“The Pope says all priests have to be Jesuits.” “The Popes says all Catholics have to like Puccini, Dostoevsky, Manzoni, Caravaggio, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.”
Those proposed “headlines” would make about as much sense as the actual MSM headlines about the interview Pope Francis recently gave with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal _La Civiltà Cattolica_. The Jesuits have had it translated into numerous languages and published in various national journals, including _America_. Normally, I would say that referencing something in _America_ to refute something in the _New York Times_ would be like referencing _Das Kapital_ to refute _The Communist Manifesto_, but in this case, the original is far different than what the NYT and other MSM outlets are reporting. The standard headline is that the Pope said, “The Church will fail if it doesn’t stop talking about abortion, homosexuality, and abortion” or “The Pope has said to stop talking about doctrine.” That is quite the opposite of what he said.
Let’s look at a few quotations. First up is the following radical statement by the Pope:
We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.
I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.
If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.
Oh, wait, this isn’t Pope Francis. It’s an address Pope Benedict XVI gave to the Swiss bishops in 2006.
Or, how about this “spirit of Vatican II” statement about how priests should preach about the positive aspects of the faith before they preach against sin?
‘But many priests want to preach thunderously against the worst kinds of sin at the very outset, failing to realize that before a sick person is given bitter medicine he needs to be prepared by being put in the right frame of mind to really benefit by it.
‘This is why, before doing anything else, priests should try to kindle a love of prayer in people’s hearts and especially a love of my Angelic Psalter. If only they would all start saying it and would really persevere, God, in His mercy, could hardly refuse to give them His grace. So I want you to preach my Rosary.’
Nope, that’s not Pope Francis, either. It’s a quotation of an apparition of Jesus to St. Dominic, related by St. Louis de Montfort in _Secret of the Rosary_.
So let’s keep those in mind as we read the quotations from the interview with Pope Francis, which can be found here.
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”
That sets the context for the couple lines the media have cherry-picked, and sounds a lot like what de Montfort quoted, doesn’t it?
Now, here’s what the media have selectively quoted, emphasizing the “small minded rules” bit and ignoring the rest:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds [emphasis added]
Yet the media have claimed that the interview says certain things are no longer sins. That’s exactly the *opposite* of what he’s said. He goes on to say how just “leaving the doors open” in tolerance is not the right approach, though some people feel they cannot be forgiven and need to be reached out to:
Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.
Again, he emphasizes that the role of the Confessional:
This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
She’s obviously shown progress in many respects and is in a canonically irregular situation. Obviously, the Holy Father’s point is that “rigorism” is keeping her from the Church. She has options.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
Now, one of the parts that’s troubled some of us his statement, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” since most of us do not find the hierarchy speaking much about these issues *at all*, and there really are many people out there who think the Church says they’re “OK.” However, it’s ironic that in a wide-ranging interview, all that people want to talk about are the three things he says it’s not necessary to talk about all the time!
Here’s the other one the media keep pulling out of context:
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.
Compare this to the statements of Benedict and Louis de Montfort above. People need to desire Christ and accept the message of salvation. Getting the “disjointed” teachings doesn’t help anyone. He never says the Church will “fail” if She doesn’t stop talking about these “hot button” issues. He says her ability to promote these teachings will fall if it’s not grounded solidly in the wider Christian context.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”