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 contraception, hell, 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.