Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Pope Francis: The second interview

I have a feeling - reinforced now that I have had the chance to read a full translation - that this second interview is somewhat like the first. To really get the sense of the controversial excerpts you need to read the whole, and see the excerpts situated in their complete context. This might not make them any less controversial, but it could remove some of the apparent specificness of the criticism, for example, of the "papal court".

I can't actually understand what that remark on the part of Pope Francis was getting at - it seems to read into the present situation of the offices of the Holy See an image from history that has no immediate relevance - but more of this below.

Reports of the second interview at: Whispers in the Loggia, the Guardian and the Telegraph. UPDATE: An English translation of the entire interview at La Repubblica.

UPDATE: There do also appear to be issues of translation between the original Italian and the English that is being made available. These seem to be best addressed currently by Elizabeth Scalia Re Translating Francis’ Interview with Eugenio Scalfari – UPDATED. The implications for translation of Pope Francis' remarks early in the interview about the different understandings that people have of right and wrong are ably addressed here. Elizabeth's post also gives the kind of commentary on how to respond to Pope Francis that is one I share.

Again, I can detect a certain affinity between one part of Pope Francis' remarks, as reported by Whispers in the Loggia, and the words of Pope Benedict XVI, offered in the very different and more academic context of the cancelled address at La Sapienza. First Pope Francis:
The young are "shackled in the present," the Pope said. "But tell me: can one live shackled in the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to throw oneself into the future: to build a project, an adventure, a family? Is it possible to continue like this? This, for me, is the most urgent problem that the church has in front of it.... It's not the only problem, but it is the most urgent and the most dramatic."
And then Pope Benedict XVI:
I would like to describe briefly how John Rawls, while denying that comprehensive religious doctrines have the character of “public” reason, nonetheless at least sees their “non-public” reason as one which cannot simply be dismissed by those who maintain a rigidly secularized rationality. Rawls perceives a criterion of this reasonableness among other things in the fact that such doctrines derive from a responsible and well thought-out tradition in which, over lengthy periods, satisfactory arguments have been developed in support of the doctrines concerned. The important thing in this assertion, it seems to me, is the acknowledgment that down through the centuries, experience and demonstration – the historical source of human wisdom – are also a sign of its reasonableness and enduring significance. Faced with an a-historical form of reason that seeks to establish itself exclusively in terms of a-historical rationality, humanity’s wisdom – the wisdom of the great religious traditions – should be valued as a heritage that cannot be cast with impunity into the dustbin of the history of ideas.
Returning to the question of the "Vatican-centric" approach of the Roman Curia to which Pope Francis makes reference. I am not at all sure that it is fair to consider the Curia to be as closed in on "Vatican concerns" as these remarks, at least as reported, suggest. I am often struck by the news releases from the Holy See after a visit by diplomatic representatives or heads of state of countries maintaining relations with the Holy See. They usually report the audience with the Pope, and then go on to refer to meetings with the relevant officials of the Secretariat of State responsible for relations with other states. The summary of questions discussed usually demonstrates an understanding by the Holy See of the situation of the nation involved and of the part that they might play on the international scene. As I write I can't find an example report to link to, but no doubt there will soon be one on the VIS website. I also think of the work of the Pontifical Councils which might not be considered as immediately part of the Roman Curia but which nevertheless contribute significant effort to the engagement of the Holy See with the wider culture of our world. The work of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care), for example, does not fit a descriptor "Vatican-centric".

And to end another Francis/Benedict XVI parallel, this time about the nature of the engagement of the Church in politics. First Pope Francis:
Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres. All my predecessors have said the same thing, for many years at least, albeit with different accents. I believe that Catholics involved in politics carry the values of their religion within them, but have the mature awareness and expertise to implement them. The Church will never go beyond its task of expressing and disseminating its values, at least as long as I'm here.
And then Pope Benedict, speaking in Westminster Hall in 2010, and articulating in a particular way a principle of "appropriate secularity" for the field of politics:
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. 

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