Friday, 4 October 2013

Puzzled ... but not by Pope Francis

I have been rather puzzled, not so much by the consternation in traditionally minded circles at Pope Francis' recent interviews, but by exactly what it is that is causing them consternation. At times over the last few days being puzzled has morphed into being somewhat bemused. So many of the Franciscan statements that are causing the consternation just don't seem to justify it if read properly in the context in which they were originally spoken/written, and if read in an appropriate framework (see, for example, my observations about the stages of evangelisation with regard to the "first interview").

I do think that there is a lot to be said for Elizabeth Scalia's idea that there are some of us who "get" Pope Francis and others who, as yet, do not: If we “get” Francis, we have to absorb his lessons.

I have a pet theory about why people might not "get" Pope Francis. In the media, and the social media in particular, it appears to me that, within the particular circle within which one exists, there is a danger that WYSIWYG - "what you say is what you get". If the same thing is said it can gain its own credibility just by being said many times within the same milieu; and it then just takes one or two of those with a standing in that milieu to take it up, and the thing that has been said becomes, in effect, de fide for that milieu. So if those of a traditional frame of mind keep saying X about Pope Francis, then that is what they will get, and their colonisation of the electronic media only enhances this effect.

The second part of my pet theory is that, in order to "get" Pope Francis you need also to "get" Pope Benedict XVI. It is interesting, for example, to look at how Pope Benedict conducted himself during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 .... and to compare it to the primacy that Pope Francis gave to "primary proclamation" and the subsequent position of moral teaching on abortion etc in the "first interview". The reference to care for life was discretely expressed during Pope Benedict's visit to St Peter's Residence and not in the form of a condemnation during his visit to Westminster Hall. If we take the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI as a whole, and not just the particular bits that appealed (or, for others, did not appeal), I believe we do end up with Pope Francis. I suspect that the traditionally minded suffer again the phenomenon of WYSIWYG, having seen in Pope Benedict XVI's exercise of the office of Successor of St Peter a project of promotion of their cause that was never there in reality.

Is what we are seeing by way of comment from some Catholics really respectful disagreement? Or is it better described as contestation? And are those genuinely perturbed by what Pope Francis has said helped if they see the causes of their concerns legitimised (unjustifiably, in my view) by comment in the electronic media?

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