52 Authors: Week 50 - George Orwell
52 Authors: Week 51 - David Hume

Aversion to theological precision, cont.

I started writing this as a comment on the post about the above allegation about Pope Francis. It kept getting longer so I decided to turn it into a separate post. 

 I'm not expressing venom or hatred toward the Pope. I state that without qualification, regardless of whether it may appear that way, because I know that's not what I feel. Nor is Carl Olson, who made the "aversion to precision" remark in the page to which I linked, a hater: see this account of his efforts to talk to a CNN reporter about the pope, to whom he is obviously sympathetic. ("No, I'm certain he's not a socialist. His criticisms of capitalism and liberal economics, again, are very much in keeping with what can be found in Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Leo XIII".)

My conclusion that a certain amount of what Francis says can be treated lightly is more a defense of him than an attack on him. I would much prefer to think that he is sometimes a loose and imprecise talker than that he is deliberately trying to suggest that he objects to certain important Catholic doctrines and practices.

I'm not a Vatican watcher and did not follow the Synod in detail, or have any desire to do so. However, there seems to be pretty wide agreement that a struggle took place between those who want to remove the prohibition against communion by divorced and remarried people and those who do not, and that the latter won. And partisans of both sides seem to think Francis wanted communion after divorce and remarriage to be allowed.

Well, the appeal of that is obvious and great. I dare say there is no one reading this who has not either been married and divorced or been close to someone who has, and does not feel and acknowledge the pain involved, and wish to alleviate it. But the logical implications of the change also seem pretty obvious and great to me. It would raise huge questions that go to the heart of the Church's nature and mission.

So the general view--and I'm only repeating what actual Vatican watchers on both sides have been saying--is that Pope Francis lost a battle. See this in the National Catholic Reporter for a view from the "progressive" side: "...if Pope Francis didn’t at least get communion for divorced and remarried Catholics the Synod could not be considered a success." In that context, several very negative remarks in his closing address seem like digs aimed at his opposition. The address is fine otherwise, but "dead stones to be hurled at others," to pick the strongest example, is quite nasty if its object is those who resisted a very questionable change in the Church's practice. Could he not even credit them with a sincere desire to do God's will in a difficult matter? Wasn't he talking warmly about collegiality a little while ago? (Anyone who has experienced institutional attempts by the powerful to manipulate the rank-and-file into a bogus appearance of consensus may suspect that they're seeing something similar here.)

Which would indicate a lower opinion of the pope: to believe that he very thoughtfully and carefully said exactly what he believes about those who resisted him--that they are contemptible--or to believe that he is prone to extravagant and imprudent speech which doesn't necessarily represent his more fully considered thoughts? I know there are some cranky people out there who have gone a bit nuts about Francis. The worst are the American political conservatives (not necessarily Catholic) who want to write him off because his political views don't suit them. But there are also a lot of people like me who want to think the best of the pope but have been troubled almost from the beginning by a persistent uneasiness about him. I don't like it, but it's there.

Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. But that makes me think of another common feature of modern institutions: the meeting (often called a "listening session"!) where everyone is admonished to speak freely, but where everyone also knows what the powers want to hear, and that to say otherwise would be a mistake. 


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I think that's about right. I say about because I just don't really know myself, and I didn't pay any attention at all to the synod--in great part because I didn't think I could get much accurate information anywhere I looked. I do think that Pope Francis is much more prone to say things off the top of his head than any recent pope. It seems to me that his predecessors were much more measured in their responses to questions and much more prepared ahead of time for what they might say in any given situation.

During the synod, I went to a talk by Fr. Romanus Cessario, the senior editor of Magnificat. It was a talk on the Sacraments, but afterward there was a Q&A session and a friend of mine said, "Some of us are a bit worried about the synod and we were wondering your opinion of what is going on," and he answered that synods do not have a very good record in the history of the Church and that there was nothing they were going to do that couldn't be undone. Well, it may be silly, but at that point I just felt like a weight dropped off my shoulders, and I wasn't the only one. I'm not even sure if I knew that weight was there. I mean, I trust--I really, really trust the Lord to take care of His Church. I don't think that He will necessarily do it in a way that I like or understand, but I trust that He knows what's going on. It is puzzling to me sometimes though.


It's hard for us living through a time where discipline within the Church is low - I mean by that that there has been a Lot of internal division and strife within it - for the whole of my lifetime and a little more. A historical perspective certainly helps and that's probably why you felt the weight dropped off your shoulders, Janet. At least, I had a similar feeling when I looked at the historical perspective.

I've given up on Francis and try to avert my eyes from whatever is his latest travesty. I figure we have 8 or 9 years more of him.

The worst are the American political conservatives (not necessarily Catholic) who want to write him off because his political views don't suit them.

The Pope has a fondness for anything hackneyed. They'd respect him more if there was any there there.

I pretty much agree, Art.

"But there are also a lot of people like me who want to think the best of the pope but have been troubled almost from the beginning by a persistent uneasiness about him. I don't like it, but it's there."

Yes, that's how I've been for the most part.

"Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. But that makes me think of another common feature of modern institutions: the meeting (often called a "listening session"!) where everyone is admonished to speak freely, but where everyone also knows what the powers want to hear, and that to say otherwise would be a mistake."

"Listening session" - positively Orwellian! I really have said very little about this Pope and will probably continue to say little.

I think it's a serious mistake to simply write off Francis, to say nothing of going into the full-blown denunciations that I hear sometimes. We're a long way from true bad pope territory. There is so much good in so much of what he says and does.

Whether or not the more appealing to non-Catholics public image that he puts out actually makes anyone think better of the Church, or simply makes them think that it's going the way of Anglicanism, i.e. in their eyes the right way (*finally!*), I don't really have any idea.

"Ask Jesus what he wants of you and be brave."

--Pope Francis

(if something I saw on Facebook is to be believed)

We're a long way from true bad pope territory.

Nope. You're smack in the middle of it.

The extent of financial and sexual corruption in the Pope's camarilla is an unknown and that skein likely will not be untangled for many years. That would not be a novelty.

What is a novelty is active efforts to ruin the Church's teachings on holy matrimony (especially through amendments to the annulment process), the elevation of known heretics (Cdl. Kaspar), the demotion of orthodox prelates (Cdl. Burke), the abuse of traditional orders (the Franciscan Friars), &c.

Nope. Small potatoes, historically speaking.

I agree with Mac that the fact that both 'liberals' and 'conservatives' interpreted the dynamics of the Synod in the same way -- as being basically friendly to Kasper et al. and unfriendly to those who hurl dead stones (that is, those who defend the words of Jesus) -- suggests that there is more to it than conservative paranoia.

Personally, I am fairly convinced that Francis is going to do something during this 'Year of Mercy' about the communion/re-marriage issue, and that the thing he does is going to be somewhere between regrettable and disastrous. I'm beginning to steel myself for it. I hope I'm wrong, but there have been too many hints in that direction for me to be at ease.

It's a serious question, I think: if Pope Francis (or any other Pope) were to announce tomorrow that those who have remarried without an annulment could be admitted to Communion, how great a crisis would this be? Would it be justified on the grounds that those second marriages are valid and not adulterous (with the implication that either the original marriage was dissoluble or could be presumed to be annulled even without a judicial inquiry and ruling), or that being in an adulterous relationship is not a mortal sin, or that being in a state of mortal sin is not an obstacle to receiving Communion?

Those seem to me to the options, and none is very convincing. Consequently, I fear such a declaration would precipitate at least a fairly serious crisis of papal authority, to say nothing of driving a powerful wedge into the faultlines of the faithful.

Again, I hope I'm wrong. I was in Rome earlier this year and went out of my way to see Pope Francis a few times. I like him; I feel good will toward him; but I am a little afraid of him too.

That's an excellent summary of the situation. My feeling--that's all it is--is that Francis will not take the action you describe. But if he does, we'll have a mess that will take a while to sort out ("a while" being a generation or two).

That faultline you mention is the thing I most regret about Francis's papacy so far. I really thought we had put that Vatican II orthodox-vs-progressive battle mostly behind us, and could move forward and outward in a much more united way. Francis is right on when he talks about the forward and outward, but we're in many ways back to the old divisions.

Btw, regarding Janet's comment further back about the weight lifted from her shoulders--I had a similar moment in a similar conversation a few weeks ago.

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