5 January 2014

Un discorso da fare

It is plain that our Holy Father Pope Francis talks a lot. In my view, a question that is going to have to be faced is the magisterial status of his various utterances.

This is not an entirely new problem. It was creeping up on us during the last Pontificate. Pope Benedict was not averse to giving interviews, on the record, to journalists on planes (one of those led to the kerfuffle when journalists anxious for a scoop ignorantly misinterpreted his words and portrayed him as saying that condoms were morally acceptable). We had already come long way from the remote and lofty, godlike, manner assumed by Pius XII and his canary! Earlier, I believe, popes did give off-the-record interviews to journalists. But we now have a Roman Pontiff who is not averse to the sound of his own voice reverberating in public; and so the amount of papal wordage emerging from Rome is expanding exponentially.

A Roman Pontiff has an august status and his pronouncements, depending on their level of solemnity, require different levels of assent or respect. But not everything he says or writes is necessarily part of the papal Magisterium. Benedict XVI made this clear in the introduction to his superb three-volume work on Jesus of Nazareth. An additional problem with Pope Francis's utterances is that they are pretty well always, as far as I am concerned, so very much more difficult to understand than were Papa Ratzinger's lucid and simply-expressed statements. (I have a sneaking, and, I hope, not too disrespectful suspicion that the young Bergoglio did not spend as much time in school honing his skills in Latin Prose Composition, a tremendous training in clear thinking and clear expression, as the young Ratzinger did.)

Like many people, like many readers of this blog, I had been getting worried about whether I would ever be able to find my bearings in this Pontificate.

I accordingly felt a great sense of relief (and gratitude) when I heard Cardinal Burke's interview with EWTN. I have never done an extensive course on the Law of the Catholic Church and I am not a Vaticanologist. I had felt embarrassed that I could not understand so much of what the Holy Father said and that I felt so completely at sea about the status of it all. Now ... Cardinal Burke is not, of course, infallible; but he occupies the highest juridical post in the Church after the Roman Pontiff himself. As a lawyer, he must have a mind trained to analyse and to assess documents. And: he does not understand what the Pope means, or the status of his utterances, either. It's not, as I had nervously feared, just my stupidity.

Raymond Burke found the Pope's words about refraining from talking too much about abortion, difficult to interpret. Perhaps more significant is what he said about the status of  the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. He did not know "exactly how to describe it". It seemed to him "a distinct kind of document". The pope, Burke said, had described it as reflections, suggestions, guidelines. The Pope, he said, "doesn't intend them to be part of the papal Magisterium" ... a phrase the Cardinal repeated with emphasis a few moments later. (He concluded "At least, that's my impression".)

I believe I am right in saying that one is meant to discern the gravity of a papal utterance from what the speaker himself manifests it to be. If a canonist of high Curial status cannot detect clear indications of the status of a document, then it is surely morally certain, as far as concerns us lesser beings, that the document contains no such clear indications. And that, therefore, it is appropriate for us to follow Cardinal Burke and to regard Evangelii gaudium as the words, not of the Summus Fidei Magister, but of Jorge Bergoglio.

10 comments:

Matthew Roth said...

It was quite a good interview. His Eminence articulated my attachment to the Vetus Ordo so well. But if EG isn't part of the ordinary Magisterium, then what other documents are not a part?

I am not Spartacus said...

I was blessed to have born and bred in Vermont (USA) and many of my old friends still living there are Boston Red Sox fans who used to love this baseball player, Manny Ramirez.

Now, Manny did many odd things - like not running to first base if he hit an infield grounder, or not showing-up for the game on time.

But, Manny was loved (The man could hit) and so the fans would react to his oddities with a That's just Manny being Manny. Don't you love him? statement of support.

That is the way I react to our Holy Father.. What he says and does is who he is and that will not change and expecting any change on his behalf (he is elderly with his own particular and peculiar habits) is to expose one's own self to consternation; much better to love this simple Christian - he is quite lovable and charismatic- and to say to one's own self, That is just Bergy being Bergy, don't you love him? when he does what he does and says what he says.

This rare man will turn-out to be a great Blessing for the Church because his praxis will dilute an unhealthy holiness we Christian Catholics have brought to bear on everything a Pope does and says.

Owing to the holiness, intellect, and industry of our two great modern Popes - JP II and Benedict XVI - it was, I suppose, somewhat natural that we would have invested so much in everything they said and did - officially and unofficially - to the point that our Local Ordinaries nearly disappeared as a consequence and they stopped discharging their duties to Teach, Rule, and Sanctify and referred everything to Rome and such centralisation is unhealthy as it weakens the necessary limbs of the Body of Christ.

After an initial foreboding about Bergolio, I have come to love my Father (and not just with the Charity of action but a visceral filial love) Pope Francis and if I do have any doubts about him, I speak to my Queen Mom in Heaven about him while I treat him publicly like Red Sox fans used to treat Manny.

Liam Ronan said...

Thank you, Father, for post. I had thought there was something spiritually or intellectually amiss with me, i.e. pride, closed-off to the Holy Spirit, innately avaricious, etc. which inhibited my comprehension of many of this Pope's utterances. I had been a judge for decades before retiring and chalked it up to some spiritual deficiency on my part. I confess I feel rather relieved to learn of Cardinal Burke's conundrum.

GOR said...

In the movie ‘Amadeus” the Emperor has some misgivings about Mozart’s work but is not sure why. He finally comes up with the reason: “Too many notes!”

I have a similar feeling about Pope Francis – too many words! When I receive the emailed Bolletino I find myself skipping over most of the words and go right to the: “Other Pontifical Acts”.

“Words to the heat of deeds…” and all that.

rick allen said...

"Raymond Burke found the Pope's words about refraining from talking too much about abortion, difficult to interpret."

This I just don't get.

Those of us who are not in the clergy, who are not academics, who are just trying to be good Catholics in the everyday world, know that, for the average non-
Catholic on the street, who knows nothing about Catholicism, and little cares how little he knows, the emphasis these last years on the "hot-button" issues in the secular media has left him with the impression that the Catholic church is an anti-abortion, anti-homosexual issue group with a problem with child abusers.

For better or worse, it appears that the pope is making a concerted effort to change the focus of public discourse, by talking about other important issues.

The world, being the world, imagines that he is somehow changing Church doctrine. Of course he isn't, but he is at least addressing a problem that the Cardinal Burkes of the world have avoided, their inadvertant implication that the Church is nothing but an association for preaching high moral standards.

Now, of course, the Church does and should preach high moral standards. But if that's all that prospective converts understand, most will have no interest. As it happens the Church also teaches forgiveness, and the normality of failure to reach its highest standards, and the love of God that persists even for those of us whose moral life has been less than exemplary (not to mention for those of us whose material success has been less than stunning).

The world is confused because it doesn't know whether the Church is the Benedict stereotype or the Francis stereotype. In fact it is, in some sense, both, since the teaching of the two actual popes doesn't really clash. Those whose confusion may lead to some honest seeking may come to learn how high moral standards may in fact be aspired to by even the chief of sinners.

In the mean time, I think that most Catholics know the difference between an off-the-cuff remark and an encyclical. "Who am I to judge?" Funny how that threw so many people off, got so many questions going in so many different ways. A question, of course is not an assertion. It's a rhetorical device with some preceent, of course. "Why do you call me good?" Good lord! Is Jesus saying he's not good??!!?!?

Jacobi said...

Sadly, Father, the present Pope does tend to talk too much. The “who am I to judge” remark will be quoted back at us a hundred years from now, by enemies of the Church.

Loose talk and instantaneous world-wide communication, are the latest problems we have to deal with.

I’m reading a history of the Popes, (Christmas present), and yes, our Popes were an interesting lot, ranging from the superb, to the disastrous. They all of them, even St Pius V, and St Pius X, had their faults. (Personally, I rather like Julius II).

You mention the level of solemnity. The Pope is infallible, as I understand it, when he speaks, with such intent, to the whole Church, on faith and morals, (but not for instance on Liberation Theology, whatever that is), and even then, he can only confirm, or further explain, what Revelation, Tradition and the Magisterium, has held. He does not have authority to contradict or change what has been held.

As such, it seems to me, as a non theologian that Evangelii Gaudium is an interesting and useful Reflection, designed by the Holy Father to call the Faithful to consider the various topics that he has raised - assuming that, is they can work out what he is trying to say.
It is in no way an infallible, or even a specifically authoritative document.

As for finding your bearings, Benedict did much to clear the pumps, repair the rigging and get the Barque underway again on the correct heading - that is towards the Crucifix we can all just make out in the distance.

johnf said...

I am reminded of an old song, which could be brought up to date

Oh! Oh! Bergoglio, what have you said?
You’ve created a whopping imbroglio
With your latest foglio..
...

pattif said...

I find myself constantly reminded of the words of the very wise and holy Jesuit who taught me Church History: "You never really know what a Jesuit is thinking, because we're taught to argue both sides of the question."

notionsromaines said...

I think Cardinal Burke was speaking with that typical curial diplomacy, mid-way between obsequiousness and uneasiness. The document mentions Pope Francis as speaking from his office (ok I admit not ex cathedra, but still). It would be difficult not to see it as a papal document. Ok, an apostolic exhortation is more political (in the papal sense of the term) than an encyclical. If Evangelii Gaudium is not part of the Magisterium, how come so many Catholics consider E Supremi (Pius X) as part of the Magisterium?

notionsromaines.com said...

I think Cardinal Burke was speaking with that typical curial diplomacy, mid-way between obsequiousness and uneasiness. The document mentions Pope Francis as speaking from his office (ok I admit not ex cathedra, but still). It would be difficult not to see it as a papal document. Ok, an apostolic exhortation is more political (in the papal sense of the term) than an encyclical. If Evangelii Gaudium is not part of the Magisterium, how come so many Catholics consider E Supremi (Pius X) as part of the Magisterium?