no clarification of what this might mean in marriage cases, and once again, footnote 351 (attached to this sentence), is not much clearer: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” The note then reminds readers of certain aspects of Penance and Eucharist, without specifying how and when they are to be used. Yet the use of both has been expressed clearly and consistently in the past, encouraging Penance in these cases, and prohibiting Communion.

Immediate Confusion

It is impossible to pretend (as some ecclesiastics have done) that there is no sincere confusion. As a matter of public record, the text of Amoris Laetitia as it affects these two issues has meant different things even to different bishops and cardinals. Some bishops (and episcopal conferences) have decided the text does not change the existing sacramental discipline of the Eucharist, especially since Canon Law has not been changed. Indeed, this is also the conclusion of the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller. Other bishops (and episcopal conferences) have decided the text intends to permit reception of Communion in some (or a few) cases by those who are divorced and remarried without benefit of an annulment, after a period of discernment with the help of their pastors.

Still other bishops have decided that reception of Communion for those in every sort of irregular marital situation is now left to the persons in question, who are to decide for themselves if they feel comfortable enough with their situation to receive the Eucharist. As far as we know, Pope Francis has never even unofficially favored this third view, but neither has he unofficially favored the first. The only interpretation the Pope has favored in interviews, conversations and personal letters is the second. Meanwhile, a number of bishops and theologians have proposed examples of cases which could justify reception of Communion under the second interpretation, but they have not agreed with each other on which cases qualify.

In other words, there are widely varying and mutually inconsistent interpretations all across the board, and it is precisely this that faithful Catholics throughout the Church have complained about. In addition, it is precisely this confusion that the cardinals who submitted “dubia” to Pope Francis hoped to remedy. They used the traditional method of seeking clarification by presenting a number of precise questions that can only be answered with a clear “yes” or “no”. For their pains, Pope Francis has not only refused to clarify what he means, but he has belittled all those who have such questions, including the cardinals. He has called them names, and he has launched a campaign of public criticism and demotion of critics, along with both publication and promotion for those who are willing to champion the uncertainty, pretending that only bad Catholics are confused.

Conclusion

The point of all this is to demonstrate that Father Salvador Pié-Ninot has completely missed the point by characterizing Catholics with legitimate questions as dissenters. The truth is that none of those who are confused by the Pope’s overall behavior in this matter have accused him of error in his exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium (such as Amoris Laetitia). What has concerned them is the uncertainty of the text coupled with the Pope’s personal (non-magisterial) support of pastoral practices which, again, he has not officially taught. To review, these pastoral practices and the claims that justify them contradict the current Code of Canon Law, deviate from Catholic tradition, differ from the formally-taught conclusion on this very matter by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (#84), and so have thrown the Church into conflict and confusion around the world.

It is critical to recognize that this is not a question of dissent. It is a request for the elimination of serious confusion which has been actively encouraged by the Pope. As I have stated several times before, Pope Francis is actively pursuing a pastoral and administrative program based on principles of faith and morals which the Holy Spirit appears to have prevented him from officially teaching. Under such circumstances, dissent does not enter into the issue at all. It is shamefully disingenuous to suggest that it does. Two things alone enter into this question: Dismay that this has come to pass in the Church, and deep concern for the care of souls.

Comments

Posted by: dover beachcomber – Mar. 23, 2017 4:41 PM ET USA “The controversy which is shaking the Church at present is not over what Amoris Laetitia actually says but how it is to be interpreted in practice.” Change “Amoris Laetitia” to “the Second Vatican Council” and you have a fine summary of the predicament of the last 50 years.
Posted by: Jeff Mirus – Mar. 22, 2017 10:12 AM ET USA bkmajer3729: You raise a good question, but once again we have a statement which the context protects from the necessity to understand it as an error in Faith. Paragrah 297 is about the human tendency to write people off. The emphasis is on “reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy.” It is in this sense that the Pope writes, in the very next sentence, that “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” But he then goes on to say, “Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest.” In other words, there are questions of prudence here, including prudence of expression, but nothing that (considering the context) can be shown as intending to violate prior Catholic teaching.

Editor: Continue to pray to eliminate the confusion.

False Idols by Pope Francis

Christian Hope and False Idols by Pope Francis The Pope February 06, 2017
We carry forward the culture of life as the answer to the logic of rejection and demographic decline; we are close and together we pray for the children who are in danger of the interruption of pregnancy, as well as for persons who are at the end of life—every life is sacred!—so that no one is left alone and that love may defend the meaning of life.

In the January 11, 2017, general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis dedicated to Christian hope, this time considering the issue of “false idols” that generate false hope.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In the month of December and in the first part of January we celebrated the Season of Advent and then Christmas: a period of the liturgical year that reawakens hope in God’s people. Hope is a basic human need: hope for the future, belief in life, so-called “positive thinking”.

But it is important that this hope be placed in what can really help you to live and give meaning to our existence. This is why Scripture warns us against the false hopes that the world presents to us, exposing their uselessness and demonstrating their foolishness. It does so in various ways, but especially by denouncing the falsehood of the idols in which man is continually tempted to place his trust, making them the object of his hope.

The prophets and scholars in particular insist on this, touching a nerve centre of the believer’s journey of faith. Because faith means trusting in God – those who have faith trust in God — but there’s a moment when, in meeting life’s difficulties, man experiences the fragility of that trust and feels the need for various certainties – for tangible, concrete assurances. I entrust myself to God, but the situation is rather serious and I need a little more concrete reassurance. And there lies the danger! And then we are tempted to seek even ephemeral consolations that seem to fill the void of loneliness and alleviate the fatigue of believing. And we think we can find them in the security that money can give, in alliances with the powerful, in worldliness, in false ideologies.
Sometimes we look for them in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene to change the situation and make it as we wish; an idol, indeed, that in itself can do nothing. It is impotent and deceptive. But we like idols; we love them! Once, in Buenos Aires, I had to go from one church to another, a thousand meters, more or less. And I did so on foot. And between them there is a park, and in the park there were little tables, where many, many fortune tellers were sitting. It was full of people who were even waiting in line. You would give them your hand and they’d begin, but the conversation was always the same: ‘there is a woman in your life, there is a darkness that comes, but everything will be fine …’. And then, you paid. And this gives you security? It is the security of – allow me to use the word – nonsense. Going to a seer or to a fortune teller who reads cards: this is an idol! This is the idol, and when we are so attached to them, we buy false hope. Whereas, in that gratuitous hope, which Jesus Christ brought us, freely giving his life for us, sometimes we fail to fully trust.

A Psalm brimming with wisdom depicts in a very suggestive way the falsity of these idols that the world offers for our hope and on which men of all ages are tempted to rely. It is Psalm 115, which is recited as follows:

“Their idols are silver and gold, / the work of men’s hands. / They have mouths, but do not speak; / eyes, but do not see. / They have ears, but do not hear; / noses, but do not smell. / They have hands, but do not feel; / feet, but do not walk; / and they do not make a sound in their throat. / Those who make them are like them; / so are all who trust in them!” (vv. 4-8).

The psalmist also presents to us, a bit ironically, the absolutely ephemeral character of these idols. And we must understand that these are not merely figures made of metal or other materials but are also those we build in our minds: when we trust in limited realities that we transform into absolute values, or when we diminish God to fit our own template and our ideas of divinity; a god that looks like us is understandable, predictable, just like the idols mentioned in the Psalm. Man, the image of God, manufactures a god in his own image, and it is also a poorly realized image. It does not hear, does not act, and above all, it cannot speak. But, we are happier to turn to idols than to turn to the Lord. Many times, we are happier with the ephemeral hope that this false idol gives us, than with the great and sure hope that the Lord gives us.

In contrast to hoping in a Lord of life who, through his Word created the world and leads our existence, [we turn to] dumb effigies. Ideologies with their claim to the absolute, wealth – and this is a great idol – power and success, vanity, with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence, values such as physical beauty and health: when they become idols to which everything is sacrificed, they are all things that confuse the mind and the heart, and instead of supporting life, they lead to death. It is terrible to hear, and painful to the soul: something that once, years ago, I heard in the Diocese of Buenos Aires: a good woman – very beautiful – boasted about her beauty. She said, as if it were natural: ‘Yes, I had to have an abortion because my figure is very important’. These are idols, and they lead you down the wrong path, and do not give you happiness.

The message of the Psalm is very clear: if you place hope in idols, you become like them: hollow images with hands that do not feel, feet that do not walk, mouths that cannot speak. You no longer have anything to say; you become unable to help, to change things, unable to smile, to give of yourself, incapable of love. And we, men of the Church, run this risk when we “become mundanized”. We need to abide in the world but defend ourselves from the world’s illusions, which are these idols that I mentioned.

As the Psalm continues, we must trust and hope in God, and God will bestow the blessing. So says the Psalm: “O Israel, trust in the Lord…. O House of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord…. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord…. The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us” (vv. 9, 10, 11, 12).

The Lord always remembers. Even in the bad times he remembers us. And this is our hope. And hope does not disappoint. Never. Never. Idols always disappoint; they are make-believe; they are not real. Here is the wonderful reality of hope: in trusting in the Lord, we become like him. His blessing transforms us into his children who share in his life. Hope in God allows us to enter, so to speak, within the range of his remembrance, of his memory that blesses us and saves us. And it is then that a Hallelujah can burst forth in praise to the living and true God, who was born for us of Mary, died on the Cross and rose again in glory. And in this God we have hope, and this God – who is not an idol – never disappoints.

Do not glamorize evil: Pope Francis

Communicate hope, Pope says in message
On January 24—the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of journalists—the Holy See Press Office released the Pope’s message for the 51st World Communications Day, which takes place on the Sunday before Pentecost.
/31331443/CC_Mobile_Sidebar_1

In the message—entitled “Fear not, for I am with you (Is. 43:5): Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time”—Pope Francis writes that “we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on ‘bad news.’”
The Pope instead called for “an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamorize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients.”
The message has three sections:
• Good news
• Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom
• The horizons of the Spirit
The Pope concluded:
Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation … Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.

Avoid ‘sins of the media,’ Pope urges

Pope urges Italian TV personnel
Catholic World News – December 15, 2014
Catholics in the media should have the “courage to speak directly, telling the truth and working to “preserve it from all that distorts and twists it for other purposes.” That was the message of Pope Francis on December 15, 2015

Pope’s Visit: What is the theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate?

It’s the family.
By Dr. Jeff Mirus Sep 28, 2015

It is a great mistake, I think, to sell Pope Francis short when he does not say exactly what we wish he would say. I’ve written about this before. (See, for example, How do we react when the Pope fails to express our top concerns? in January and Pope Francis: Get it? Got it? Good! in June.) It is reasonable to be disappointed, within due limits, if the Pope does not take advantage of what appears to be an obvious opportunity to make an important point. But let’s be honest: It is spiritually immature—not to mention a scandal to others—to respond derisively or dismissively to the Holy Father.

Among the many comments I’ve read about the points Pope Francis has made during his visit to the United States, I have seen few which attempted to place his remarks in the context of the overarching themes of his pontificate. The focus always seems to be on whether Pope Francis won or lost this particular round, and especially on whether the Pope’s strategy on this occasion was good or bad, and whether he has revealed a failure or a weakness. That sort of commentary has some value, but it can be terribly self-centered and, even if it isn’t, it is likely to be myopic, missing the big picture.

Concerning his visit to the United States, then, let us begin by taking the Pope at his word when he said before Congress that:

It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

The further along the Pope got in his visit, particularly in New York and Philadelphia, he delivered repeatedly on this promise, offering a profoundly Christian vision of the family:

From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this “God with us”, who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home….

As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships. We learn that “to love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise” (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving). We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.

Jesus was not a confirmed bachelor, far from it! He took the Church as his bride, and made her a people of his own. He laid down his life for those he loved, so that his bride, the Church, could always know that he is God with us, his people, his family. We cannot understand Christ without his Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, who gave his life out of love, and who makes us see that it is worth the price.

These extracts are from the official text of the Pope’s talk at the Prayer Vigil for the Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on September 26th. (Note: I have quoted the Pope’s speech as published by the Vatican for the occasion, even though the Pope, as he often does, deviated from his prepared text to speak less formally at the actual event.)

Who can doubt that the family—created, formed, redeemed and strengthened by Christ—lies at the heart of this pontificate? Francis decided to focus so much on the family that he made it the central purpose of not one but two major synods (the second one coming up in October), ensuring that this subject would dominate Catholic discussions for a period of two to three years. In the year between the synods, he used his Wednesday general audiences to offer an extended catechesis on the family, which he completed earlier this month.

And when he came to consider a visit to the most powerful country in the world, why did he come when he did? Because the World Meeting of Families was taking place in Philadelphia at this time.

Closely-Related Issues
Pope Francis sees all too clearly the widespread destruction of families. The particular agents of this destruction all stem from the modern rejection of nature as a gift from the Creator, to which the proper responses are gratitude and good stewardship. Instead, we too often instrumentalize nature, seeing it not as a “given” but as material to be manipulated to create imagined “realities”, to erect false castles of individual selfishness.

This, for example, is the message that lies at the heart of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. The Pope teaches that the technocratic instrumentalization of nature results in not only massive environmental destruction, but the destruction of our very selves: sex-change operations, contraception, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, gay marriage, domestic violence, child abuse, and the general desire to inhabit a soul-sapping and counterfeit world in which pleasure is always perverted and genuine happiness inevitably lost.

Drawing partly from key thinkers in the Orthodox Churches, Francis has considerably deepened Catholic reflection on nature as a whole. He sees that just as a proper response to God engenders a coherent and positive response to all of Creation, so too will a proper reception of nature assist us in responding properly to God—the loving Father who gives good gifts to His children. Clearly, he sees environmental concerns as a kind of bridge to a deeper understanding of all of reality, with family questions at the center.

In fact, nearly all of the broader social issues Pope Francis speaks about are those which he believes most adversely affect the family: immigration problems, environmental depredation, unemployment, poverty, human trafficking, and the general division of the world into “haves” and “have nots”, where the rich destroy not only their own families, through a chronic selfishness which kills the soul, but also the families of the poor, through this same chronic selfishness which excludes them from the goods necessary to keep body and soul—and family—together.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict showed the deep connections between what we call the “life issues” and the “social issues”. Referring to them as “sexual” and “social” might serve better to highlight their intimate connection (I use the term “intimate” advisedly). In any case, Pope Francis understands that all of these issues appear with a human face in the family. And no matter how hard we may try, in the family they cannot be separated completely.

A Vital Context
Of course, nobody speaks only of one thing, and I do not mean to argue that Pope Francis never says anything without the family in mind. But if we keep the family in mind—marriage, children, nuclear families, broken families, suffering families, counterfeit families, extended families, the family of grace created by Our Lord’s espousal of the Church as His Bride, nations which inescapably live or die based on the health of their families, and even the international possibilities of a network of families reaching across barriers to support each other—if we keep the family in mind, I suggest we will frequently make much better sense of this Pope’s message.

We do not have to like everything about any pope. My life has spanned the pontificates of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis. At one time or another I have stared open-mouthed at each, unable to do anything but scratch my head (though only in retrospect for Pius XII, as I was just ten years old when he died). Each pontiff in his turn “failed” to recognize something that was absolutely clear—indeed, blazingly obvious—to me.

Sometimes I may even have been right. Popes are, after all, human, like me. But I’m very glad I never stopped trying to internalize the central message of each one. So let us take very seriously the central message of Pope Francis. For him, thus far, the family is priority one. And this means all families: Not just those “others” out there—the ones with the problems we see so clearly—but also yours and mine.