PopeWatch: Tea Leaves




PopeWatch often feels like an old time Kremlinologist, attempting to make predictions based on inadequate, and often contradictory, pieces of information.  PopeWatch is glad that far more seasoned observers of the Vatican often seem to share this view of the current papacy.  The latest post by Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa illustrates this:

He loves to reiterate his fidelity to perennial doctrine, in this case on the indissolubility of marriage: “The view of the Church is known, and I am a son of the Church.”

But then he seems to detach himself from it when he acts as physician of individual souls, in that devastated “field hospital” which the world is for him, so full of the wounded needing urgent care. As when he telephones a woman of Buenos Aires, married civilly after a divorce, who is distraught over the ban on receiving the Eucharist, to tell her to receive communion “with no worries” and to “go take it at another parish” if her pastor withholds it from her.

From the pope’s personal telephone conversations “no consequences should be drawn concerning the teaching of the Church,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has had to clarify. But this does not attenuate their impact on public opinion. The overall effect of Francis’s strategy is a driving crescendo of anticipations of change. Which will become even stronger when the synod of bishops meets in October with the task of gathering additional proposals. These will be examined a year later at a second session of the synod that will add it all up and offer ideas for solutions to the pope. Because it will be Francis, and he alone, who will have the last word and decide whether or not to approve communion for the divorced and remarried, the when and the how.

So the decision will come at the end of 2015 or at the beginning of the following year, not before, under the formidable pressure of a public opinion that at that point is likely to be almost exclusively expecting a yes.

There was similarly massive pressure for change in the 1960’s, when the pope had to decide on the legitimacy of contraceptives, with many theologians, bishops, and cardinals siding in favor. But in 1968 Paul VI decided against, with the encyclical “Humanae vitae.” An encyclical that underwent bitter contestation on the part of entire episcopates and disobedience from countless faithful. But that today Pope Francis – surprising here as in everything – has said he wants to take as his own frame of reference.

It is in fact worthwhile to reread with attention what Bergoglio said with regard to that encyclical in the March 5 interview with “Corriere della Sera”:

“Everything depends on how ‘Humanae Vitae’ is interpreted. Paul VI himself, in the end, urged confessors to be very merciful and pay attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to take a stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a cultural restraint, to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but of digging deep and making sure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what it is possible for persons to do.”

The Francis enigma resides entirely in this formidable praise of “Humanae Vitae.” Because from this pope “taken from the ends of the earth” one can truly expect anything, even that on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried he may in the end make a decision “against the majority”: a decision reconfirming as intact the doctrine on indissoluble marriage, although tempered by the mercy of pastors of souls in the face of concrete situations.

When Bergoglio proclaimed John Paul II a saint on April 27, he knew very well what pope emeritus Benedict had said about his great predecessor a few weeks before:

“John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around in concern at how his decisions would be received. He acted on the basis of his faith and convictions, and he was also ready to take fire. The courage of the truth is one of the main criteria of holiness.”

As expert as he is in cultivating public opinion, Pope Francis is not the kind to be let himself become its prisoner.

Go here to read the rest.  There is only one prediction about this papacy that PopeWatch feels safe about making:  that after Pope Francis it will be a very long time indeed before the second Jesuit Pope is chosen at a conclave.  Most Cardinals are like the rest of us, they crave certainty and predictability.  Pope Francis, perhaps because of his Jesuit training, supplies neither.



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  1. Well said.

    As the son of a mother who is positively elated with what she perceives of as “her pope,” one who will remedy every “fault,” from celibacy and an all-male priesthood, to a hatred of homosexuals, lack of democracy, and a misogynist inclination, His Holiness’s Tweets and calls make me cringe.

    It is hard to read him in a larger context when his statements are presented with no context at all.

  2. Celibacy is a jewel in the crown of the priest. Jesus never forfeit His love and His obedience to His Father to institute the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church belongs to God, the Father, God, the Son and God, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Trinity. No vocation to Holy Orders without God’s call. Women cannot act “in persona Christi.” Any attempt to act “in persona Christi”, for a woman, would only result in her losing her ability to act as “alter Christi.” The Pope does not make the rules.

  3. Are you sure your Catholic, Donald? You’ve got a certain arrogance that makes me fearful for you. A sincere humility before thus pope who doesn’t say what you want to hear, but perhaps most need to consider might be just what’s necessary for you…sorry if that’s not what you want to hear.

  4. “Are you sure your (sic) Catholic, Donald?”

    I have 57 years of certainty on that score.

    “You’ve got a certain arrogance that makes me fearful for you.”

    How charitable of you to point out the speck in my eye.

    “A sincere humility before thus pope who doesn’t say what you want to hear, but perhaps most need to consider might be just what’s necessary for you…sorry if that’s not what you want to hear.”

    The actions of the popes have been under examination and honest criticism by Catholics since the time of Peter. I am sure that Pope Francis would have it no other way based upon his criticism of his predecessors that they “have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers.”

  5. While still referring to Sandro Magister, I have found that since the election of Pope Francis he has been less reliable in giving me a pulse of what is going on in Rome. I am not sure of the reasons for this. perhaps his sources in Rome dried up, or perhaps these sources are from the Curia or Vatican Bank and feel most threatened by the changes going on or about to take place. Perhaps Sandro just misses Pope Benedict. However, I simply wanted to share my impression of Sandro’s blog since the election of Pope Francis.

    As to Pope Francis, I think I am getting a clearer sense of where he is coming from and where he is going. They are simply my impressions, nothing carved in stone, but they are becoming more and more firmed up within me.

    1) PF is working out of a hermeneutic of continuity both in interpreting Vatican II and with his predecessors. There is no break with the Tradition of the Church, her teaching etc. He is actually exercising his petrine ministry in a way very similar to both Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, beginning with the Tradition and then letting it shine forth or applying it to new questions etc.
    3) he is moving the whole Church-ultimately at every level-from a merely ‘management paradigm’ into a ‘mission paradigm’. He wants the Church to be far less focused on herself and far more on the mission given her by her Lord and Bridegroom
    4) Very much influenced by Von Balthasar, his emphasis is on the Beauty of the Gospel, the Church, the Sacraments and her way of life and wants that beauty to shine through so that people are captured by this beauty and ultimately seek Transcendent Beauty Himself. This changes nothing of the truths of the Catholic Faith, but places them in a different light, or lense.
    5) In exercising Petrine Primacy, PF is emphasizing/re-emphasizing ‘synodality’ of the bishops. If you notice he not only has his 8 Cardinals of main advisors but now has Cardinals in all sorts of missions etc [for example the recent appointment of several Cardinals to investigate the Pontifical University in Lima, Peru. I believe he will soon be calling bishops conferences etc to step up to the plate as well—-as the Latin American Bishops did in the Apericedo Conference and Proclamation.
    6) he sees and active and dynamic mission oriented identity of both dioceses and parishes. No longer will they be simply regional, administrative, management entities but missioned communities
    7) pastorally, PF sees the whole Church, and at every level down to the individual as called to mercy. It is interesting to note that Saint Matthew’s Gospel which is known as the Church Gospel and contains so many teachings of Jesus, emphasizes mercy again and again-to the point of quoting Hosea twice: “It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice”. PF is rooted in this pastoral vision.
    8) on a personal level I get the sense that PF does not mind ‘mess’ sometimes [not the same as chaos btw]. In fact, I am starting to think that he likes to ‘mix it up a bit’ to get peoples talking and in the process, plumbing the depths of the Gospel or Church teaching. He encouraged the young people to do it at World Youth Day, but this seems to a pastoral pattern. I know not everyone likes it, agrees with it etc.. I understand that. But I believe he puts out questions or brief statements so people can start thinking, praying etc, search out the teachings of the Church etc on the subject. In other words, he gets things going rather than presenting everything in neat wrapped packages.

    I have other impressions of PF but I will stop here. Just my two cents worth, that’s all

  6. I will start by saying that I love Pope Francis. I can feel the love and mercy he radiates. He seems accessible to the people. I think he walks the walk, not just giving lip service to the Gospels. He seems concerned about the individual souls out there, not just the huge collective. I actually believe there will be some changes made. Not that any of them would be of any benefit to me. So I don’t have an agenda here. I’m not on the edges looking into the Catholic Church. I’m a never-married, childless, middle-aged woman, who is not a lesbian and is not jonesing to be a priest. So divorce, raising of children, abortion, contraceptives, homosexuality, etc.; none of these apply to me ( none of the hot button issues that people rant and rave about and that liberals use to batter the Church with). That said, I am wondering why divorce is a forever sin? Why is it not forgivable? It’s a sin according to the Church. Isn’t a sin forgivable (except blaspheming the Holy Spirit)? If divorced Catholics could go through some kind of Church counseling, confession and then after a period of time and an appropriate penance, and not marrying again, be re-admitted to the Eucharist, wouldn’t that be merciful and charitable and forgiving? As it is, they are punished forever for one mistake or, as some see it, failure. How many of us don’t fail on a daily basis? But I can be forgiven because my ‘little’ sins aren’t as ‘big’ and ‘bad’ as divorce? Something is wrong if a child molester can be genuinely sorry for his sins, go to confession, be absolved and be back receiving the Eucharist on Sunday, but a divorced man or woman cannot. I don’t know. Just sayin’. But one thing I do know, sometimes, for your own safety and that of your children, you have to leave a relationship. I guess a separation would be all you could do as a Catholic, if you wanted to continue to receive the Eucharist. Perhaps about half of all the Catholics that no longer attend Mass might come back if the Church would forgive them a divorce. Of course, we won’t bring up that nasty business of King Henry VIII and his break with the Catholic Church. I believe that had everything to do with divorce and beheading the wives he couldn’t divorce. I just think some compassion and mercy would go a long way to bringing a large number of Catholics back to Mass. But this is going to be up to Pope Francis and Church Doctrine, whatever happens. I know that allowing divorcees to receive the Eucharist will not be going far enough for some out there, and it would be going over the floodgates for others. There just is no pleasing everyone. I believe Pope Francis will do whatever he thinks is right for the Church and for the people. And those of us who love the Church will abide be it, whatever it is. And that’s my three cents worth.

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