Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pope Francis' "we"

No, I am not suggesting that Pope Francis has a "Wii" - I somehow can't see him playing tennis before his large screen TV in Casa Santa Marta each evening.

Nor am I really suggesting that he has reverted to the use of a "We" as a reference to himself in his exercise of the Papal office.

I have noticed, however, that Pope Francis does use an inclusive "we" in his homilies. See, for example, his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

What is of interest here is that, if Pope Francis not infrequently appears to be somewhat acidic in his criticism of attitudes unhelpful to Christian living, he does not exclude himself from that criticism. Even when that inclusion is not explicit, I think we should recognise that it is there.

Pope Francis' recent remarks about "smarmy priests" have caused some comment: with a certain historical and analytical background here, and just seeing them plainly as insults among many others being directed at the faithful, here. Like many of the remarks that are being perceived adversely by some commenters, these remarks were made during a homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta. The text of the Vatican radio report is here.

And if we read that report carefully, through to the end, we can see the Franciscan "we":
We priests have so many limits .....
We can also see something else. The somewhat acidic remarks are presented as a counter-example to Pope Francis positive exhortation to priests that they should build their life on a relationship with Christ (my emphasis added):
A true priest, he said, anointed by God for His people, has a close relationship with Jesus. When that relationship is missing, the priest becomes “smarmy,” [unctuous, It: unctuoso] an idolater, a worshiper of the “god Narcissus.”
This does not reduce the acidity of Pope Francis remarks, but does give them some context. I do think it is also the case that, with a background influenced by Communion and Liberation, Pope Francis has a vocabulary that is particularly unfamiliar to those of a more traditionalist background (cf his remarks about ideology some time ago).

I think, too, that when these kind of remarks are taken out of the context of the morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta they gain a definition and certainty of expression that may be lacking in the intent and original context - the relatively informal spoken word against the concretely defined written word. It is possible to make more of them than is really there to be made of them. I suspect that there is a linguistic issue in play, too. Pope Francis is preaching without script in Italian, which is not his first language; and he does not appear to have the strong language skills of his predecessor. It might well be the case that his use of Italian expressions is not as precise as it might be.

Whether this explains why Pope Francis speaks of "smarmy priests" in a way that clearly suggests that such priests exist, rather than just suggesting the danger of a priests becoming "smarmy".... it is difficult to tell.

If it is any consolation to priests who feel they have been insulted, I read these remarks that appear to have been made particularly about priests and recognised that they might also have application to the lay faithful - just as I thought Pope Francis' remarks to the Curia also had ready application to any lay person in their place of work. But I am not going to take it personally!

1 comment:

Jackie Parkes said...

Yes I took it that we could all be smarmy!