PopeWatch: Popesplaining

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A cottage industry has developed among Catholic apologists of explaining what the Pope really meant, after he utters a statement that flatly flies in the face of Church teaching.  Dan Hitchens at First Things notes some of the problems with this approach:


We are regularly assured that what Francis really said or meant, when you look at his statements from the right angle and put them into the proper context, was plainly orthodox. He has supposedly been misrepresented by hostile or uncomprehending journalists. But those who offer such explanations eventually run into difficulties. The diligent and thoughtful apologist Jimmy Akin has become a byword for this approach. But last month, he acknowledged in passing that the pope has made “any number of poorly phrased statements that need proper clarification.” In other words, it’s not just the media’s fault. Another layman, Tom Hoopes, went so far as to write a book called What Pope Francis Really Said. It was a chastening experience. “I spent a year reading Pope Francis,” Hoopes has recalled, “and it was the hardest year of my life.”

By the way, I’m not mocking Akin and Hoopes. For years I used to tell myself and others that Francis had been misread by intemperate bloggers and ignorant reporters. But the more you do this, the more you start to realize two things.

First, that practically any statement can be reconciled with Church teaching, if you try hard enough. Give me a minute, and I can probably explain why a papal remark such as “States must be secular” or (of some cohabiting couples) “they have the grace of a real marriage” can be given an orthodox interpretation. Indeed—to move from real examples into a thought experiment—“Jesus Christ is not the son of God” could be given an orthodox interpretation if you really want one. (It all depends on the meaning of “son”…)

But the mere possibility of an orthodox reading is not the only thing that matters. This is the second thing you realize: It also matters whether the words mislead people. And the pope’s words—combined with his actions and his conspicuous silences—are frequently, needlessly, seriously misleading about Catholic doctrine. Some of the most glaring examples relate to contraceptionhell, and the theoretical legitimacy of the death penalty, but the list grows practically every month.

Go here to read the rest.  Saint Thomas Aquinas taught us that there is no contradiction between faith and reason.  In the current pontificate Catholics are often asked to accept on faith what their reason tells them goes against what the Church has taught since time out of mind.  The role of the Pope in the life of the Church is a powerful one, but even he cannot make black white.

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  1. The difference in interpreting “what the Pope really said/meant” is far too similar an undertaking than that taken by all protestants when they explain in tens of thousands of different ways, what the Holy Spirit really meant when He inspired the inerrant bible. Hmmmm?

  2. Again, because it is so important to this subject, I remind us that Pius VI informed us that ambiguity was often deliberate, in order to “allow for error.”

  3. Jimmy Akin used to be a “diligent and thoughtful apologist”, but now he is pretty much a court jester for the Pope. I stopped reading his pretzel logic because I was too embarrassed for him. This is another example of the harm the Pope has done to good people in Christ’s one, true church.

  4. Don L, I find myself constantly wavering between deliberate ambiguity or the current pontiff is a complete moron.

  5. F7, Jimmy Akin went bad long before Pope Francis when he tried to defend Mark Shea when he went off the rails back in 2006.

  6. I think he was Shea’s boss at Catholic Answers. I never read much Akin and haven’t looked at his site in a dozen years. I’ve been told by others that in his public remarks he’s been quite shirty to others and protective of Shea when the matter of Shea’s frequently bizarre online conduct was raised.

    Others who used to be engaging amateur commentators went silent when they took jobs with the Church apparatus. Dom Bettinelli was one and Dawn Eden was another.

  7. It better for ones spiritual and mental health not to pay any attention to this would be Pope. Obviously, he’s not the Pope because he makes no sense.

  8. Offering possible interpretations that don’t involve “he’s evil” or “she’s an idiot” is kind of Akin’s job. Folks keep telling me that Akin “supported Hillary” or “said Shea was right,” but when I ask for any sort of a link or I go digging myself, all I find is that he didn’t condemn folks.

    A lot of folks seem upset that he won’t join in a fight.

  9. Art, Shea was never in the full employ of Catholic Answers. He was on their Speakers Bureau of which Akin at least had influence over. He was the director of apologetics and evangelization at the time.

    The problem isn’t so much an issue of employment or money as it is the clique mentality that is so prevalent in “orthodox” Catholic circles, particularly in the media commentariat element.

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