...to show us that we don't have to take seriously everything a pope says.
I said that to my wife earlier and she laughed, but I'm only half-joking, at most. The remark was prompted by the latest round of confusion (to say the least) created by some of his off-the-cuff remarks. (Basic story here, a couple of commentaries here and here.) I'm beginning to shrug these things off: Oh, there he goes again, never mind.
That's not really the attitude I'd like to have. But this sort of thing is a pattern with Francis, and you can either spend a lot of time and anxiety trying to get it straight and fit it in with the Church's established teachings, or just...shrug it off.
And really, when it comes to the everyday chatter of a publicly loquacious pope, is there anything wrong with that? We were blessed over most of the past thirty years with two popes who combined depth of intelligence and insight with skill and care in expressing themselves. John Paul II especially was such a giant, and reigned for so long, and was so beloved by those of us who felt some kind of course correction was in order after the mistakes following Vatican II, that we tended to become papal maximalists. We were glad to see the pope exercising his authority in defense of the Church's teaching, of course, which is as it should be. But we--and really the whole world--tended to view the pope's every utterance as definitive and moreover to expect a steady stream of detailed and authoritative commentary on everything from him. This is really not the way the papacy has worked historically. It's only been made possible by modern communications. And it's not a burden that we can expect every pope to handle well.
Roughly twenty years ago, after the Catechism had been published, John Paul began making some fairly strong statements against capital punishment. I didn't (and don't) have a very strong opinion on that subject. But I had a conversation with a friend who was very opposed to it that troubled me--not because I was opposed to the pope's judgment that capital punishment should be used only rarely if at all, but because of something my friend said. He quoted then-Cardinal Ratzinger as saying that the Catechism might need to be revised to reflect what John Paul was teaching.
I found this shocking. It seemed to me that it was much too close to what many outside the Church believe--erroneously, I thought--to be the way the papacy works: that the pope has the authority to revise old doctrines or make up new ones as he pleases, or perhaps as the Spirit moves him.
That is in fact wrong, of course. Francis's habit of speaking spontaneously and sometimes carelessly, then having to clarify or correct what he said, is a good reminder that the authority of the papacy and the protection of the Holy Spirit don't necessarily extend to casual conversations of a specific pope.
This reminds me: a month or so ago I posted a complaint about some remarks made by Francis on the relationships among Christianity, Europe, and Islam. I modified the complaint after reading the full interview from which the remarks were taken, but still had some significant reservations. Here is a piece by Carl Olsen in Catholic World Report which articulates some of the same reservations I had. Reviewing this, I'm more convinced that we ought to start treating these more or less impromptu remarks by Francis as just that, as if they were part of a rambling and often speculative conversation with a friend, not fully-considered and definitive statements.