Untying the Pope Francis “knot”. Some analysis.

“Looking at a short, partially improvised homily as if its words were the equivalent of an encyclical of Paul VI is simply ridiculous, and is an offense against the pope’s own intentions.”

This is a quote from this good piece at Crisis by my friend of many years Msgr. Hans Feichtinger, who was until recently a long-time official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Read and decide for yourselves (with my usual emphases and comments):

Demystifying the Pope Francis Enigma

Every modern pope has had his own style. Paul VI was personally like a global student chaplain, intellectually sensitive and pained by the fact that so many were falling away from the Church. John Paul II was the international pastor, constantly on the move, proclaiming the truths of the faith and exhorting us to heroic virtues. Benedict XVI was the universal professor, who carefully thought about the most pressing intellectual issues facing the world today. Pope Francis? In true Jesuit fashion, he may be best characterized as the world’s spiritual director.

Consider the talk Francis gave to the cardinals and the staff of his curia with the long list of spiritual maladies that he wants them to address (December 22, 2014). [He basically beat the tar out of them.] Or look at some buzz lines from recent homilies at Santa Marta: the Church is a mother, not an entrepreneur; rigidity is the sign of a weak heart; theology is done on your knees; keep the temple clean—and do not scandalize the faithful by posting liturgical price lists; do not be afraid of surprises and of conversion. Think about how the pope repeatedly has likened modern forms of Christianity to ancient heresies. [Who can forget the unbeatable “self-referential Promethean Neo-Pelagian” line?] His homilies are like wake-up calls, at times hyperbolic, [at time?  often!] often provocative, reminders about the basic message of the gospel. Not to mention the pope’s unprotected speech in interviews, both in the air and on the ground. This is how the pope preaches his theology and spirituality.

Many of Francis’ pronouncements do not have the binding authority of obligatory teaching; i.e., they are not “magisterium” in the proper sense of the term—people are free to listen and pay attention or not, free to let themselves be challenged, motivated, or convinced. The Holy Father’s language touches the hearts of many, perhaps more than their minds—and presumably this is precisely the pope’s intention. He does not offer refined analysis, carefully weighing all aspects in order to arrive at affirmations that are beyond criticism. What he wants to do is surprise, challenge, provoke, or reassure, console, and support. [This is so.  Alas, what happens when he says things like “Who am I to judge?” is that swaths of people, mislead by the MSM and catholic sources, get the notion that Francis thinks homosexual acts are are not to be judged as intrinsically evil.]

To appreciate the words of Pope Francis, it helps to remember the essential distinction between doctrine and theology. No theology can claim for itself the authority of the magisterium. Conversely, the magisterium cannot act as a substitute for theology. The distinction between doctrine and theology, however, is not clear to many who represent the pope’s pronouncements to the public. This is a problem, whether we and the pope like it or not, mostly because we are not used to making this distinction when reading papal pronouncements. [Good point.]

John Paul II and Benedict XVI worked hard composing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now Francis tells us: the Catechism is not enough. This is certainly true, but people make it sound as if he intends to abolish the Catechism altogether. All Christians, and the Church as a whole, are called to proclaim the faith truthfully and to live it authentically. We all know that there is never a perfect harmony between the precepts of the faith and how the Church and its members act; the solution to this problem is not to formulate a compromise [did you see that “not”?] —repentance and true reform has the aim of bringing our practice closer to the demands of the faith. This is where Francis puts his focus.

All popes need to be allowed the space to exercise their ministry as they see fit. But even more importantly, Catholics need to appreciate the enduring and radical difference between Christ and his deputy: The pope is here in order to ensure that no one and nothing else takes the place of Christ until the Lord himself returns. The pope, more than anyone else, is bound by the example of Christ, and needs to rely on his special assistance (what we call “grace of state”); he is the first of “all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith” (Missal, Roman Canon).

At the same time, [… this is where things get tricky…] the pope represents the Church before the world and before God. Pope Francis does not seem inclined to cover up disagreements within the Church. In many respects, he wants to be more in the Church than over it. When Pope Benedict declared his resignation, he did so acknowledging that he no longer had the strength to be pope. [Quaeritur…] Did he have to step down because we failed to help him carry the heavy burden of the Petrine ministry? And are we now ready to step up and support Pope Francis in the way and to the degree he needs it? We need a pope in order to be Catholic. But conversely, he needs us. An Italian journalist once put it very succinctly: “Dobbiamo amare il Papa—we must love the Pope.” According to the Bible, this love must be “without dissimulation,” literally “unhypocritical” (see the Greek of Rom 12:9). It is this spiritual authenticity that Francis wants us to acquire.

Pope Francis has made his choice about how he would like to exercise his office. Catholics respect his choice by taking his pronouncements and gestures for what they are, which includes not treating them as expressions of the primacy of teaching when they are not. Francis does not want to—and in fact he cannot—challenge the teaching authority of his predecessors; rather, he wants to help us “consider how to provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). [NB:]Looking at a short, partially improvised homily as if its words were the equivalent of an encyclical of Paul VI is simply ridiculous, and is an offense against the pope’s own intentions. The pope is part of the living tradition of the Church, which is a tradition in the making. The Supreme Pontiff is affected by our inconsistencies, confusions, errors and doctrinal defects, in a double sense: his ministry cannot overlook these issues, and he is himself touched by them. To believe that all popes must be perfect and saints, theologically, is donatism, [Donatism] and historically, madness.

So what does it mean to look at Pope Francis SJ as the universal spiritual director? First of all, it does not mean doubting whether he really is the pope. [Some, amazingly, do.  And they have played games of intellectual Twister.] Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Benedict XVI who can help us find an answer. Already as cardinal, and even more explicitly as pope, he underlined the difference between Church doctrine and his own theology and exegesis: “Everyone is free to contradict me.”[cf his comments about his books Jesus of Nazareth.] Compared to a theological teacher and his student, a spiritual director generally has even more authority over the individual who entrusts himself to his care; at the same time, it remains even more up to the directee what to do with his director’s advice or whether indeed to seek it in the first place. In many cases, this is how Pope Francis seems to understand his own approach. Whether this is the best way of “being pope” remains to be seen, but it is certainly not without its merits. In any case, it comes with a price and has limitations. Indeed, we can be sure the pope himself is aware of these limitations, and we can trust that as a good spiritual director he also lets himself be challenged by others, resisting his own tendency to moralize and spiritualize issues that are in fact doctrinal. [Time will tell.]

Saint Paul reports the famous episode when he had to point out to Saint Peter how some of Peter’s practices were incoherent (Gal 2:11-21)—not that Paul would not have suffered from similar inconsistencies (Acts 16:3). The way Pope Francis acts seems to invite a similar kind of criticism, at least from people who can offer it sincerely and seriously. He is an approachable pope, thus Catholics need to drop the fear of approaching him, even if they approach with something other than praise for his actions. He speaks in his own way to the faithful, very different from his predecessors. Thus, lay Catholics, bishops and clergy will need to change how they relate to his words and gestures and distinguish more accurately with what kind of authority he acts and speaks. If Francis does not want to be as august as some of his predecessors, we should stop trying to force him.  [I sure hope to see a shift in his liturgical style and also in decorum in matters of audiences, etc.  But, who am I to judge?]

As we learn from Benedict XVI, we are often free to contradict the pope, because there is no such thing as an obligatory theology or spirituality, even if it is the pope’s theology or spirituality. We even may not be impressed by his personal style, preferring to wait and see whether his disarmament of papal ceremonies is the best way. Or in Francis’ language: Do not “divinize your leaders!” What is binding on the conscience of all Catholics, clergy and popes included, is the faith, its doctrine and tradition. Authenticity and truth are not the same thing, but certainly they are related, and the Church needs both in order to be truthful and credible: “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Cor 4:1-2). This pope is different, and therefore papists can and need to be different, too.

Okay… that’s a view.

Does this explain what Pope Francis has been doing?

Think before attempting to post comments.

Moderation queue is on.  I may let some comments stack up so that you are at first reacting to the piece rather than to each other.  Also, do go over to Crisis and see what they are discussing.


Some good and various comments are stacking up in the queue.  It is helpful to see people react to what is posted rather than immediately zoom down rabbit holes and jump on each other!

Again, think before posting!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. thomas tucker says:

    What a great article!

  2. MGL says:

    Points well taken, to be sure, but I note that the author doors not attempt to explain why the Holy Father consented to allow settled, unambiguous teaching on matrimony, same-sex relations, etc. to be reopened in such a way as to imply that the teaching itself was subject to change. I’m hearing this taking point a lot right now: “The pope just wants to have an open, wide-ranging discussion.” Sure, but in view of the fact that some aspects of these topics are simply not open, what is gained by allowing high-ranking clerics to pretend that they are?

  3. Bosco says:

    Perhaps if Msgr. Hans Feichtinger would reduce his apologetics to book form and post it to the numerous Cardinals, Bishops, and priests who seem to have misunderstood Francis’ intentions and orthodoxy the postman might deliver the Monsignor’s explanation to the appropriate mailboxes and all will be well amongst the hierarchy.

  4. Gratias says:

    A difficulty with the Pope Francis SJ style is that He does not define the enemies he is preaching about. He also does not follow Church protocol. The world loves this, but it is a difficulty for the faithful that keep the machinery of the Church running.

  5. Gail F says:

    I am inclined toward this view, though nowhere near as knowledgeable as the author. My impression of Pope Francis is that his primary concern is to jolt people out of complacency and toward living their whole lives for Christ, mission, and charity rather than keeping faith in a Sunday box. He is rather like St. Francis in this, and like him not too concerned with details. I have heard my share of “Who am I to judge?” quotes, most from people who ought to know perfectly well what he meant. Some people are quick to try to make what he says into what they want to be true, and I wish he were more wary of that, but those people are going to do what they want to do regardless of what Pope Francis says.

  6. ThankyouB16 says:

    I find this very helpful.
    Thank you for posting.

  7. chantgirl says:

    To be blunt, if the Holy Father is the Spiritual Director for the Church, I honestly don’t understand his direction. Perhaps I have a difficult time understanding him because spiritual direction is tailored toward individuals. In any large group of people, many types of personalities with their own strengths and weaknesses will be present. Even within a religious order, whose members are all dedicated to a particular charism, a wide variety of personalities will exist. Is that why the Holy Father’s words seem to constantly attack nebulous targets? I admit that half of the time I don’t know whom the Holy Father is admonishing, except for some pretty clear instances when he seems to be criticizing traditional Catholics, applying stereotypes that honestly seem out of touch with reality.

    I want to love the Holy Father. This is the first Pope of my lifetime that I have struggled to love and understand. He seems like he would be a lovely man to have lunch with, but as a spiritual director he leaves me confused. Most of the faithful Catholics I know (EF and NO) are just as confused and disheartened as I am under his direction. Perhaps the prayers of faithful Catholics for this Pontiff will have all the more merit before God because of this reason. I admit, I need to pray for him more than I do, and in hindsight, I probably didn’t pray enough for Pope Benedict either.

  8. “I sure hope to see a shift in his liturgical style”

    Perhaps hope springs eternal, but is there good reason to expect it? [Not much.]

  9. Jacob says:

    The Holy Father has his style. Okay. But apologists for that style can’t just blame everyone else for the Holy Father not taking into account the time and place in which he lives. He speaks and millions hear his words as amplified, interpreted, chopped up into soundbites, sometimes twisted, by the various media organs. That’s his reality. It’s on the Holy Father to deal with it rather than expecting everyone else to tease out from what filters through the media his real meaning.

  10. fionam says:

    I’m sorry to say that I simply cannot become accustomed to Pope Francis or his style, no matter which way you spin it. As many of the people commenting over at Crisis have said, his preaching completely lacks any sort of substance or depth. To me, it is almost as if he is throwing out a number of Catholic ‘party slogans’ that he knows will work. And then there is the constant excuse that he is an Argentinian male and, hey, that’s just the way they behave, so get used to it. I disagree.

    Our parish priest is an Argentinian and he behaves in a very similar way to the Holy Father at times, coming out inappropriate comments, foot-in-the-mouth syndrome etc. BUT, and here is the fundamental and, for me, very telling difference – he NEVER steps away from true, solid Catholic doctrine. The things that he is impossible about, in his very Argentinian way, have nothing to do with the liturgy or doctrine. You will certainly never hear him say things like “Who am I to judge?” with regard to fundamental Catholic teaching. In fact, he will tell it exactly like it is. No holds barred. He will not knowingly dispense Communion to parishioners whom he knows to be divorced or living together and has no qualms whatsoever about directing them away should they go up for Communion. So the argument that it’s just the Holy Father’s ‘Argentinian’ style that one has to get used to, just doesn’t wash with me.

    For me, currently, there is no untying of the Pope Francis knot. Perhaps now, more than ever and rather ironically, we should say not a few prayers to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

  11. anilwang says:

    No. It doesn’t untie the Pope Francis knot. If Pope Francis is a Universal Spiritual Director, he’s a pretty poor one since he constantly denigrates the internal spiritual life. If you’re not active in the outside world or not actively bringing the outside world into the liturgy, you’re fundamentally defective in his eyes. It’s the source of his rants against TLM.

    A good spiritual director understands that not everyone has the same spiritual temperament or even circumstances. Some are cloistered and dedicate their lives to prayer and liturgy. Some who are bed bound have no choice but to dedicate there lives to prayer. He might not be able to understand the interior life (not everyone can), but he is harming the Church by disavowing it.

    I think there’s a simpler explanation for Pope Francis. He’s in a part of the world where Evangelicals are stealing sheep from the Catholic Church. Evangelicals have a simple message (dangerously simple) and tend not get bogged down on doctrine or worship styles. A typical Evangelical can be Evangelical Lutheran one day, Evangelical Baptist the next, Evangelical Pentecostal the next, Evangelical Anglican the next, and Evangelical non-denominational the next without changing his beliefs or being challenged to since fundamental doctrines that divide Christians are downplayed and in many cases actively scorned.

    I see *a lot* of the Evangelical spirit in Pope Francis. Unfortunately Evangelicalism is fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism. It’s “Mere Christianity” to the extreme. Catholicism in contrast is “Total Christianity” as Christ commanded us (Matthew 28:20). Any attempt to make Catholicism into Evangelicalism would fundamentally destroy the Church. We can learn from them (or more accurately be reminded about a part of Catholic Tradition that has fallen by the way side), but ultimately it needs to be reintegrated into the Catholic faith without abandoning any of the deposit of faith.

  12. Mike says:

    “No theology can claim for itself the authority of the magisterium.”

    Right, except: Trent’s teaching on the Eucharist is heavily dependent on Aquinas. That doesn’t mean Thomas’ works are magisterial, but some of his theology has been incorporated into the magisterium, and therefore has become magisterial.

    As well, the description of the moral act in Veritatis Splendor also borrows a lot from Thomas.

  13. jhayes says:

    While at the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger made the same point about not reading more into papal statements than was originally intended:

    The text [of the document Instruction on the Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation] also presents the various types of bonds that rise from the different degrees of magisterial teaching. It affirms – perhaps for the first time with this clarity – that there are decisions of the magisterium that cannot be the last word on the matter as such, but are, in a substantial fixation of the problem, above all an expression of pastoral prudence, a kind of provisorial disposition. The nucleus remains valid, but the particulars, which the circumstances of the times influenced, may need further correction.

    In this regard, one may think of the declarations of Popes in the last century [19th century] about religious liberty, as well as the anti-Modernist decisions at the beginning of this century, above all, the decisions of the Biblical Commission of the time [on evolutionism]. As a cry of alarm in the face of hasty and superficial adaptations, they will remain fully justified. A personage such as Johann Baptist Metz said, for example, that the Church’s anti-Modernist decisions render the great service of preserving her from falling into the liberal-bourgeois world. But in the details of the determinations they contain, they became obsolete after having fulfiled their pastoral mission at their proper time.

    (Joseph Ratzinger, “Instruction on the Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation,” published with the title “Rinnovato dialogo fra Magistero e Teologia,” in L’Osservatore Romano, June 27, 1990, p. 6) .

    After becoming Benedict XVI, he made essentially the same point in his 2005 Christmas Address to the Curia

  14. Sonshine135 says:

    Perhaps as a companion to “Who am I to judge?” should be the question “Who am I to know?” I sure don’t know enough about the Pope to see into his soul the way many other writers do. I think Popes, like politicians, have certain things they are good at and other things they aren’t. This is a social justice Pope, not a liturgical one. He is more concerned about the Prodigal Son than the Sons who stay behind. His perception of the world is formed by his experiences in Buenos Aries. Since he is platitudinous when he speaks, he remains an enigma. It is difficult to say where he lands. He goes more off of intuition than doctrine. In fact, I am not sure how concerned about doctrine he is at all. I don’t particularly like that, but I know many Catholics who love him for being that way. If this is not the message he wants to convey, then it is up to him to change that view and that message. That is all I rightly know about this Pope. We can continue to speculate, to generalize, and to categorize, but it still leads back to these points. In the meantime, it makes my job as a Catholic harder, but then again, maybe that’s what the Holy Ghost wants.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I got a chance to see the transcript of the big long Pope interview in Spanish from Vatican Radio. The Pope describes the Pope Emeritus as “loyal until death.” So obviously that means a lot to him.

    The interviewer asked the Pope if he’s going to bite his tongue a little.

    “I’m going to keep on doing the same thing. And I will talk like I talk, like a parish priest — how do I like to talk? I don’t know. I have always talked this way. Always. Is it a defect in a way? I don’t know. But I believe the people understand me.”

  16. Kathleen10 says:

    He was bound to disappoint those who were generally happy with the popes of the recent past.
    He was bound to make happy those who were generally disappointed with the popes of the recent past.
    Stylistic differences should be expected. When we are talking about the current papacy I do not think we are talking about stylistic differences. Style was not the reason Cardinal Burke was removed and given to Malta, nor how it was done, which appeared harsh.
    Then there is a real concern about the last Synod and what that may portend for the upcoming Synod. These seem like valid concerns, and we won’t know until we know. When people are seriously worried to this level it adds a burden to their lives, and there clearly are people who are worried and upset about what has been said and done, and are very worried about what may come down the pike. That seems unnecessary. To many it could be the church right now seems less like a mother and more like the stepmother who may not like you very much. Clearly to some that is very, very painful.
    People can always be disappointed about the church refusing to conform to the culture as they wish, but to discomfort people because they are conformed to the faith can only be bad.

  17. asperges says:

    A very good article which succinctly highlights the facets of this papacy which many of us feel very hard to swallow: a seeming reluctance to recognise the gravitas of being the Vicar of Christ, his style, the confusion he sows in the wake of so much of what he says and the way he says it: his apparent contempt for tradition, especially liturgy. There is a crisis of trust of confidence in him. What will he do next, we ask.

    Yet this attitude, which I certainly accuse myself of, causes great pain and anguish. Of course we want to love the Vicar of Christ and somehow we must go beyond personal bias and trust more that the Holy Ghost will keep a guiding hand in what is happening in His Church.

    Perhaps we are just too much part of the chattering classes, aided and abetted by social media. God bless and keep him therefore and give us the humility and patience we lack.

  18. jm says:

    He talks in circles. Much like Francis.

  19. Janol says:

    “Looking at a short, partially improvised homily as if its words were the equivalent of an encyclical of Paul VI is simply ridiculous, and is an offense against the pope’s own intentions.”

    I confine myself here to expressing my response to the Holy Father’s homilies, which by the way, I did not expect to be as polished as an encyclical – which, yes, would be ridiculous. I think the Monsignor exaggerates and misrepresents the consternation many of us feel in reading the Holy Father’s homilies.

    Almost every day for the first six months of his reign, I read his homilies on the Vatican Radio website. Almost every day I was left in dismay. Each day I was hoping to read something which might in some way nourish my faith, or provoke thought, or touch my heart, or uplift my soul. Instead, I was confused and usually put off.

    I expect anyone delivering any address (or homily) to the public (whether a small group or ‘the world’), to have something substantial to say and to prepare his address beforehand, attempting to present his thoughts/points as cogently and coherently as possible. I expect clear thinking and also a presentation that respects the persons and intelligence of the hearers.

    If I hear an address that shows faulty thinking – that contains false dichotomies, stereotyping and other logical fallacies, I cease listening. If I hear an address that seems to exhibit an animus to certain persons, using pejorative names for them, I am turned off.

    Unfortunately, I find most of what the Holy Father says to lack cogency and coherence and I find that he often seems to demean those engaged in the more intellectual vocations, as well as those more ‘traditionally’ minded. He seems to be limited in his appreciation of the richness of the variety of vocations, temperaments, and talents in the Church. I found most of the homilies I read during those six months disheartening. I stopped reading them.

  20. lana says:

    Interesting. And as Father Faber wrote in his treatise on self-deceit, something to the effect that whenever our feelings are wounded, if you dig deep enough, the cause is self-love.

  21. Deacon Augustine says:

    Its nice to see that Mgr Feichtinger finds it so easy to make distinctions between the Pope’s magisterium and his “doing theology” at Santa Marta.

    I am not altogether convinced that the Pope sees those same distinctions: “Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out, it´s very clear. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear”. (Interview with La Nacion 7th December 2014)

    His latest outburst at Santa Marta, in which he castigates 2,000 years of Church discipline with regards to the reception of Holy Communion, may or may not be part of his magisterium, but it certainly provides evidence of what he thinks. And it is very concerning that somebody who thinks in such a blasphemous way is the supreme legislator of the Catholic Church.

  22. pfreddys says:

    I read as many articles as I can defending the current Pope: Francis. As he is the Pope I really want to try to get behind his programs, and try to see how the path he is leading us on will not bring upon Holy Mother Church even more disaster, even more fragmentation, the loss of even more souls to eternal damnation. Instead, what I encounter is the most extreme mental gymnastics and reality bending engaged in by usually fine authors who will be willing to do the most agitated spins to represent this Pope as having concern for the teachings of The Church, with the author usually ending up blaming the victims of this current Pope’s polices, actions, procedures; and this current article is no exception.
    When the present author states: “We all know that there is never a perfect harmony between the precepts of the faith and how the Church and its members act; the solution to this problem is not to formulate a compromise repentance and true reform has the aim of bringing our practice closer to the demands of the faith.” This is a most excellent point. When he goes on to say: “This is where Francis puts his focus.” I was totally confused and thought that perhaps the author was now referring St. Francis of Assisi, for on this planet where this Pope Francis now gloriously reigns this cannot in any way reflect the reality of the current pontificate.
    One only need to examine this past Shocking Synod of 2014™ to see that the ‘focus’ of Pope Francis is at best trying to form a compromise with the world, and the flesh. This synod was as tightly controlled as possible by him right from the beginning when he used the words of heretic Cardinal Kasper as a call to action for the synod, through the appalling interim report to the final report of the synod. Indeed, in that final report he violated the very rules he had set up initially by including the paragraphs on homosexuality and communion for institutionalized adulterers even though they did not pass the vote of the two-thirds majority of synod fathers.
    A passage from this article that really made my jaw drop was: “The way Pope Francis acts seems to invite a similar kind of criticism, at least from people who can offer it sincerely and seriously. He is an approachable pope, thus Catholics need to drop the fear of approaching him, even if they approach with something other than praise for his actions.” Does this statement reflect any reality here in this universe? I think we should ask Cardinal Burke how this worked out for him. No he is too much of a Catholic gentleman to say what obviously happened to him. Perhaps we can hear from some of the bishops who have been exiled to ecclesial Siberia for the crime of holding fast to the Roman Catholic faith. As an aside I think it is delicious and possibly a show of the Divine Humor that the best analysis of this pontificate that I have read came from an Archbishop who is literally in Siberia.
    There are many other items in this article to address but I will restrict myself to one last quote from it: “When Pope Benedict declared his resignation, he did so acknowledging that he no longer had the strength to be pope. Did he have to step down because we failed to help him carry the heavy burden of the Petrine ministry? And are we now ready to step up and support Pope Francis in the way and to the degree he needs it?” So what we have here is the tactic of blaming the victims of this current pontificate for the failures of it. In this case I think it is particularly cruel that the author uses the contrast of Papa Benedict who actually gave us bread when we asked for bread as compared to the current Pope who gives us a serpent when we ask for a fish.
    So what then do we say about all these things. One of the positive things, and it is no small thing, that I consistently read about Pope Francis is that he has a true devotion to our Mother Mary. So I can do no better than to commend this pontificate into the loving hands of the Holy Theotokos.

  23. kurtmasur says:

    Wow, very interesting… I can genuinely say that I have never really thought about it that way!

  24. Cantor says:

    I am dismayed when good and holy people can have such a broad spectrum of opinion on what is right and wrong. It is getting to the point that every comment we hear must be preceded mentally by “in his opinion”.

    The Pope certainly has been recognized as having the ability to speak infallibly when he speaks ex cathedra. What is the formulaic necessary for him to do so? Was it invoked, for example, when Pope Benedict proclaimed that the Church lacked the authority to ordain women, or would dissemblers merely point to that as his opinion?

  25. Pingback: Demystifying the Pope Francis Enigma via BigPulpit.com

  26. jflare says:

    I don’t care much for Pope Francis’ approach to most things precisely because he doesn’t seem to me as though he’s likely to do anything that’s genuinely likely to provoke anyone to repent of sins or convert to Catholic faith.
    He has said he wishes to reach out to peripheries, yet he seems at almost every turn to spurn traditional minds and practice, though I have seen little evidence that such minds and practices are anywhere near mainstream even in the Church. He says he wants an open debate or discussion about key concerns, yet the last Extraordinary Synod seemed to focus mostly on concerns that can’t be changed even if we wish them to change. He says–or implies–that he wants to have a dialogue with whomever, yet the dialogue seems only to go one direction, toward changing Catholic practice to satisfy the world. I would appreciate it a great deal if he’d focus on how we’re going to take the faith more seriously; he seems to me quite determined to summarily dismiss rules to make symbolic gestures. Such symbolic gestures don’t seem to me to accomplish much of anything. Perhaps they make people feel that he’s very personable, but nobody is elected pope for the purpose of being personable.
    If he wishes to be a spiritual director for the world, it’d be well for him to understand that we should be seeking individual spiritual directors for a reason. It’s not a realistic expectation that his spiritual guidance should apply well to everyone; the world has too many peoples and perspective for such an idea to work well. If anything, he seems to forget that he has bishops and priests who should be doing these things at a local, diocesan, level.

    On the whole, I wish he would learn to use the various curial officials who’re there to provide advice and assistance on various matters. Various curia agencies have roles they’re designed to fill. If he can’t figure out how to use them to guide his flock or episcopate, I find it tough to believe that any change he wishes the Church to execute will have much impact.

    Then too, while I could understand John Paul II’s personal relationship with various close friends, I don’t understand Pope Francis approach. His “normal guy” persona doesn’t really work for me because..he’s not a normal guy.

  27. Pingback: PopeWatch: Msgr. Hans Feichtinger | The American Catholic

  28. Nicolas Bellord says:

    Oh dear I think it would take a lot of study to comment on this article with specific examples. Yes previous Popes have made off the record, non-authoritative remarks but as far as I can remember did not require clarification. I have always held that someone who practises the virtues is unlikely suddenly to commit some serious sin. In the same way a seriously holy man does not come up with questionable remarks even when they are off the cuff. Further when Pope Francis has made questionable remarks there has been no subsequent clarification. He remains very perplexing.

  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    “In true Jesuit fashion, he may be best characterized as the world’s spiritual director.”

    There is no such thing as a universal spiritual director. St. John of the Cross, in counseling how to choose a spiritual director, said not to choose one man in 10, but one man in 1000. Spiritual director and directee must have a hand-and-glove fit. Obviously, Pope Francis is a poor match for at least some Catholics (shy, introverted).

    The Chicken

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    I am, of course, excluding Christ as the universal spiritual director in my comments, since He counsels individually and perfectly. I am speaking of Pope Francis spiritual direction in human terms.

    The Chicken

  31. Tony Phillips says:

    I don’t doubt that Francis is pope, but I suspect he’s pope because of a misunderstanding.

  32. tominrichmond says:

    “Many of Francis’ pronouncements do not have the binding authority of obligatory teaching; i.e., they are not “magisterium” in the proper sense of the term—people are free to listen and pay attention or not, free to let themselves be challenged, motivated, or convinced.”

    Best takeaway in my view… we are free also to ignore, and not just that, but to disagree with and contradict the Pope’s non-magisterial extemporanea. As expressions of mere personal opinion (especially when he opines about things like climate change and what the Koran “really” teaches), they are open to criticism and rejection, period. Respectfully, of course.

  33. Christ_opher says:

    I tried to understand the article and arrived at the following conclusion.

    I haven’t got a clue what Pope Francis is trying to do but I can probably call it right on what Cardinals’ Kasper and Marx are trying to do v Cardinal Burke.

    Cardinals’ Kasper & Marx seem to be trying to pull a Henry the 8th and Cardinal Burke is doing a Saint Thomas More. May More win because More is always better.

  34. Christ_opher says:

    Sorry I forgot to add this………… Apparently Pope Francis said the other day “Don’t count your prayers”………….. Apparently he said a few days, a week or three weeks later “I Pray THREE rosaries each day”. If he did say what I said he said then only one word can describe Pope Francis. Confusing!

  35. jflare says:

    Nice to know my struggles with Pope Francis are not, on the whole, so very different from those of others.
    I recall often becoming quite uncomfortable with John Paul II’s pontificate. Oftentimes, I heard about something he said or did through the lens of media who ultimately revealed their intolerance for Catholic faith. Unfortunately, our local bishop never seemed to me any more friendly to traditional norms than the secular voices that abounded in the press.

  36. Aquinas Gal says:

    The spiritual director idea is interesting. But it seems flawed, too. Every spiritual director I’ve had with one exception was a very good listener, someone who would encourage the directee how to discern God working in one’s life. It’s not about the spiritual director imposing his opinion on the directee. But that is more of the sense I get from Francis, with the surprising use of unflattering names (usually directed toward “conservative” Catholics) and forceful speech, I don’t see him as a spiritual director at all. I pray for him and respect him as pope, but I am sadly disappointed at what he says and does.

  37. SimonDodd says:

    Deacon Augustine says: “His latest outburst at Santa Marta … castigates 2,000 years of Church discipline with regards to the reception of Holy Communion….”

    What did he say? I don’t see anything like that in his homily for that day.

  38. SimonDodd says:

    So many things that one wants to say about this, but most of it has been said above or previously. It’s all too persistently wearying. Perhaps this one observation: We know that the man’s outlook is at very least influenced in the strongest terms by his experience in Argentina, and while it’s easy to suggest that Bergoglio was asleep at the switch during the exodus to evangelical megachurches, we might better understand him if we understood what he believes caused that exodus and how he should like to have responded but for some obstacle he perceived to be outside of the purview of the archbishop of Buenos Aires to lift. That would be a good question for an interviewer to ask him. “What caused the exodus and what would you have liked to have done about it?” Because one has a vague suspicion that that is the battle he is still fighting, in his mind.

  39. Andrew says:

    A remarkable coherence in spite of a difference in style:

    Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt.)

    It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke)

    Great in counsel, mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, giving to each according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jerem)

    For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct. (Matt.)

    Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. (Apoc.)

    Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning. (Peter)

  40. MGL says:


    Ask and ye shall receive.

    On March 13, Vatican Radio reported on an interview of the Holy Father by the Mexican broadcaster Televisa, and was asked “for a reflection on the proliferation of sects…in Latin America and the Churches’ responsibility in the loss of faithful.”

    Vatican Radio provides a paraphrased response:

    The Pope begins to speak of evangelical movements and whether these are these sects or not. What they typically offer is personal contact, the ability to be close to the people, to greet and meet people in person. He says that in Latin America a strong clericalism creates a certain distance from people. Clericalism in Latin America has been one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of the laity. The laity in Latin America grew only thanks to popular piety, which the Pope says, has given the opportunity to lay people to be creative and free, through worship, processions etc… But organizationally, the laity has not grown enough and has not grown because of a clericalism that creates distance….

    The Pope also speaks of “disasterous” homilies as another reason for the flight of Catholics. “I do not know if they are the majority – but they do not reach the heart. They are lessons in theology and are abstract or long and this is why I devoted so much space to them in Evangeli Gaudium. Typically evangelicals are close to the people, they aim for the heart and prepare their homilies really well. I think we have to have a conversion in this. The Protestant concept of the homily is much stronger than the Catholic. It’s almost a sacrament”. In conclusion, the Pope says that the flight of Catholics is caused by distance, clericalism, boring homilies as opposed to closeness, work, integration, the burning word of God. And it is a phenomenon that affects not only the Church but also the evangelical communities series.

    The Pope concludes his discussion by citing the importance of the work undertaken between the Church and evangelical pastors in Buenos Aires.

    That answers the first part of your question: what caused the exodus? Clericalism and boring homilies. As for what the Holy Father did to stem the exodus when he was Archbishop, that’s less clear.

  41. stephen c says:

    The Jesuits are a military order, I believe. Pope Francis sees an opportunity to communicate, from the point of view of a man who has followed the evangelical counsels, with the hundreds of millions of losers of this world who don’t often hear the point of view (of people who appreciate the evangelical counsels) – to give three examples – first, those who have been deceived into believing abortion is not evil, second, those who are not educated enough to listen to any point of view that does not sound like the Orwellian liberalism they have been taught, day after day, is the only viable form of love for our neighbor that they are allowed to hold, and third, those who think that the “Church is not yet good enough for their compassionate” view of the world. Talking to those three groups, he has told the abortionists that they are murderers, he has told the victims of Orwellianism that Jesus is a person and that persons are more important than systems, and he has told those who would be “more compassionate than the Church” that maybe they are not right. He has never claimed to be the bravest or smartest pope ever, and he has never said that he would make less mistakes than his predecessors. And, like a general in the middle of a big war, he has apparently made a conscious decision not to think much about, or to do much to support, his colonels and majors and lieutenants and squad leaders who are already doing well, he trusts them to keep doing well without needing lots of atta-boys all the time, and he trusts they won’t get too upset when he lets them face the enemy without the reinforcements he believes are needed elsewhere. What I think he is doing is trying to displace frauds like Gandhi and Kennedy and that ilk in the minds of people who look to celebrities like Gandhi and Kennedy for spiritual inspiration. There are hundreds of millions of people he can reach in that way, and that takes a lot of energy on his part, and, while I wish he did not make so many unforced errors, I can understand why an old man with a staggeringly difficult job might say, from time to time, things that I would not say. Thank God I do not have his problems.

  42. I tend to think that when it is said that *insert Pope Francis statement here* is said to be “non-magisterial”, it’s a cop out to not hold Pope Francis responsible for what he says. He’s certainly not required to be “on the job” 24/7, nor is he responsible for how people receive his words, but he is responsible for what he says, and how he says it. This article if anything confirms how I feel about this pontificate.

    I also tend to agree with Deacon Augustine as the Holy Father, tends to think of himself as always teaching. Perhaps the HF is using Hyperbole, but not very effectively…For Francis, Pope of Rome, lett us pray to the Lord, Lord have Mercy.

  43. SimonDodd says:

    MGL, if that’s his diagnosis, then why didn’t he do something about it (as he could have) as Archbishop? Given his failure there, don’t we have to posit a problem that either was or that he might plausibly have felt was “above his paygrade” in Buenos Aires?

  44. BCSWowbagger says:

    I was recently speaking to a priest I much respect, and he suggested that I’ve got it all wrong with Pope Francis: I’ve been trying to understand his plan, his agenda, his vision for the Church, and — my priest friend argued — he just doesn’t have one. Pope Francis is a well-meaning and basically holy and orthodox man who has a lot of strong feelings about all kinds of things, thinks he knows a great deal about everything (and doesn’t know what he doesn’t know), and knows how to give a really stirring Sunday homily… without worrying about or even really understanding the implications of many of the things he says. I should stop looking for a unified plan, my friend argued, because Pope Francis doesn’t think that many steps ahead, doesn’t wish to, and wouldn’t be good at it if he tried. He does what feels right, to him, at the moment, and, insofar as there is an agenda being enacted (and clearly there is an agenda, as we all at the Robber Synod), it is (my friend believes) the work of much smarter people (like Cardinal Kasper) who are close to Pope Francis and know how to… well, bluntly, to play to Pope Francis’s ego.

    This is all speculation, some of it pretty unflattering to the Pope, and it may be quite wrong. But it feels closer to the truth than any other explanation I’ve considered. A lot of the apparent inconsistencies in Francis disappear if you decide there’s no ultimate plan to unravel — no knot to untie — in the first place.

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