PopeWatch: Msgr. Hans Feichtinger



Father Z directs our attention to an interesting piece in Crisis on analyzing the style of Pope Francis:


This is a quote from this good piece at Crisis by my friend of many years Msgr. Hans Feichtinger, who was until recently a long-time official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Read and decide for yourselves (with my usual emphases and comments):

Demystifying the Pope Francis Enigma

Every modern pope has had his own style. Paul VI was personally like a global student chaplain, intellectually sensitive and pained by the fact that so many were falling away from the Church. John Paul II was the international pastor, constantly on the move, proclaiming the truths of the faith and exhorting us to heroic virtues. Benedict XVI was the universal professor, who carefully thought about the most pressing intellectual issues facing the world today. Pope Francis? In true Jesuit fashion, he may be best characterized as the world’s spiritual director.

Consider the talk Francis gave to the cardinals and the staff of his curia with the long list of spiritual maladies that he wants them to address (December 22, 2014). [He basically beat the tar out of them.] Or look at some buzz lines from recent homilies at Santa Marta: the Church is a mother, not an entrepreneur; rigidity is the sign of a weak heart; theology is done on your knees; keep the temple clean—and do not scandalize the faithful by posting liturgical price lists; do not be afraid of surprises and of conversion. Think about how the pope repeatedly has likened modern forms of Christianity to ancient heresies. [Who can forget the unbeatable “self-referential Promethean Neo-Pelagian” line?] His homilies are like wake-up calls, at times hyperbolic, [at time?  often!] often provocative, reminders about the basic message of the gospel. Not to mention the pope’s unprotected speech in interviews, both in the air and on the ground. This is how the pope preaches his theology and spirituality.

Many of Francis’ pronouncements do not have the binding authority of obligatory teaching; i.e., they are not “magisterium” in the proper sense of the term—people are free to listen and pay attention or not, free to let themselves be challenged, motivated, or convinced. The Holy Father’s language touches the hearts of many, perhaps more than their minds—and presumably this is precisely the pope’s intention. He does not offer refined analysis, carefully weighing all aspects in order to arrive at affirmations that are beyond criticism. What he wants to do is surprise, challenge, provoke, or reassure, console, and support. [This is so.  Alas, what happens when he says things like “Who am I to judge?” is that swaths of people, mislead by the MSM and catholic sources, get the notion that Francis thinks homosexual acts are not to be judged as intrinsically evil.]

To appreciate the words of Pope Francis, it helps to remember the essential distinction between doctrine and theology. No theology can claim for itself the authority of the magisterium. Conversely, the magisterium cannot act as a substitute for theology. The distinction between doctrine and theology, however, is not clear to many who represent the pope’s pronouncements to the public. This is a problem, whether we and the pope like it or not, mostly because we are not used to making this distinction when reading papal pronouncements. [Good point.]

John Paul II and Benedict XVI worked hard composing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now Francis tells us: the Catechism is not enough. This is certainly true, but people make it sound as if he intends to abolish the Catechism altogether. All Christians, and the Church as a whole, are called to proclaim the faith truthfully and to live it authentically. We all know that there is never a perfect harmony between the precepts of the faith and how the Church and its members act; the solution to this problem is not to formulate a compromise [did you see that “not”?] —repentance and true reform has the aim of bringing our practice closer to the demands of the faith. This is where Francis puts his focus.

All popes need to be allowed the space to exercise their ministry as they see fit. But even more importantly, Catholics need to appreciate the enduring and radical difference between Christ and his deputy: The pope is here in order to ensure that no one and nothing else takes the place of Christ until the Lord himself returns. The pope, more than anyone else, is bound by the example of Christ, and needs to rely on his special assistance (what we call “grace of state”); he is the first of “all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith” (Missal, Roman Canon).

At the same time, [… this is where things get tricky…] the pope represents the Church before the world and before God. Pope Francis does not seem inclined to cover up disagreements within the Church. In many respects, he wants to be more in the Church than over it. When Pope Benedict declared his resignation, he did so acknowledging that he no longer had the strength to be pope. [Quaeritur…] Did he have to step down because we failed to help him carry the heavy burden of the Petrine ministry? And are we now ready to step up and support Pope Francis in the way and to the degree he needs it? We need a pope in order to be Catholic. But conversely, he needs us. An Italian journalist once put it very succinctly: “Dobbiamo amare il Papa—we must love the Pope.” According to the Bible, this love must be “without dissimulation,” literally “unhypocritical” (see the Greek of Rom 12:9). It is this spiritual authenticity that Francis wants us to acquire.

Pope Francis has made his choice about how he would like to exercise his office. Catholics respect his choice by taking his pronouncements and gestures for what they are, which includes not treating them as expressions of the primacy of teaching when they are not. Francis does not want to—and in fact he cannot—challenge the teaching authority of his predecessors; rather, he wants to help us “consider how to provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). [NB:]Looking at a short, partially improvised homily as if its words were the equivalent of an encyclical of Paul VI is simply ridiculous, and is an offense against the pope’s own intentions. The pope is part of the living tradition of the Church, which is a tradition in the making. The Supreme Pontiff is affected by our inconsistencies, confusions, errors and doctrinal defects, in a double sense: his ministry cannot overlook these issues, and he is himself touched by them. To believe that all popes must be perfect and saints, theologically, is donatism, [Donatism] and historically, madness.

So what does it mean to look at Pope Francis SJ as the universal spiritual director? First of all, it does not mean doubting whether he really is the pope. [Some, amazingly, do.  And they have played games of intellectual Twister.] Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Benedict XVI who can help us find an answer. Already as cardinal, and even more explicitly as pope, he underlined the difference between Church doctrine and his own theology and exegesis: “Everyone is free to contradict me.”[cf his comments about his books Jesus of Nazareth.] Compared to a theological teacher and his student, a spiritual director generally has even more authority over the individual who entrusts himself to his care; at the same time, it remains even more up to the directee what to do with his director’s advice or whether indeed to seek it in the first place. In many cases, this is how Pope Francis seems to understand his own approach. Whether this is the best way of “being pope” remains to be seen, but it is certainly not without its merits. In any case, it comes with a price and has limitations. Indeed, we can be sure the pope himself is aware of these limitations, and we can trust that as a good spiritual director he also lets himself be challenged by others, resisting his own tendency to moralize and spiritualize issues that are in fact doctrinal. [Time will tell.]

Saint Paul reports the famous episode when he had to point out to Saint Peter how some of Peter’s practices were incoherent (Gal 2:11-21)—not that Paul would not have suffered from similar inconsistencies (Acts 16:3). The way Pope Francis acts seems to invite a similar kind of criticism, at least from people who can offer it sincerely and seriously. He is an approachable pope, thus Catholics need to drop the fear of approaching him, even if they approach with something other than praise for his actions. He speaks in his own way to the faithful, very different from his predecessors. Thus, lay Catholics, bishops and clergy will need to change how they relate to his words and gestures and distinguish more accurately with what kind of authority he acts and speaks. If Francis does not want to be as august as some of his predecessors, we should stop trying to force him.  [I sure hope to see a shift in his liturgical style and also in decorum in matters of audiences, etc.  But, who am I to judge?]

As we learn from Benedict XVI, we are often free to contradict the pope, because there is no such thing as an obligatory theology or spirituality, even if it is the pope’s theology or spirituality. We even may not be impressed by his personal style, preferring to wait and see whether his disarmament of papal ceremonies is the best way. Or in Francis’ language: Do not “divinize your leaders!” What is binding on the conscience of all Catholics, clergy and popes included, is the faith, its doctrine and tradition. Authenticity and truth are not the same thing, but certainly they are related, and the Church needs both in order to be truthful and credible: “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Cor 4:1-2). This pope is different, and therefore papists can and need to be different, too.

Go here to read the rest.  All Popes have different styles and some styles work better than others.  John Paul II was always a charismatic figure, even if what he was saying was fairly pedestrian.  Few Popes have had the intellectual firepower of Pope Benedict XVI, and few have had as little charisma.  Pope Francis has a very off the cuff style, unexpected in a Jesuit.  That would not be a problem if he were not given to making statements off the cuff that just are not accurate in public, rather than to aides or to close colleagues.  Pope Francis has a style where the distinction between private comments and public comments does not seem to exist, and that is deeply unfortunate.

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  1. He’s the absolute last person I’d want for my spiritual director, or for any Catholic. Good grief. With all due respect, Monsignor, you’re far, far too kind to this Pope.

  2. If people are still trying to understand the guy two years in–and are offering different findings–then that says all you need to know.

    It’s telling that almost all of this “key to understanding Francis” stuff is from the right side of the aisle, where it has become a mushrooming cottage industry. No such confusion existed under his two predecessors. And no such confusion exists now in such places as America, Commonweal or the Reporter.

    “Support him”? That would be much easier if 98 out of every 100 speeches didn’t involve carping criticism.

    Look, folks–he’s really easy to understand. He’s a progressive churchman–a Jesuit formed in the era of Jesuit Pedro Arrupe–who thinks Vatican II was a break with the past, and the most important event in Catholic history. He has a few hangovers from his Italian immigrant upbringing that crop up in the occasional homily, but the bottom line is that he doesn’t like the direction the church took under JPII and BXVI and he’s striving mightly to shove it to port. All the handwaving and special pleading to the contrary falls flatter by the day.

  3. He doesn’t like the Church period, and wishes it were reconstituted as a collection of petty social service agencies / social clubs which challenge the surrounding society not at all. He does not care for markets, or people who make their living producing and selling goods and services to willing customers. He has an allergy to people who do the rough work of order maintenance, such as soldiers and cops, and has an allergy to the pairing of acts and consequences in the mundane world.

    Wagers on the table that any sort of theological discourse is just trumpery for this man. Any day of the week you run into people inclined to be cruel to the kind and kind to the cruel and who take for granted what good order there is in the world around them – order they themselves cannot generate and order produced by people with very different sensibilities than those they themselves possess. Such people want to give people things and fancy the trouble in the world is that uptight people keep insisting on behavioral norms applicable to their mascots. On the Chair of Peter sits a cloying nitwit.

  4. I know Fr. Z’s blog has a somewhat diverse readership but I’m kind of astounded at how many commenters on this article are applauding the Monsignor’s views. Wow.

  5. The Pope, who ‘wants’ to be the Bishop of Rome, has in word and deed, and probably thought, proven that Art wins the wager on the table. People who stand for the actual teaching in the Gospels, which word he mentions in trumperies, are suffering persecution due to his Bishops’ lack of proper defending function with no correction from the top. People who don’t stand for more than personal justification are spoken to in terms of mercy without conscientiously pairing the repentance for which teaching John the Baptist lost his head. As the heavy-handed head of the ‘doctors’ for souls seeking Heaven, he has proven to ‘play favorites’, ‘bully’ the objective, and adopt ‘permissiveness’ for his appointees’ lies and theft. A spiritual director of the world, for the world, by the world – sifting its’ directives and using its people – for as long as there’s no pain or hurt.

  6. What is to be understood about him is that he knows how to connect with the so-called people in the pews. He plays to the polarization that seems to be the game of the day. Like the Democrats he appeals to the “humanity” heart of people who don’t understand that laws and boundaries are good things, that saying no can be a positive. How to win the people’s hearts by telling them that their short term interests are in their best interest.

  7. I certainly don’t seem him as a spiritual director…too permissive ?

    Msgr’s essay is cloudy and not very helpful.
    ” He does not offer refined analysis” …an understatement!
    So is the pope keeping it simple for the simple people? then Msgr comes offers an un simple explanation based on B16 that theology is different than doctrine.
    yes it reminds me of moving the walnut shells too fast for the rubes to see, and shortchanging the people in the pew. This is above your head folks. If you think he is talking about changing authentic teaching that is just because you don’t understand that Authentic and True and not the same, and you prob think your your theology moves your doctrine.
    Yeah, right. Come on Jed, lets go home.

  8. Dale Price and Art nailed it. There isn’t anything else to say.

    V2 changed the Church. All before it was thrown out with the rest of the trash. Forward, always forward. Never go back.

    Blech. JPII and Benedict XVI didn’t need countless bloggers justifying and explaining what they said.

  9. Well…. B16 did, but that was usually when someone pulled three words out of a very carefully constructed, technical discussion and tried to treat it like a summary, in plain English.
    Like the time he used an example of… I think it was a homosexual prostitute?… starting to use condoms to protect the other party, and it suggesting that it indicated a desire to do right…so folks started howling about “Pope is OK with condoms for gay prostitutes.”
    Or the infamous Harry Potter thing. /headache
    Is a big contrast to “well, if he was speaking carelessly there IS this possibly OK understanding” forms.

  10. You said it foxfier. I apologize that I said Msgr was not clear then I hurried and typed too fast- should always proofread.
    After Msgr said the pope “…does not offer refined analysis” he continued by suggesting that we understand the enigma by realizing that theology is different than doctrine, without giving the whole thought. Seemed like the Msgr was just prancing his words around – not helpful

  11. Hermeneutic of Rupture, Penguins Fan? And I thought you were fond of Benedict XVI [wry half-smile].
    Maybe it’s because I’m a relative newb, or maybe it’s because my parish is blessed with a solid pastor and a sound NO liturgy, or maybe it’s just because I’m not up to snuff on “Vaticanology” (deliberate wordplay on Kremlinology), Pope Francis doesn’t particularly consternate or confound me. I’ll admit that he confuzzles me, though. And if I had a Parish afflicted with “Rythm and Truth band” and an I’m okay, you’re okay, God loves us all just as we are/the Gospel according to Depeche Mode pastor, like my wife and I had when we lived in San Jose, CA, I’d be a lot less sanguine. (And in that Priest’s, whose name I forget, defence, he did offer up a beautiful and reverent Easter Vigil, so it wasn’t all California casual.)
    That said, if all the predictions of doom and gloom regarding the upcoming synod prove to be true, I’ll lose my sanguininity.

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