PopeWatch: Father Lombardi Explains It All

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Announcing a new series at The American Catholic:  PopeWatch.  I think it is obvious that Pope Francis will be making the headlines on a regular basis,  and I will be commenting on him fairly frequently as a result, hence the new series.  First up, a statement by papal press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.  I have a soft spot in my heart for press flacks.  They have tough jobs, especially in the wake of feathers hitting a fan.  Then they come out to meet the media, and often have to say the most absurd things with a straight face, and it would take a heart of purest granite not to feel some sympathy for them at such times.  In the wake of Pope Francis’ colorful interviews, Father Lombardi explained what the problem is:

Perhaps the most insightful take on all this came from Lombardi himself, who said we’re seeing the emergence of a whole new genre of papal speech — informal, spontaneous and sometimes entrusted to others in terms of its final articulation. A new genre, Lombardi suggested, needs a “new hermeneutic,” one in which we don’t attach value so much to individual words as to the overall sense.

“This isn’t Denzinger,” he said, referring to the famous German collection of official church teaching, “and it’s not canon law.”

“What the pope is doing is giving pastoral reflections that haven’t been reviewed beforehand word-for-word by 20 theologians in order to be precise about everything,” Lombardi said. “It has to be distinguished from an encyclical, for instance, or a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which are magisterial documents.”

Well, okay then.  The Pope gives inteviews that he knows will be blasted around the world and make headlines,  but we Catholics are not to pay attention to the individual words but rather to the overall sense.  How we are to arrive at the overall sense without paying attention to the individual worlds is a mystery the solution of which Father Lombardi did not deign to reveal.  If I might suggest a solution?  When Pope Francis is speaking Father Lombardi should be present with two signs.  One should say “Attention”, and that should be held up when Pope Francis is saying something that we should take seriously.  At other times Father Lombardi should hold up a sign reading “Never Mind”.

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  1. As can be discovered by dipping into Denzinger, in the past, popes were very reticent in their dogmatic pronouncements and were principally concerned to guard against error. Thus, one of the most contentious, which split the French church into warring factions, Unigenitus, the Dogmatic Constitution issued by Pope Clement XI on Sept. 8, 1713, lists 101 extracts from the works of Paschasius Quesnel and concludes, “Declared and condemned as false, captious, evil-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, insulting not only to the Church but also the secular powers seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and, besides, favouring heretics and heresies, and also schisms, erroneous, close to heresy, many times condemned, and finally heretical, clearly renewing many heresies respectively and most especially those which are contained in the infamous propositions of Jansen, and indeed accepted in that sense in which these have been condemned.” No hint is given as to which censure or censures apply to which proposition and no reasons are given. The task of explaining the condemnation was left to the theologians. The condemnations are de fide, the grounds or reasoning on which the pope relied are not.
    Similarly, in 1679, Pope Innocent XI condemned 65 propositions, drawn from the works of unnamed casuists. It concludes, “All condemned and prohibited, as they are here expressed, at least as scandalous and in practice pernicious.” Here the condemnation applies to each of them, but, again, no grounds are stated, for, after all, Catholics are bound by the Pope’s teaching, not his opinions.
    Modern practice makes it more difficult to extract he dogmatic kernel, but the distinction remains valid.

  2. I do think our Pope Emeritous and his predecessor were eminently capable of speaking off the cuff in response to questions whether queried by children or scholars without causing themselves or the Church distress
    What comes out of the mouth reflects years of thinking and praying. The previous two popes were soaked in a different culture and attitude than is at least at first, apparent in this pope.

  3. I’m not a as literate in the Bible as I should be, but it seems to me that the first Pope, St. Peter, really doesn’t have that much to say once Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, etc. I think he only has two books, 1st Peter and 2nd Peter, to his name. St. Paul, on the other hand–not even one of the original Disciples/Apostles, wrote pretty much half the New Testament. Am I wrong on that? Is there a subtle message here?

  4. DJ Hesselius

    In Acts, we have five speeches of St Peter: Pentecost (2:14-39); the Temple Beggar (3:11-4:4), First Arrest (4:8-12) Second Arrest (5:29-32) Cornelius Episode (10:34-43)

    Then, if we identify St Mark with the Mark who left St Paul at Perga on Paul’s first missionary journey and later accompanied Barnabas to Cyprus, we find that he was with St Peter in Rome, who refers to him in 1Pet 5: 12-13. This would confirm the tradition that St Mark’s gospel is, in fact, the gospel of St Peter. Indeed, were I to indulge in a bit of Higher Criticism, I would suggest that it is made up of five Papal Allocutions – (1) the beginning of the Galilean ministry to the calling of the
    Twelve (1:2-3:19); (2) the training of the Twelve to their first commissioning (3:20-6:13); (3) the later Galilean ministry (6:14-9:51); (4) ministry on the way to Jerusalem (10:1-13:37); (5) the passion narrative (14:1-16:8).

  5. Here we go again. Poor Fr Lombardi needs an explainarion for his explainarion of Pope Francis. This is becoming hilarious.

    It should be obvious that when Pope Francis does media interviews he speaks to Non-Catholics.
    Listen to his homilies if you want direction in your Faith.

    I think this is what Fr Lombardi means.

  6. Am I off base in my cautious feeling on Pope Francis? I haven’t had a completely peaceful feeling from the get go and have not fully embraced him yet. I never felt that way about JP2 or Pope Benedict. It’s things like this that only confirm my uneasiness.

  7. We would all rest a little easier if we remember that the Pope was chosen by the Holy Spirit, is the Vicar of Jesus and is constantly under Jesus’s watchful attention. Perhaps Pope Francis is searching out the lost sheep and not so concerned about the 99 who are safely in the fold. To dialogue with non-Catholics and non-devout Catholics one needs to get their attention and some good will. You don’t start a useful discussion with a Muslim, for example, buy condemning the Quran but would do better to praise the Quran for bringing the Arabs to recognize the One God.

  8. “Anyway, one shouldn’t exaggerate the role of divine inspiration. As one cardinal put it to me after the election of Benedict XVI, “I was never whapped on the head by the Holy Spirit. I had to make the best choice I could based on the information available.”

    Perhaps the classic expression of this idea belongs to none other than the outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

    I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.

    Then the clincher:

    There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!


  9. Wait a minute. The Holy Spirit is God. Nothing happens that God is powerless to prevent. All evil that God permits is for the sake of a greater good that will result. There is a reason God wants Pope Francis at this point in Church and world history. Catholics who understand this aren’t worried, but watch with interest to see what the Holy Spirit has in mind. Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks need to be taken in this context. It’s legitimate to wonder what’s going on, but not to question or doubt God’s judgment and power.

  10. “Nothing happens that God is powerless to prevent.”

    Correct, but that is different from God causing something to happen. Much that goes on in this Vale of Tears is because God gives us the freedom to chart our own course. When Rodrigo Borgia was elected pope as Alexander VI, I doubt seriously if God was involved except perhaps to demonstrate that popes could be very evil men indeed and that the Church would survive nonetheless. I normally am very chary of assuming that God is willing anything, unless God gives a clear indication that this is so.

  11. First, I confirm your idea of an on-going discussion on Pope Francis and news, etc surrounding the papacy Donald. I am sure it will be done with a Catholic Faith ‘perspective’. Ever since the Lord Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My Church….” we have had a ” theological datum”, a given word of God and structure-ministry.

    I also want to affirm your repetition of Pope Benedict’s ‘minimalist’ understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the election/selection of the popes. While each of the validly elected popes leading up to and including Pope Francis are indeed the Successors of Saint Peter, in some cases, the Holy Spirit kept their mouths shut concerning teaching matters of faith and morals (while the mind immediately moves to some popes in the fifteenth to early sixteenth century, actually we had several worse ones in the 900’s)

    As to the format of interview, of which Fr Lombardi spoke, I would say that the first (Jesuit) interview is more reliable for insight into Pope Francis (again interpreting it correctly within all his statements, homilies, addresses) than the second interview. The first interviewee was done professionally, by the Jesuit interviewer, the final form reviewed by the Holy Father, and the translations done very carefully. The second interview was done non professionally by the Italian interviewer with no recording done, then reconstructed from memory and then further complicated by a very poor translation

  12. Nevertheless, God’s plan for salvation history cannot be obstructed by anyone, including the Pope. God’s plan includes the good and bad popes, the good and imprudent decisions and statements of popes. We mortals need to wait a long time to see how a papal statement or decision made in our own time turns out in the end. It could be that the Italian journalist in question mis-remembered the exact words of the Holy Father in the context of the statements.

    The Decree on Religious Freedom of Vatican II seemed to contradict clear doctrinal statements of the past, until study and reflection made clear that there is no contradiction but true teaching addressing different issues.

  13. “Nevertheless, God’s plan for salvation history cannot be obstructed by anyone, including the Pope.”

    Agreed. The problem is that for mortals it is rather difficult to determine the path that plan is following as we make our way through history. Occasionally that plan also calls upon Catholics to correct Peter when Peter is making a mistake. The great example of Saint Paul correcting Peter himself comes to mind. God uses both great and humble instruments to work His will, the problem of course always being that it is oh so easy for all of us to confuse our will with God’s.

  14. How come when Cardinal Burke speaks I know exactly what he means. I prayed that he would be our new Pope. I guess the liberal bias of the Holy Roman Catholic Church was not ready yet for a leader who actually guides the flock in a coherent understanding of the truths of the faith. Or Sean O’Malley? Babel and Diabolical. I don’t even know why we were given the 10 commandments if we can change them to rationalize the whim of human sin. Something will happen, God is still in control of all. “Lead Me Lord”

  15. Does anyone know if it is a sin in the Catholic Church, when delivering a homily, that the truths of the faith be taught? It is a captive audience. Personally I am tired of flowery stories that you can “mold” to your own conscience. When I go to my little church in Colorado, even though there may only be 10 people attending Mass that priest delivers a hard hitting, totally Catholic homily based on the day’s Scripture. On Sunday’s his homily always brings in the teaching of the church pertaining to that days readings. It is AWESOME! Of course he has so much time to sit around and think this stuff up. He only has 5 mission parishes that he serves, which are all 15 to 30 miles in every direction. I am assuming he knows more about his faith as he is from Kenya. We have such a hard time ordaining priests you know. He also has a brother who is a priest serving in the U.S. Maybe if these young people were taught the real faith we would have some priests, bishops and cardinals and Popes that knew what they were talking about. I must go now and look up and study the reflection in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” that our homily came from this week. YIKES!

  16. It’s significant that Saint Paul was a bishop correcting the pope, not a layperson. We most often can’t be sure we see the truth more clearly than the pope, so as to be competent to “correct” him. First, we need to give it some time to see how things work out.

    H. Lyman Stebbing, founder of Catholics United for the Faith, used to say it’s not solely about what ordinary lay Catholics should do, but about what we usefully and fittingly should do. Unless we have a special way to contact the Pope, perhaps we should continue praying for him and doing what has been given to us to do.

    At least, we have evidence Pope Francis talks to Pope Benedict, an advantage never before enjoyed by a Pope.

    At Fatima Our Lady foretold that all this trouble in the Church and the world was going to happen if we didn’t do what she asked, viz., pray and offer our suffering as reparation for the conversion of sinners. Fatima was not primarily about the Pope and bishops consecrating Russia, but about ordinary laypeople praying and making reparation for the conversion of sinners. We need to pay closer attention to Fatima if we want to see the way out of the current mess.

  17. Bl. Julian of Norwich: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

    St. Padre Pio: ‘Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry!’


  18. Let us remember that, first and foremost, Papa Francesco is Latin American. Being married to a caleña, I have firsthand knowledge of the typical communication style of people from this region of the world.

    Mi querida esposa, bless her heart, frequently takes five minutes to say something that should take five seconds. On one occasion, when visiting a friend, she blurted out “Penguins Fan has apnea!” Not, hello, how are you, I like you new carpet, none of that.

    In her conversations with her friends, they talk about everything. Nothing is personal. Nothing. Off the cuff? Standard communicating practice if you’re from Latin America.

    Pope Benedict was measured and careful with his words. He spent a lot of his life in Rome…and elsewhere. His German upbringing and his father being very careful with his words were not lost on Joseph Ratzinger. Karol Wojtyla had to be careful about everything he said and did his entire adult life.

    Papa Francesco is not going to change his ways. He does not seem to care about the impact of his words or how they will be interpreted by those who are unfamiliar with his native culture, as he has NO experience with anything outside of his native Argentina until this year. He is 76. For those of us with parents at or near this age….how open are they to any suggestions that require a change in routine?

    Being a “sandwich” dad – I just turned 50, my boys are 5 and 22 months (and my mom is 73 and coming off two major operations this year), it’s time to help the señora get these little terrors in bed.

    Keep calm, pray the Rosary and the Angelus and carry on. I am not going to get upset about the Pope (with the exception of the FFI) unless he tries to deny the Traditional Latin Mass to everyone. Then, look out. Rorate Coeli from April will look like Sesame Street.

  19. Could you define liberal please.

    You know I went to a Opus Dei school. I believe my faith to be well formed. I know right from wrong. Even though at times I, a sinner, may convince myself, something is right but really it’s actually a veil disguised as wrong. My conscience tells me so. I believe that comes from a proper religious education and formation- this comes from good schools, but primarily from parents who teach children to have it.

    On the other side of the coin, I see grown adults who were children of very strong Catholic families who went to the same Opus Dei school. Many of them shunned their Faith as adults because they didn’t like the hard line of their youth from their parents. They taught them right from wrong but didnt tell them why and didnt allow them to be emersed with others that werent Catholic. A person was judged who was divorced or co-habiting out of wedlock or going off the rails. I would say I wasn’t as emersed in the conservative side to the degree they were. I love my Faith today. They don’t go to Church.

    Whose “fault” is that. The conservative I suppose needs to be balanced. You need to recognise not all are at the same level as you in their Faith. Not because of the Pope. But down to the upbringing of children.

    You know the Pope has to administer to a larger number of Catholics. Who is he to please? If he is not meant to please the people but God, then why did they elect him and not another Benedict?

    I think all should be looked at in context, and stop worrying, thinking the he is ruining the Church. That’s his style- the Cardinals wanted a man with that style. That wouldn’t be re-iterating weekly that co-habiting is wrong, that divorce is wrong because alot of people left the Church because of these things and he is trying to make them come back to Church and in time their conscience will tell them it’s wrong.

    He is under alot of social media scrutiny today that PJPII wasn’t nor was Benedict. There were no American Conservative Blogs topical apart PJPII every move.

    History will judge Pope Francis.

  20. Ez
    Your post recalls St Augustine’s words – ““He stirred many to believe by his words, but many did not believe though the dead were raised. Even his disciples were terrified and shattered by his cross and death, but the thief believed at the very moment when he saw him not highly exalted but his own equal in sharing in crucifixion. One of his disciples after his resurrection believed, not so much because his body was alive again, as because of his recent wounds. Many of those who crucified him, who had despised him while he was working his miracles, believed when his disciples preached him and did similar miracles in his name. Since, then, people are brought to faith in such different ways, and the same thing spoken in one way has power to move and has no such power when spoken in another way, or may move one man and not another, who would dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the faith in which Jacob was justified? But if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?”

  21. I agree Michael. If a mans heart is hard, even our Great God won’t, not that He can’t, He won’t move it. He loves us so much that He won’t even force His will upon us. That’s true love. Our Free Will is His true love for us.

  22. Ez

    St Augustine also says, “God has mercy on no man in vain. He calls the man on whom He has mercy in the way He knows will suit him, so that he will not refuse the call.” Thus, Scripture says, ““I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” [Exod. 33:19)]

    Again, St Augustine says, “ For they hear these things and do them to whom it is given; but they do them not, whether they hear or do not hear, to whom it is not given. Because, “To you,” said He, “it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” [Matt. xiii. 11] Of these, the one refers to the mercy, the other to the judgment of Him to whom our soul cries, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto Thee, O Lord.” [Ps. CI. 1]”

  23. Our Lord has told us that through our own intercession the most hardened of hearts can be converted. This is why we’ve been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. At Fatima Our Lady instructed us through the Angel of Peace and her own words that we have a duty to pray daily for the conversion of sinners (“O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee; and I ask your pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee”), and we have a duty to carry our crosses without complaining and offer them “for love of Jesus, for the conversion of sinners and as reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” She promised that if enough Catholics would do this (every day) then many sinners would be converted and there would be peace.

    The hopeful news is that in the last 4 years over 50,000 American Catholics have made a pledge to say this prayer and make this offering of daily suffering every day for the conversion of our country. Around 200 pledges were made in just the past 3 days.

  24. Pope is the topmost authority.He should not give occasions for confusion in the minds of believers specially on matters relating to sexual morality and the ten Commandments
    Recently some of his utterances were interpreted by some media as if he was relaxing some rules on marriage,homosexuality etc. The believers should not be given chances for confusion. As far as we know all teachings on sexual morality,abortion etc are not teachings by a Pope but by God.

  25. The Pope is the Lord’s chosen and for that we pray for him daily at Mass, Rosary, in our private devotions, etc.
    Thinking of Peter denying the Lord and the rest abandoning Him and Judas betraying Him ‘to go to his proper place’, there is no guarantee that any Pope will be loyal and faithful to the Lord and His teachings.
    The only certainty and assurance we have is that he cannot teach fallibly ex-cathedra and the gates of hell cannot withstand the Church (she takes the battle to them and wins, crushing the serpent’s head).

    PS The Apostles defects and shortcomings are quite evident in the gospels. Will any Pope be immune?

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