52 Authors: Week 50 - George Orwell

"a deep aversion to theological precision"

That's Carl Olson speaking about Pope Francis at Catholic World Report. Someone posted this on Facebook a week or so ago, and I've been hanging on to the link, intending to say something here about it. Well, I'm about to leave town for five days and won't have time to do much in the way of posting till the middle of next week, so I'm just going to post it as a possible topic for conversation. I'm largely in sympathy with the piece. 

I think I share with many a reluctance to think badly of the pope, and to look for the best in what he says, but a simultaneous sense of disquiet about many of the things he's said and done. My personal resolution of this, for the time being, is to take some of what he says in the same loose spirit in which he seems to utter it. Theological precision is not the only virtue a pope should have, and is really relatively low on the list of virtues needed by the average Christian. But it's a pretty important one for the man who is the final (earthly) authority on doctrine.

p.s. My traveling means I won't be able to post the next 52 Authors until, most likely, Wednesday evening of next week.


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Every time I think that nothing else could shock me coming from the Catholic Francis haters, someone comes out with some more toxins.

My, my. Poor Carl Olsen is mighty defensive about what the Holy Father says about Pharisees and the problem of Catholic Fundamentalists. And such an aversion he has for the Pope's compassion for wounded families.

I am not a ‘Francis hater’, and I trust I never will be, but I have sympathy with those who find his leadership confusing and even unsettling on certain matters. That is not to express sympathy with the Carl Olsen piece (which I haven’t read yet), but just to acknowledge that the Holy Father does from time to time say things that leave me scratching my head, perhaps with a slightly furrowed brow. I like Mac’s proposal to take such statements in the same casual manner in which they are apparently given; I’m going to try it.

Olson quotes from Francis's address at the closing of the synod on the family:

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

Dead stones hurled at others -- gosh, that's harsh language, and I truly don't understand who deserves that. Unless I'm hopelessly out of the loop.

Tapping on my phone in the airport, so, briefly: I deny strenuously that I am a PF hater. Nor do I read Olson that way. PF says and does some great things. And there are some haters out there. But there are sober and sympathetic people with valid concerns.

Marianne - I would propose that the quote from Pope Francis is reminiscent of Jesus declaration, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27) Yes, such words can be quite harsh.

The problem is that some people (not, perhaps, Pope Francis) think that ANY insistence on theological precision or doctrinal adherence is ipso facto hurling stones.

Marianne, I know someone whose wife left him for another man. They got a divorce (quite a messy one). He stopped going to church because a couple of parishioners told him it wasn't appropriate for divorcees to go to mass. I hope this doesn't happen often, but I'm sure it won't be the only instance of it happening. I'm not sure hurling dead stones would be an inappropriate metaphor for this. Of course, I don't know if this is the sort of thing the pope meant.

The general understanding is that he was talking about the bishops resisting the German proposal.

I dare say we all know people who have been in terrible marital/divorce situations, or been in one ourselves. But we can't just wave away a perfectly clear scriptural statement and centuries of church teaching. Calling someone who says so a Pharisee etc is a poor response.

What Marianne quoted is from the pope's closing address to the recent synod. What he said would have been appropriate for the situation Paul described. But the people Francis was apparently attacking were the ones defending the words of Jesus.

Thanks, Mac, that's it exactly.

That's a lamentable story, Paul - very sad. I doubt it happens all that often. If anything, most Catholics I encounter seem very unwilling to say anything at all about broken marriages, for fear of causing upset.

And if such situations do happen often, it's a sign that people do not know the Faith at all well.

Well quite. But I have come across surprisingly large numbers of people who seem to think that divorce entails automatic excommunication. And sadly, there are people perfectly happy to speak out to condemn others under cover of what they take the Church to teach. I wonder if the whole point of the synod wasn't to try to find out exactly what people do know and think, and make sure they're clear that the emphasis of the Church is on mercy and love.

I've just read the pope's closing exhortation in full, and while Carl Olson says it has a go at those defending tradition, I'm not at all sure it does. From the newspaper press, you'd think the synod was "Germans vs Africans", but I doubt it actually seemed like that to people in the chamber. What little I did read direct from the synod seemed to bear no relation to that, and nothing I've read in the final relatio suggests otherwise. I don't see any need to read the pope's words as a gambit in the "narrative" that the media came up with.

The one person I know personally who was in Rome at the time was extremely pleased with the way the synod went, and he's much more traditional than I am. I think any reading of the relatio and the exhortation has to be done while closing one's ears to the buzz of spin from the participants with an agenda, those who added further spin in reporting on them, and those who added more spin of their own when commenting on the reports.

Now that I'm back at a keyboard, Louise's 52 Authors piece on Orwell will be posted this evening sometime. Also, I may have a bit more to say on this topic.

Some of us have been struggling through the pre-holiday blahs waiting for Orwell, while you sipped your pina coladas on the beach in the Caribbean, Mac! ;)

Actually I was drinking beer in Santa Cruz, but, well, you know, collateral damage happens.

Santa Cruz? Really?


Slight exaggeration: I didn't actually have a beer in Santa Cruz, but I did go there. I was visiting in San Jose. Santa Cruz is fantastic.

I really need to go back to California.



I wonder if the whole point of the synod wasn't to try to find out exactly what people do know and think, and make sure they're clear that the emphasis of the Church is on mercy and love.

Buy my bridge.

I started writing a comment on this last night which became so long that I decided to make it a post unto itself. Tomorrow, probably.

He stopped going to church because a couple of parishioners told him it wasn't appropriate for divorcees to go to mass.

Here you have three people who were incompletely instructed, among them someone who walks out rather than consulting the priest or canon law sources. Somehow I doubt the remarks of said parishioners are really the cause here.

Christopher Ferrara has been writing for some time about the insidious effects of oecumenism and inter-religious dialogue and how the imperative of these projects truncate other activities. The latest from the Holy See


SSPX looks better every day.

Have you read the relatio, Art? Lancaster diocese put up a provisional English translation that Google will find, but I understand the official translation is out now too.

That Touchstone link doesn't get you to Mere Comments at the moment. They've got it redirected to a donation page and with a minute or so of trying I was unable to find a way around it.

I don't find it in the least surprising that the person Paul describes would take the word of fellow parishioners that he shouldn't go to Mass at all. Sure, none of the three is well-instructed, and he should have inquired further. But that's the reality that pastors have to deal with. In light, loudly proclaiming that divorced (whether or not remarried) people can and should continue to participate in the life of the Church is a good idea.

"In light, loudly proclaiming that divorced (whether or not remarried) people can and should continue to participate in the life of the Church is a good idea."

Yes, although in fact no-one who has left their spouse without their bishop's permission should be receiving communion. I'll have to go look that up in canon law.

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