Saturday, 5 March 2016

Love Pope Francis and love the Church: Four theses

First Thesis: those who spread the narrative of "contradicting the infallibly defined teaching of the Church", or of "confusing and erroneous teaching", on the part of Pope Francis have need to be very considerably more truthful in their presentation and interpretation of Pope Francis' words.

Second Thesis, part (a): Pope Francis' words offered during the in-flight press conference, the morning homily or at an audience are addressed to a specific situation at a specific time: the question of a journalist which may reflect a context from an apostolic journey, the congregation in the St Martha guest house in the context of the Liturgy of that day, the particular situation and experience of those present at the audience. They are not universal teaching, and not intended as such; they should neither be treated as such by commentators nor vilified by those who would wish that they met the standards of universal teaching. One might wish to say, in this restricted sense, that they are not "magisterial teaching" - but see part (b) below - and we should not make more of them than they are by trying to extend them to wider contexts and neither should we denigrate them when we have undertaken that extension ourselves.

Second Thesis, part (b): Though Pope Francis' words are not universal teaching, they do nevertheless represent the manner in which Pope Francis exercises his office as the Successor of Peter. That manner is, as I think Pope Francis indicated in the preference for the title "Bishop of Rome" expressed in the early days of his pontificate, the manner of pastor; and he exercises the office in that manner using the modern means of social communication. [As an aside, one could suggest that Pope John Paul II exercised the office in the manner of a philosopher and Pope Benedict in the manner of a theologian. Try reading their encyclicals from this perspective.]

Third Thesis: Abbot Vonier suggests, in the foreword to The Spirit and the Bride (a book I was led to when it was referenced, I think indirectly, by Pope Francis in a footnote to his Encyclical Gaudium Evangelium), that Catholics should not distinguish between an "ideal Church" and a "real Church" - there is only one Church. It offends this oneness of the Church when Pope Francis' non-magisterial teaching is the subject of insistent critique from a community of bloggers who to a greater or lesser extent see themselves as a kind of "alternative magisterium" to his exercise of his office. This anti-Francis attitude is, quite simply, not Catholic.

Fourth Thesis: Among the aetherial personalities of the "alternative magisterium" there are those who "initiate" and those who "follow", those who start a critique and then those who share it, often somewhat uncritically. In different ways, I think both need to examine their consciences, but perhaps particularly the latter. They need to recognise that what the famous bloggers say is not always either intelligent or true, however learned it might appear, and that they need to think twice before re-posting or linking.

I believe that all of the above can be exemplified from the reaction to Pope Francis' most recent in-flight press conference - see here for some of my articulation of this. This link and this also develop more fully some of the thoughts above. The most recent in-flight press conference, read without a filter, struck me as being exceptionally intelligent and astute.

I would make my own the comment of another blogger at the end of his post:
The Holy Father always makes me want to be a better man.

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