Catholic News Agency's Vatican Observer
Pope's words show ongoing conversation with world
Andrea Gagliarducci
Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square before a General Audience, Oct. 2, 2013. Credit: Elise Harris/CNA.
Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square before a General Audience, Oct. 2, 2013. Credit: Elise Harris/CNA.

.- Pope Francis’ priority is the pastoral care of the people entrusted to him, and his words are intentionally suited to this purpose; but this does not mean he will concede on doctrine, a noted Vaticanista has explained.

In two recently published articles at L'Espresso, Sandro Magister sketched out the peculiar style of Pope Francis' informal means of communication.

Magister maintains that Pope Francis has inaugurated a “twofold communicative register”: on one side, what he says off the cuff, or in the interviews and in spontaneous preaching, is meant for the people of God; on the other side, the official pronouncements of the Pope himself, or of someone with his complete trust, are intended to point out what the doctrine is.

Two example of this twofold register can be provided.

The first is the contrast between the Roman Pontiff's sometimes words on marriage, and those of Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Mueller published an article in L'Osservatore Romano Oct. 22 as an “official answer” to those who have supposed that under Pope Francis, the Church would be open to admitting to Holy Communion those who have been divorced and re-married.

In the thinly veiled response to an office of the vacant Archdiocese of Freiburg which had suggested some divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion, Archbishop Mueller wrote that while Catholics in irregular marital unions after divorce cannot receive Communion, this makes it “all the more imperative” to show them “pastoral concern.”

The archbishop's clarification was needed because of the mystification of Pope Francis’ words in the question and answer conference he held in his plane on the way back from World Youth Day in Brazil.

Speaking about the divorced and remarried persons, Pope Francis stated that “those who are divorced can receive communion, there is no problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t,” adding that “we need to look at this within the larger context of the entire pastoral care of marriage.”

On Nov. 8, Pope Francis again proved that he cannot alter Church teaching on the admission of divorced and remarried persons to Communion.

Receiving the plenary assembly of the Apostolic Signatura, the supreme tribunal and minister of justice in the Church, Pope Francis praised the role of the “defender of the bond” – those charged with defending a marriage against suppositions of nullity.

Pope Francis underscored that “the defender of the bond who wants to render a good service cannot limit himself to a quick reading of the acts, not to bureaucratic and generic answers.” He instead is called to “harmonize the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law with the concrete situations of the Church and of society.”

He also stressed that the defender is called to “facilitate the achievement of the truth in the definitive sentence” and that he must “keep always alive the connection between the action of the Church which evangelizes and the action of the Church which administers justice.”

“Service to justice is a commitment of the apostolic life: it needs to be exercised keeping our eyes fixed on the image of the Good Shepherd, who bends down to the lost and hurt sheep.”

According to a Vatican source who spoke with CNA Nov. 8, “reiterating the importance of the defender of the bond, Pope Francis wanted to reiterate that marriage is always indissoluble, and an eventual nullity cannot be taken lightly.”

Pope Francis' speech to the members of the Signatura was in fact an official one, and was not of the sort of communication he performs in the public arena.

According to Magister, Pope Francis preaching “is primarily addressed to the common people, to the weak in faith, to the sinners, to the far away. Not as a whole, but as if the Pope would like to speak one-on-one with each of them.”

Magister maintains that “just as in the Gospel Jesus is very demanding in the commandments but turns to individual sinners with mercy, so also Pope Francis wants to be.”

This is why, he said, “on disputed questions, on birth, on death, on procreation, he is of undisputed doctrinal orthodoxy”.

“The view of the Church is known, and I am a son of the Church," Pope Francis stated in his interview with Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica – leaving the exposition of doctrine to a different environment.

This interview granted to La Civiltà Cattolica is the second example of Pope Francis’ new “communicative register.”

According to Magister, the interview “appears more and more as the ‘overture’ to a concert for many voices”, and it is also “eliciting responses that are adding questions on top of questions”.

“This is a procedure typical of any open conversation,” Magister reflected. “And since this is the modality used by Pope Francis to announce the program of his pontificate, it is natural that the reactions as well should not limit themselves to listening, to acceptance, to criticism or rejection, but should engage directly with him in an ongoing dialogue”.

One example on how such a dialogue can be developed is the commentary on the interview written by Fr. Robert Imbelli, a priest of the New York archdiocese and a theology professor at Boston College, for “America.”

Imbelli compared Pope Francis’ style to that of the German composer Wilhelm Furtwängler, whom the Pope loves.

Imbelli asserted that “Furtwängler’s style resembled an ongoing conversation among players and parts, gradually building toward a dramatic, sometimes surprising, conclusion”, and this is parallel to Pope Francis’ conversational style, with his penchant for “narrative,” “discernment,” and the “mystical.”

Imbelli explains that “the conversation transpired between two believers (Pope Francis and Fr. Spadaro, who conducted the interview), two fellow Jesuits, who share a commitment, vision and common language. However, it is being overheard by a world avid to detect any hint of change in church teaching, but that is often deaf to the deeper language of faith.”

This is why Fr. Imbelli considers the interview as part of an on going conversation, and he ends his commentary by raising some concerns he would address to the Pope should “America” commission him with a follow up interview.

To complete the Pope’s symphony, in fact, it is needful for Catholics to fill the “communicative hole” of a Furtwängler devotee such as Pope Francis.

Tags: La Civilta Cattolica

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