May 15, 2014
Spontaneity that reflects good-heartedness is a highly attractive trait, but the spontaneity of self-indulgence is reckless and often cruel. Spontaneity of either kind can cause confusion and dismay. Pope Francis’ spontaneity is clearly of the first sort—good-hearted, that is—but as with spontaneity of any kind, it can sometimes have confusing results.
Last month brought what may have been another instance of that when it was reported that the Pope had told an Argentine woman, civilly married to a man for 19 years, that she could receive communion; accounts differed on whether the woman or the man was divorced. The woman’s pastor supposedly had told her she could not receive.
The exchange apparently occurred during a telephone call Francis made to counsel the woman after getting a letter from her. Some sort of conversation pretty clearly did take place. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, commented that “consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred.”
Whatever actually happened, episodes exhibiting Francis’ spontaneity have multiplied in this pontificate. (Think of his “who am I to judge?” concerning homosexuals who act in good faith.) Not that previous popes never misspoke themselves, but occurrences like these tended to be rare in earlier times inasmuch as popes were usually remote, sequestered figures whose public utterances were delivered in carefully vetted language.
That gave rise to the institution of “Vaticanologist.” The term, like “Kremlinologist,” signified a journalist generally thought to be expert at teasing out the real meaning that lay behind the bits and pieces of information dribbling out from a closed system.