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:
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.