26 December 2013


"Souped up Marxism" is a charge which the wealthy world seems inclined to hurl at Roman Pontiffs. Paul VI certainly suffered from this in the aftermath of Populorum Progressio, and the people we loosely call 'neocons' have again dug into the same rather dog-eared Rhetoric Bag in their response to the social and economic observations in our present Holy Father's Evangelii gaudium. This reaction to Pope Francis' words about poverty and exploitation is inevitable. And it seems to me that questions of War and Peace belong to a neighbouring area of discourse. Here, again, the World is not always anxious to accept papal guidance. I recall George Weigel ... you remember him ... the biographer of B John Paul II, who praised almost everything his hero did or said, but complained that the Polish pope was strangely unenthusiastic about Western military adventures in Islamic countries. "No more war, no more spiral of violence" was the cry of B John Paul II, which was admirably taken up by Pope Francis during the dark days when the Obama was trying to cobble together a coalition to regime-change in Syria without too much American expenditure on body bags.

It seems an eternity ago now, doesn't it ... That happy evening when, just for once in a while, Britain's own lethargic, neutered, venal House of Commons actually for once did something laudable which had results in terms of global politics. The picture, caught by the television cameras, of Cameron scampering grim-faced along the Treasury Bench to phone the news of his abject failure through to his 'friend' Barack was truly a sight for sore eyes ... but I digress.

Liberation Theology is a part of the Church's Magisterium which could do with development, and it doesn't worry me in the least that Gutierrez has been to Rome. The old Liberation Theology was not interested in looking at the Church's Tradition and Scripture and asking what teaching may be discerned there with regard to the Poor; instead, it came with a ready-made ideology which it had borrowed from secular and revolutionary sources, and sought tenuous ways of attaching it to the Christian Tradition. That, we can do without. We are, happily, not now so naive. We no longer seek to idolise a Fr Camillo Torres, who abandoned his altar to die as a member of a guerrilla band. The CDF's two documents on Liberation Theology - the first apparently negative, the second much more balanced - are still in place as part of the resources upon which the Roman Magisterium can draw. We now know that a Theology dealing with the economic malaise needs to grow organically from the Tradition. Because there are still Poor and there are still economic systems which maintain their poverty; and the Church, from the time of Leo XIII, has not wanted in such circumstances to be saying nothing. Indeed, centuries before Leo XIII the Church had her teaching on Economic Sin, commonly known as Usury. As a soppy old Englishman, I even wonder if Chesterton and his Distributivism might have a contribution to make.

And we have the Church's very ancient tradition with regard to the Just War. The Magisterium of B John Paul II increasingly suggested that wars in the modern world need to work very hard indeed to be able to snuggle under the umbrella of the 'conditions' elaborated by the Church's tradition. And the deployment of these principles by deeply traditionalist moralists such as Germain Grisez and his collaborators, demonstrating the immorality of both nuclear warfare and of the policy of nuclear 'deterrence', should attract the attention of the Magisterium. Yes ... I know ... Obama and Putin currently have little interest in mutual extermination, so worrying about the 'Nuclear' question can look like an archaic, 1960s, preoccupation. But an American protectorate in the Middle East continues to build up its nuclear arsenal unrebuked and to threaten any regional competitor it fears might try to do exactly what it has, with ruthless determination, done itself. This is bound up with the continuing merciless oppression of the Palestinian people, which fuels militancy and terrorism throughout the Islamic world and brings bloodshed to our streets. It is also fueling a process by which the Christian communities of the Middle East, more venerable and ancient than Islam, are being driven out and even murdered. The long-standing desire of the Curial bureaucracy to achieve a concordat with Israel ought not to prevent the Vicar of Christ from speaking prophetically. Above all, we must not allow certain interests to bully us into a fearful silence by the threat of accusing us of anti-semitism.

The Vatican, as Stalin memorably observed, has few military divisions. But the world has rarely stood as much in need of the clearest moral guidance. Guidance in these ethical areas would help the world to understand that Christian morality is not solely about sexual ethics. Not that this will make the Pope popular: those with 'liberal' agendas in sexual and 'life' matters may not always be the same people as those who are prepared for their own creature comforts to be threatened by a more equitable world economic order. 'Liberals' may turn out to be surprisingly conservative when it comes to holding on tightly to the loot.

The Holy Father's friend Cardinal Hummes whispered to him, just after the election, "Do not forget the poor". I pray that the Holy Father will continue to take that advice seriously. To be frank, I do also pray that he will take the traditional precautions which have prepared the way for utterances of the papal Magisterium; there have been signs in the first nine months of this pontificate of a tendency to speak hastily and unecclesially. This is not what popes are for.

Just as our beloved Pope Benedict was given to the Church in order to rebuild the bridges of continuity stretching back from the 'Conciliar Church' to the 'Church of all Ages', so I believe that the areas of Poverty and Peace may be what Francis has been raised up to address. Benedict's repair work was and is and always will be absolutely and totally essential, and any move to dismantle any of it would precipitate a crisis of unpredictable but extensive seriousness. But, despite one or two faux pas, I do not believe that Pope Francis has either the inclination or the intention of doing that. Our duty now is to be open to a pontificate which has its own creativity. We must not think the less well of it simply because it does not merely repeat the excellences of the last one.

Our prayers and our words should support Pope Francis.


Pastor in Monte said...

Amen! In every particular.

Jacobi said...

A wide ranging and thought-provoking note, Father.

Yes, we must look at what the Church had to say about Usury – and Chesterton about Distributivism.

On the question of a Just War, we don’t now have to worry now about our ability to knock out Russian tanks, but we should be giving a little thought to the possibility of assault from within, and the ethical problems that rise in dealing with that.

We must hold the ground regained by Benedict in Continuity, while we concentrate on the efforts of the present Vicar of Christ regarding poverty. Personally, I think that we ought to start with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger and the imprisoned (and the sick), or else we will be in deep trouble, and then of course, the poor, while ensuring that we do not encourage them towards the greed, indulgence and rejection of God, such as has afflicted so many post-fifties,”never had it so good”, ex-poor in our, (UK), society.

Unknown said...

Dear Father,
A very Merry Christmas to all. I would like to refer your readers to a link on Il Blog di Raffaella. It is to a recording on Deutschlandfunk of a very frank interview w Kardinal Meisner of Cologne in which he reports a recent conversation with Pope Francis.In caelo et in terra has translated some of the interview into English.
e.g.: “During my last visit to Pope Francis I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of topics. And I also told him that his proclamation in the form of interviews and short statements leaves many questions unanswered, questions which should be explained further for the uninformed. The Pope looked at me with surprise and asked me to please give him an example. And my reply was that, in his return from Rio to Rome, on the airplane, he was asked about the question of divorced and remarried people. And as the Pope said, divorced people can receive Holy Communion, remarried divorced people can not. In the Orthodox Church it is possible to marry twice. That was his statement. And then he spoke of mercy, which in my experience, which is what I told him, is only understood in this country as a substitute for all human failings. And the Pope very energetically replied that he is a son of the Catholic Church and is not saying anything but the teachings of the Church. And mercy must be identical to truth, or it doesn’t deserve the name mercy. And in addition, he emphasised that when theological questions remain, then there is the important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to formulate and explain the details. And you must always remember that this Congregation, which before the Council was chaired by the Pope himself, is still the first in the Curial order. And you can’t relate to the Prefect as a private person, just because he was once a member of the Bishops’ Conference.”

Original recorded interview at Deutschlandfunk 24.12.2013:
Kardinal Meisner: Also, Herr Liminski, hören Sie mal auf einen alten Bischof. Bei meinem letzten Besuch bei Papst Franziskus konnte ich sehr freimütig mit dem Heiligen Vater über alles mögliche sprechen. Und ich sagte ihm auch, in seiner Verkündigung in Form von Interviews und Kurzansprachen bleiben doch manche Fragen offen, die für den Unkundigen eigentlich weiter ausformuliert werden müssten. Der Papst guckte mich groß an und fragte mich, ich sollte doch mal ein Beispiel nennen. Und meine Antwort war dann, bei seiner Rückkehr von Rio nach Rom würde er während der Fahrt im Flugzeug mit dem Problem der wiederverheirateten Geschiedenen angesprochen. Und da sagte der Papst ganz schlicht: Geschiedene können zur Heiligen Kommunion gehen, wiederverheiratete Geschiedene nicht. In der orthodoxen Kirche kann man zweimal heiraten. So weit seine Aussage. Und dann sprach er von der Barmherzigkeit, die aber nach meinen Worten, so habe ich ihm das gesagt, hierzulande immer als Ersatz für alle möglichen Fehlleistungen des Menschen gedeutet wird. Und der Papst antwortete mir darauf sehr energisch, er sei doch ein Sohn der katholischen Kirche, und er sage nichts anderes, als was die Kirche lehrt. Und die Barmherzigkeit muss identisch mit der Wahrheit sein, sonst verdient sie nicht den Namen Barmherzigkeit. Und im Übrigen, sagt er ausdrücklich, wenn theologische Fragen offenbleiben, dann ist die wichtige Glaubenskongregation dazu da, das detailliert zu klären und zu formulieren. Also die Kongregation, müssen Sie sich immer denken, bis vor dem Konzil war der Papst selbst der Vorsitzende, und sie ist, in der kurialen Ordnung steht die nach wie vor an der ersten Stelle. Und man kann den Präfekt nicht gleichsam als Privatmann deklarieren, nur weil er mal ein Mitglied der Bischofskonferenz war.

rick allen said...

I think we must keep in mind that, as universal pastor of the Church, the pope ought not to be hindered like some Chinese emperor, hidden away behind layers and layers of mandarins to preserve his sacred character, having his words vetted by bureaucrats and liturgists. His undoubted infallibility does not attach to casual conversation, occasional observations, off-the-cuff answers, and, if the world can't figure that out, so much worse for the world. I think we Catholics profit much from the Holy Father not limiting himself to solemn pronouncements like the Delphic Oracle.

I think that was the issue that led Benedict to confirm, in the first of his "Jesus of Nazareth" books, that he was writing, not to confirm dogma infallibly, but to share his personal opinions, for consideration and discussion. He recognized, I think, that papal infallibility, as commonly misunderstood, raised the risk of giving his words greater force than he intended for them. Francis, too, I honestly believe, is trying to demystify that common misconception by freely sharing personal opinions, and thus distinguishing a rare power of the papal office from the also-needed, noninfallible counsel of our pastor in Rome.