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Catholic Herald View: Pope Francis’s plain speaking is perfect for our age

The Holy Father is challenging the defensiveness that has so harmed the Church’s mission

By on Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro (Photo: CNS)

On the flight to Rio, Pope Francis walked down to the press section to give a few cursory remarks to journalists. “It’s true I don’t give interviews,” he said, explaining his decision to break with Benedict XVI’s custom of holding in-flight press conferences. “I just can’t. It’s tiresome.”

You can imagine his advisers’ surprise, then, when he told them on the trip back from Rio that he intended to walk back down the plane and hold a press conference. His aides reportedly advised him against it. But he went ahead anyway.

What followed was one of the most remarkable media encounters in papal history. For 80 minutes Francis took questions from all quarters, answering with a candour that would be startling in a bishop, let alone the Pope. Everything he said was on the record, even his comments about the alleged immoral behaviour of a Vatican official and the case of an Italian monsignor who is currently in jail awaiting trial. Media interest inevitably focused on homosexuality and women’s ordination. But, in truth, almost everything Pope Francis said was newsworthy, from his love of Benedict XVI (“it’s like having your grandpa at home”), to his uncertainty about the future of the Vatican bank, to his belief that “having a bishop behind bulletproof glass is crazy”, to his frank assessment that “I haven’t done a lot yet”.

It hardly needs to be said that Francis did not change Catholic teaching on homosexuality. An in-flight press conference, after all, is hardly a vehicle for authoritative teaching. But what the Pope says – and how he says it – sets the tone for the worldwide Church.

What is most striking about the Holy Father’s now famous comment – “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” – is how evangelical it is. It is implicitly encouraging gay people to walk the path of holiness that leads to union with God. In other words, he is saying that the Church has a vision for gay men that extends far beyond the condemnation of particular sexual acts. It is a vision whose goal is nothing less than heaven.

When the Pope says “Who I am to judge?” he is not suggesting there are no objective moral norms, but rather that we cannot read others’ hearts and minds, and therefore are in no position to make definitive judgments. We can deduce from his remarks that he wants the Church worldwide to take an evangelical approach to gay people, to invite them to hear the universal call to holiness amid the din of our hedonistic culture. He also wants Catholics to refrain from making judgments about individual gay people, to treat them as “our brothers” and accompany them on the long and, at times, arduous journey to the Lord.

Francis’s comments about women in the Church have a similar intent: he wants to help us lift up our eyes, which are often focused narrowly on prohibitions, and see the wider picture. While he noted that the Church is unable to ordain women as priests, he said that “the Church herself is feminine”. A Church in which “the Madonna is more important than the Apostles” cannot but treat women with reverence and be constantly enriched by the deep reservoirs of their spirituality.

The extreme candour that Francis displayed at his press conference may be unnerving for Catholics who prefer a more reserved papal style. But it is perhaps fitting for a century in which the distinction between the public and the private is being steadily eroded. Pope Francis spoke to the media on Monday with a transparency and unguardedness rarely seen among Church leaders. He was taking a great, but calculated risk, in order to challenge the secrecy and defensiveness that have caused so much harm to the Church’s mission.

  • LocutusOP

    Any ideas on when we can get the full transcript? It surely would help a lot.

    I am not particularly surprised that his advisors would have told him to stay away from the press, knowing what a mess could result from it. A casual look at the headlines generated from his moment with the press – including your own – would seem to exonerate them for their hesitance .

    Of course the Pope did not change Church teaching about anything – a plane would hardly be the place in which to do that – but the tone in which he said things lends more confusion that it does clarity. In fact, there are so many muddled statements that I really can’t attempt to take in until I have a full transcript. What seems certain though is that he did not unequivocally make the case for what the Church teaches, and that’s what has enabled all these headlines. In many cases it seemed as though he was constrained by Church teaching, instead of liberated by it – although I’ll grant that not having the full transcripts, this impression may be false.

    Yet again we see the orthodox Catholic sphere of the Church bending over backwards to fit what Pope Francis has said into the structure of Catholic teaching. Much of it can only be done by piecing quotes together from different sections, cutting other quotes short or going through a very lengthy explanation as to why what he said can be seen as being in line with what the Church teaches. Instead we should be focusing on the fact that the Pope only teaches infallibly under a very narrow set of circumstances, and we should be demanding greater clarity instead of pretending that what he’s saying is actually helping the situation.

    I have no intention of going point-by-point about what was disturbing but I’d just like to counter that what Pope Francis is doing is not plain speaking. If he was speaking plainly, he would not be generating the sort of headlines he has. If he spoke plainly, he would leave no idea about what the Church teaches and would not encourage the media to run off with stories about how he signals a “break” from the past. What he’s doing is muddied speaking, and that will only continue to cause scandal, which surely cannot be “perfect for our age” or any other. I’ll, however, conclude by suggesting that maybe the editors have a different view of what constitutes “plain speaking”, “perfect”, “fitting”, “distinction” and “Catholic teaching” from what I have have, and perhaps our disagreement lies in precisely the definition of these terms.

  • Irene

    Why not start with the huge problem in the church (as elsewhere), concerning women- I am not thinking of “careers”, but of the enormous harm caused by women(mostly) to their women sisters.
    Because of envy. Calumny. Because of their unability to accept and love sisters who are, in any way, regarded as “better”. Above all, female hostility, totally unchecked, is often directed towards attractive sisters.
    Did I break a taboo in the church with this simple statement?

  • paulpriest

    Plain Speaking?

  • http://twitter.com/JamesCallender3 James Callender

    Basically the CH is saying that Pope Francis is just singing to the same “Vatican 2 spirit” tune as they are and that makes them happy. What about the fullness of Catholic faith?

  • Helena

    Thank Goodness that the prejudicial, biggoted, racist and sexist Catholics are angry with the Pope! I hope that they will leave and clean the space for the new generations.
    And in fact, even the former Pope Benny said that – the he wanted quality and not quantity, to have a smaller but better Church.
    So, heralds of the evil, please LEAVE. Get out NOW! When was the last time you smiled to your neighbour, gave food to the hungry or even asked your local priest how to help the ones in need, or discussed anything apart being prejudicial?
    Oh, and btw – LEARN TO READ. He has NOT said that he supports gays behaviour. Again, the midia broadcasted a phrase out of the full context.
    And congratulations, LocutisOP on your statement to have the full transcript. It is here, in Portuguese – please use a good translator, it is worth reading.
    http://blogs.estadao.com.br/jamil-chade/2013/07/29/entrevista-com-o-papa-francisco-quem-sou-eu-para-julgar-os-gays/

  • Back Pew Driver

    Preach it, Irene. We need to be discussing such things… I can’t tell you how many talks I have been to that tell me that as long as I am chaste and dress modestly, I am doing my part as a Catholic woman. But in reality, gossip does more damage to the self-esteem of women than most other things!

  • Martlet

    None of us should ask anyone to leave the Church. That is well above our pay-grade. Neither should we judge our fellow Catholics. Because someone needs clarity does not make them homophobes, sexists or racists, nor does it suggest that they do not carry out works of charity. Motes and beams here!

  • 1Maccabeus

    ‘Who am I to judge?’ – You rather seem to have forgotten that line in the Pope’s transcript in your negative, hostile, unchristian and aggressive ‘orientation’ towards those you vilify and imperiously order out of the Church. A touch of self-righteousness, perhaps?

  • 1Maccabeus

    No, it’s an honest observation.

  • bosco49

    I mean no disrespect to the Holy Father and I pray for him daily; however, the ‘plain speaking’ of this Holy Father is more akin to a game of Chinese Whispers than clear and unambiguous teaching.

    Never before have I seen or heard of so many requests pleading for ‘the original language’ of a papal remark, or to whom specifically it was addressed and to what purpose.

    There is an old adage that goes:

    “A lie is halfway around the world before the truth even gets its boots on.”

    There are so many of the Pope’s remarks that (given the forum and manner in which they were delivered by the Pope) have yet to get their boots on while every media outlet in the world has already run halfway round the world with misquotes (likely) and subjective spin (almost certainly).

    Maddeningly, one now is labelled a Pelagian or Pharisee merely for wanting a lucid explanation.

    It’s all so topsy-turvy.

  • bosco49

    I agree. The Holy Father had addressed calumny, detraction, and ‘gossip’ in a series of talks early in his pontificate.

    In April 2013, Vatican Radio reported Pope Francis said:

    “Pope Francis further developed this reflection. “When we prefer to gossip, gossip about others, criticize others- these are everyday things that happen to everyone, including me – these are the temptations of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community”.
    “These struggles always exist” in the parish, in the family, in the neighbourhood, among friends”. Instead through the Spirit we are born into a new life, he makes us “meek, charitable.”
    The Holy Father then outlined the correct behaviour for a Christian.
    First, “do not judge anyone” because “the only Judge is the Lord.” Then “keep quiet” and if you have something to say, say it to the interested parties, to those “who can remedy the situation,” but “not to the entire neighbourhood.” “If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit – concluded Pope Francis – we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great step forward” and “will do us all good”.

    There are more statements by Pope Francis on this issue(s).

  • Vianney Guy

    How about this for a more accurate headline: (his) careless and vague speaking style “is perfect for our times” which are marked by an ever more regionalized Church? Division feeds off of ambiguity, and Pope Francis seems to be offering a heaping helping by continuing to express his personal opinions in off-the-cuff, made-for-twitter comments. If he was, in fact, a plain speaking man, easily understood by the masses, then why all of this media attention in order to reconcile his comments with Catholic orthodoxy? For someone touted as being so simple and humble, he sure seems to be high maintenance, at least for his security team and his media apologists.

  • NatOns

    ‘The extreme candour that Francis displayed at his press conference may be unnerving for Catholics who prefer a more reserved papal style.’

    Indeed so; the almost Byzantine obscurantism woven into the documents of the Second Vatican Council could do with another hefty does of extreme candour .. unnerving though this may be to those who thrive on making the Council their touchstone (for bickering) and a more reserved papal style the full measure of church authority (their own opinions excluded, naturally). Now that little set of differing cabals covers a vast group of heaving hornets nests and wasps nests and divisionistas nests – where even the use of a very long stick (of mediated teaching) cannot protect the prodder from getting stung (and badly). Still, I have yet to hear the Holy Father offer any such candour in teaching the Faith – and while the press conference is decidedly distinct from his normal manner to date, it offers astoundingly little in the way of clarity even where it addresses some current media-heated topics.

    http://gloria.tv/?media=481238

    Rather the timely if much web-world bedraggled disciplinary action among the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate should give all orthodox Catholics increased reason for hope of this pope (rather than any presidential news conference on the move), even if that intervention causes the faithful great pain (as it does) or is magnified out of all proportion (as it has been) by a form of divisionist spirit at work in Christ’s body the Catholic Church (however well intentioned though the magnification may have been, and sincere the distress felt).

  • paulpriest

    No – I’m sorry – I’m really trying – but this ‘Catholic Herald View’ is just wrong, wrong wrong….

  • Kasey Dougge

    What a lovely Christian sentiment, get out we don’t want to save the likes of you. Is this what “liberal” Catholicism teaches? It’s also what “conservative” Catholicism teaches.. Why don’t we reflect on the teachings of Christ? He came to save all creation, we are meant to love one another without reserve and protect his creation. Helena, I think we’d all do better to spend less time on the net and more time meditating on the scriptures.

  • bluesuede

    The media wolves hounded and misrepresented every word from Pope Benedict and threw the sex scandals at him in every encounter. Now they turn to hunting down and pouncing on any new word from Pope Francis and only on selected topics, ignoring all other very good and sound responses from him. There is no open and mutual respect from most journalists.
    The rush to capture the hearts and minds of the public through the media is the-means- and creating a new culture of ideas is the intended -end. That’s why they misrepresent the Pope’s statements.

    Making the decision to against the caution given him by his seasoned advisers, he reached out to the journalists in an impromptu interview from his own love of people and charity to all and they disassembled his words and rearranged them with their own.
    Most of the world’s journalists must be fed at certain intervals and with carefully worded statements from the Vatican. That’s how we should feed media wolves.

  • bluesuede

    You are right.
    I disagree with this article too, (whoever wrote it).
    — Extreme candor is unnerving to reserved Catholics—No, all kinds of natural personalities fit quite well into any religious office, the Holy Spirit doesn’t change our nature, but perfects it. The high intelligence of the gentle Benedict and the open, people-person Francis reflects the grace of the Creator in man.
    If, as this article implies, we are too influenced by a pope’s personality, then, that would reduce our religion and faith to personality alone and that’s what happens in politics— not true religion.

    I think the secular media and some world leaders are unnerved by Pope Francis’ candor, they don’t know what he’ll say next and they fear the power of his religious message and his popularity, especially with the youth.

    As long as a prelate embraces the teachings of Christ and loves and promotes Catholic doctrine and teachings, it is a time of joy for all faithful Catholics and the Church!

  • NYer

    Holy Lios!!

  • Guest

    ..

  • bluesuede

    http://www.mercatornet.com, article by Sheila Reports, Pope Francis surprised media with candid presser. The article has some transcript links.

  • PaulF

    I wish he would stop using that word ‘gay.’ It does not belong on the lips of a pope. It was adopted by a political faction with the aim of making wrong sound right, and has been embraced as such by the spirit of the world.
    ‘Adulterers! Do you not realize that friendship with the world is hatred of God?’ (James 4:4)

  • Nesbyth

    Here is an original transcript of the answer to the journalist’s(Ilse) question and how he brings in the word “gay”. It also shows the full answer of Pope Francis.
    This is from “Salt and Light” website..
    The Question to Pope Francis from Ilse, a journalist on the Papal flight

    Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question. Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life. I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question. How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

    The Pope’s Answer

    Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation. And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him. We found none of that. That is the answer. But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published. These things are not crimes. The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime. But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh? This is a danger. This is what is important: a theology of sin. So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ. And with this sin they made him Pope. We must think about fact often.

    But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing. That is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay. They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

    The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter. There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

    Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-what-pope-francis-said-about-gays#ixzz2abVgDnRo

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Jesus the Lord said, “Say, yes for yes, and no, for no.” This is walking in the Lord’s Light as true Children of Our Father in heaven.

    When our Pope does put this understanding and attitude in his own WORDS and DEEDS the world is bound to take note and BE CHALLENGED.

    And what about other Religions! Some of them, if not all of them, may prove themselves worthless and even positively EVIL (The simple, common people themselves will be the judges in this matter by their SPONTANEOUS and FREE moving away and moving towards will indicate it.) when Jesus the Lord, Creator of Heaven and earth, Lord of Life and Death shines through our Pope Francis ( and Popes yet to follow…) and shows himself as the Savior of all peoples on earth.

    We all need to pray that this may happen more and more as days pass by.

    If the Church does not shine as the true LIGHT OF THE WORLD, as it indeed has started to shine through Pope Francis because he is GOD’S WORD centered and is following the Good shepherd Jesus the Lord, Evil forces will take over as it has happened already in post Christian areas of the Church.

    If anybody thinks clever men, intellectuals or money makers or institution builders can run the Church of Jesus the Lord, he is sadly mistaken and at the end he will face another Christ as his lord.

    We need Apostles of the Lord; yes it is through them that Jesus the Lord built up his Church.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • LatinAmerican1234
  • jane

    Go to Catholic News Agency, great website