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.