Friday, September 20, 2013

"Jesuit" Interview with Pope Francis

Yesterday, America magazine released the English-language translation of the "official" interview with Pope Francis by Jesuit priest Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ.  The original Italian (which I have not looked at) was published in La Civilta Catholica.

Just two thoughts on this interview for now.  One, the main-stream press is trying very hard to use anything possible which they can glean from this interview to drive wedges into the Church.  Fr. Z, among others, makes this point most ably.  Just one example: Here's the AP report on the publication of the interview, copied in a great many places.  Notice how they lead with what they imagine will be the most provocative part, even though it's clearly not the most important part, and even then, they have to misconstrue by taking significantly out of context, to make it seem to say what they want it to say.  The caption under the photo takes it thusly:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis is warning that the Catholic Church's moral edifice might "fall like a house of cards" if it doesn't balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make the church a merciful, more welcoming place for all.

The article's lead point (second-to-fourth third paragraphs) makes the same maneuver:

In the 12,000-word article, Francis expands on his ground-breaking comments over the summer about gays and acknowledges some of his own faults...

But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of generations of bishops and cardinals around the globe.

Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.

Compare that with what Francis actually said about these topics, in the section labelled "The Church as Field Hospital:"

Pope Francis begins by showing great affection and immense respect for his predecessor: “Pope Benedict has done an act of holiness, greatness, humility. He is a man of God.

“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...

“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin...

“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...

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person...

“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...

“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.

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. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."

This is very nearly the opposite of what the AP article attempts to portray.  Nothing in all this can reasonably be construed as any sort of novelty, or break with the priorities of Pope Benedict, or change in what the Church is teaching or trying to do.  Pope Francis wants the Church to be successful at getting people to love God, go to Mass and Confession, and live the content of the faith.  Whudathunkit??

It also shows very clearly my second point in this post: Pope Francis, like his predecessors, and with a deep personal urgency and simplicity, really emphasizes the proclamation of the Gospel.  That's what this interview is mostly about; he comes back to it again and again in different contexts.  In this section, he's talking especially about the initial proclamation, the invitation to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  As Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI also said, our world is increasingly in need of this initial proclamation.  Actions speak louder than words, and the most fundamental kind of invitation to the Gospel, both in actions and words, is to demonstrate to someone that they are worthy of love, by actually loving them.  This is the grace that heals, and from that being loved comes the desire to love, to experience conversion and growth in faith.  That's the only real basis for living up to God's standards of freedom and dignity, the revealed moral law.  

 Pope Francis said essentially the same things in his address to the bishops of Brazil, back in July.  The talk and the interview are both worth a good read and reflection, if nothing else just to be able to refute the even more intense barrage of false claims about his vision and goals that we're going to face now.

PS - Today, Pope Francis addressed a meeting of medical professionals and preached about the evil of abortion, against "throwing away" the lives of children.  He made the explicit point that this is not only a religious idea, but also the clear conclusion of both reason and science.  After trying to suggest yesterday in their depiction of the contents of the interview that Pope Francis doesn't really think that's very important, the main-stream media are beside themselves today.