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52 Movies: Week 25 - Jean de Florette

Perhaps the Holy Spirit sent us Francis... 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.


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Some good things will definitely come out of all this, imo.

Having said that, I think his remarks about invalid marriages are perhaps the worst thing he has said so far about marriage, and are a huge disaster.

I think so. As someone with vastly more theological knowledge than I said, they suggest a lack of belief in grace. In any case they would seem to be discouraging to anyone trying to hang on to a marriage in the face of serious difficulties. I'm just glad they have no special authority.

The Holy Father has made much of the pastoral problem of Catholics in invalid marriages (that is, divorced and remarried); his recent remarks would seem to be making this problem worse.

I confess I've lapsed into the attitude you describe, Mac: I just try to let these remarks roll off my shoulders. It's not the attitude I want to have toward the Pope.

Nor do I. I don't like feeling cynical about the pope.

He is certainly right to be addressing the problem, and to be extending a helping hand to those in very difficult situations (to whom and which I am no stranger btw). But as you say I fear he is making matters worse. The logical inference of what he's saying is that few people are actually capable of contracting a valid marriage i.e. making a permanent commitment. As someone pointed out, why wouldn't this reasoning also apply to ordination?

His "culture of the provisional" is an apt and accurate description. But is this the way to respond?

"why wouldn't this reasoning also apply to ordination?"

There are clear impediments to ordination (for example, being a murderer or apostate).

The minister of ordination is the bishop. The minister of marriage is the couple. For a sacrament to be valid, there has to be no impediments and the minister has to intend what the Church intends by the sacrament.

Certainly a divorce culture makes it harder for people to resist temptation when things get tough *later*, but it doesn't impede our ability to contract a valid marriage to begin with.

The thing is, he doesn't seem to be suggesting that people should persist with their marriages, but should get an easy annulment instead. Or indeed, not even bother with that.

"Note that the Church here does not require agreement with these factors but only that the person not be ignorant of them."

I'm not sure I follow you, Robert. There are specific impediments to marriage, too. And wouldn't absence of intent to be ordained as the Church understands it on the part of the person being ordained make the ordination invalid?

Actually, no. The absence of intent on the part of the recipient would only impair the reception of the graces of the sacrament. Otherwise all infant baptisms would be invalid.

Yes, but my question is: would a person who received ordination under completely false pretenses actually be a priest?

I just found a 2014 interview with Cardinal Kaspar at Commonweal that had this exchange:

CWL: In your address to the consistory, you ask whether we can, “in the present situation, presuppose without further ado that the engaged couple shares the belief in the mystery that is signified by the sacrament and that they really understand and affirm the canonical conditions for the validity of the marriage.” You ask whether the presumption of validity from which canon law proceeds is often “a legal fiction.” But can the church afford not to make this presumption? How could the church continue to marry couples in good faith if it assumed that many of them were not really capable of entering into sacramental marriage because they were, as you put it somewhere else in your speech, “baptized pagans”?

Kasper: That’s a real problem. I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid. Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament presupposes faith. And if the couple only want a bourgeois ceremony in a church because it’s more beautiful, more romantic, than a civil ceremony, you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage—that is, unity, exclusivity, and also indissolubility.

His current remarks may be off-the-cuff but, if Kaspar is correct, he truly believes them. Which makes it kind of hard to treat "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".

Well, I didn't necessarily mean that he didn't really believe what he was saying, but that we don't have to take it too seriously. I mean, it's serious that he thinks it, but we don't have to say "Oh no, this is What The Church Teaches Now." I just hope he doesn't put some of this stuff into an authoritative document.

So Robert, is this article saying that if a person has the intent to use artificial birth control for a time, but not to reject having children all together, that is not an impediment?


Shoot. I should have read further. I see it's right there.


They clearly aren't "definitive" statements. I'm surprised anybody would feel the need to say so. Not every word that fell from the lips of JP2 or Benedict was either, however more philosophically or theologically grounded they might have been.

But at the same time, the Pope does have something of a point. Large numbers of people are getting married with a defective understanding of what marriage is, and the Church has to do more to stop that from happening. It's folly to close our eyes to that fact. And to take it as a reason to give up, rather than to dig deeper, is just to be looking for excuses.

That's a helpful article, Robert. It's very hard to get all the ins and outs of marriage law straight.


All true, but not exactly what I was trying to say. What happened with JP and Benedict was in part that people (some people) were so taken with what they were saying, their general appeal, and so forth, that they tended to attach this excess weight of authority to everything they said. Every little nuance was parsed (and used as a weapon where possible). It wasn't just or maybe even principally the orthodox Catholics who loved them doing this, it was maybe more the media, who don't understand the teaching office and treat the popes as politicians, for whom any utterance is about as significant as any other, and may indicate policy changes by shifts in emphasis.

Yes, he most definitely has a point, a very important one. No argument with that at all. The debate is about whether it's accurate or wise to say that most marriages are invalid.

As to "most" (or "majority", or whatever the exact word was), I would disagree with what the pope said, and was glad to see the "official" version of his remarks rectify that. And the presumption in any individual case has to be that the marriage is valid.

I agree with you completely that people inclined to parse every word a pope says without reflecting on the status of the utterance itself (conversation, opinion, exhortation, encyclical, etc.) will benefit enormously from being encouraged to stop doing that. I don't think there's anything cynical in that; it's perfectly healthy.

The cynicism I'm referring to is unfortunately in my attitude. It's not patient, it's dismissive. That's not good.

Steve Skojec compared Francis to a kamikaze. He'll do to papal teaching authority what the novus ordo did to the popular sense of what counts as a proper liturgy.

No clue how long it will take the Church to recover. Between the pornocracy and the reforming popes of the high middle ages lay 250 years.

There is so much hand-wringing because so few people will do this.

That article has a lot of good points, but while I was reading it, I felt like I had a rubber ball bouncing around inside my head. It seems to lack coherence--maybe a translation problem?

Anyway, I applaud the paragraph that begins, "Even if the Holy Father...." However we may disagree with him--and I think we can legitimately disagree--he is still the visible head of the Church on earth and his position commands respect. He is our spiritual Father, and as such, we are commanded by the 4th commandment to honor him.

I'm not sure I can buy that the Church is not infinitely resilient. That seems to contradict the words of Our Lord.


The Church is resilient alright, but it is possible for nearly all Catholics to apostasise (whether validly married, or not) and I think the reality is that this Pope is enabling that, regardless of the status of his statements, mostly because they are so great in number.

Also, imo, the proper way to correct a statement is to publicly correct it, not fiddle with the transcript.

I agree with Art Deco that it may take a long time for the Church to recover.

Maclin, do I own you an article for this week?

No, I have something for this week, but if you want to write something for next week I'll be happy to have it.

What specifically is the "this" you're referring to, Robert?

I am very reluctantly and unhappily tending more toward Art and Louise's view of this papacy. In fact it's making me wonder if my long-held view that much of Vatican II was not in its essence a mistake, but a good thing misused, was over-optimistic. At any rate the current situation seems tragic, because I really thought with JP and B that we were finally putting all that division behind us.

Well, I hope "tragic" is overstating it.

I think your reference to the 4th commandment is part of what I was deploring in my own attitude, Janet.

But I admit I found this extremely funny.

I know. And it made me sad.


Because if it's true that he is really damaging the Church, it's in no way funny.


The other day I was reading a letter written just over a hundred years ago lamenting that the public declarations of the pope of the time had caused more harm to the Church and more scandal to souls than the Borgias. That would have been Pius X.

Who wrote the letter?!?

I posted this comment before, and it said it was posted, but seems to have disappeared.

I have often thought, and was thinking while I was working on Louise's post, that this must be so. Many people at that time must have thought that his lowering the age for the reception of Communion and encouraging frequent reception was a very bad thing. I was wondering where I could find of evidence of this, and lo and behold . .


Ok, Maclin, I'll do one for next week.

Ok, thanks.

I guess the reforms relating to communion would have had that effect on some people. In one of his letters Tolkien talks about the wisdom of it. I mean, praises its wisdom, not questions it.

I wasn't reading the original letter, but came across a passage quoted in the footnotes of a book I happened to be browsing. If I find it again I'll post the details.

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