Eye on Francis March 2016

By Reyanna Rice                   March 19 2016

We have all been anxiously awaiting Pope Francis’ response to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops meeting from October 2014.  There is a lot of speculation as to what and when with his Apostolic Exhortation.  Particularly anxious is the very traditional/conservative wing of the Church.  The link below, will take you to a very brief article in Vatican Insider that set the trad blogsites on fire just recently:


I found Cardinal Kaspar’s comments very interesting.  It was his comments that threw gasoline on the smoldering concerns of the traditionalists.  Since the Synod, there has been a lot of virtual ink spilled questioning what the pope will say, questioning the pope’s loyalty to the Church, questioning if he is a legitimate pope if he espouses what they feel is heresy.  And these are just some of the mild things said.  The more progressive side of the Church has not so much questioned but wondered if he is just going to say the same old same old.  Some are even likening him to the “Hamlet Pope”, Paul VI, who dithered for months over the birth control commission’s final report to then cave in to the minority voices in the Curia who pressured him into going against the commission’s final outcome.  They see the long delay in the release of PF’s Apostolic Exhortation as justification of their opinion.

Here is my take on this.  I think it is taking a long time because PF wants this thing to be iron clad correct.  Everything he has published so far has been very correct.  Laudato si comes to my mind when I say this.  He is working with a writing committee on the document….no pope writes these things flying solo.  I know that one of the members of this committee, Victor Fernandez who worked with him on both Evangelii gaudium and Laudato si, is a one man walking brain trust, so I have a lot of confidence it will be done right.  I have read that there has been a lot of back and forth between his writing committee and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.    The head of this congregation, Cardinal Mueller, has been adamant that there will be no change.  He has also been hinting around recently that the Pope does not have the skills needed to make any kind of statement that will change Church teaching even if it is in pastoral practice.  In fact, in the last week reports came out quoting Mueller as saying the pope is no theologian.   So PF has to have what he proposes in this document well reasoned and with no doubt as to its validity.  He is the Pope, so he can go against what CDF says if he feels it is the right thing to do.  Also causing delays is availability of multiple language translations.  When these things are released, it is usual to have all the primary translations ready to release simultaneously with the official version….and in this papacy that is Italian and not Latin.  Now we are facing Holy Week so I think the Pope does not want any uproar to disturb people’s focus on the depth of the Holy Week experience.  And I believe there will be uproar as this thing is sliced and diced and parsed by all the usual sources.

Hints and reports about this document have been thin.  I believe that the Pope and his writing committee have this thing sewed up tight so that leaks do not occur.  The usual Vatican gossip sources have not even pried out information on it.  In looking at what has been said about this document in the recent weeks and months, trying to get a feel for what might be coming out, I found a statement that the Pope made to a large gathering of the lay movement, the Neocatechumenal Way, this past week, kind of interesting.  When he speaks with groups like this, his statements are not only directed to just this group.  He does not waste any opportunity to extend his message to the broader audience of the “universal” Church.  I find the press a bit remiss in not reporting things like this more often.  In this talk, and as he usually does, he used the Jesuit hall mark of the three things.  In it, he focused on unity, glory and world. Francis has frequently spoken about unity in the Church.  He does so not just in the context of ecumenism.  Here is the quote on unity:

Unity.  Jesus prays to the Father so that his followers are “perfect in unity” (Jn 17:23) (and BTW, John’s chapter 17 is one of his favorite gospel passages….reyanna): he wants that among themselves they are “one thing only” (v. 22) like He and the Father.  It is his last request before the Passion, his most heartfelt: that there is communion in the Church.  Communion is essential.  God’s and man’s enemy, the devil, can do nothing against the Gospel, against the humble strength of prayer and the Sacraments, but can do a lot of evil to the Church, tempting our humanity.  He provokes conceit, judgment on others, closure, divisions.  He himself is “the division” and often begins with making us believe that we are good, even better than others; thus, he has the ground ready for planting weeds.  It is the temptation of the whole community and it can insinuate itself even in the most beautiful charisms of the Church”.

So…besides the group he had before him, who was he addressing?  He is not ignorant of the fact that he has some very vocal opponents in the traditionalist/conservative Church.  He knows they have been talking of schism and in all kinds of places, such as the New York Times, for months.  He knows that a cardinal who we all know who loves to dress up in some high-priced lace and gilded vestments has said the church is a rudderless ship right now.  I cannot help but think that given what he says the devil provokes that he has directed this statement to those who have threatened to destroy the unity of the Church by breaking away.  No pope wants to have this happen on his watch, but I also think Francis knows the Church cannot just maintain same old same old and survive for long.  He has a lot of weight on his shoulders with this one.

So, here is my take away for all of this from my Eye on Francis:  keep doing what he asks, even pleads, people to do after almost every encounter with them: “Non dimenticate di pregare per me”….”Don’t forget to pray for me”.  And he frequently says “I need it”.  Yes, indeed, he needs it.

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  1. Clyde Christofferson
    Posted March 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Good thoughts, Reyanna. If Kasper is right, Francis will imitate Jesus, who never missed an opportunity to preach the reign of God. Jim Hogan’s article (elsewhere on the ACC page) put it together for me by bringing in the non-violent responses of “turning the other cheek” and “walking the second mile.” Both these examples have more to them then submission. Quite the contrary, they are not submissive at all. For example, it was lawful for a superior to require a mile, but a second mile was beyond the law and would bring shame and embarrassment to the oppressor, causing the oppressor to reflect on what he was doing. This reflection — prompted by the “surprise” of the second mile — might just provide an opening for the Spirit to act upon the oppressor’s heart.

    Viewed in this light, what Jesus was doing was telling us: take injustice as an opportunity to preach the reign of God, so that those who could do something to remedy the injustice might be prompted to listen to the Spirit within, and then act to correct the injustice.

    Francis has already focused attention on mercy. As Kasper’s own book on mercy points out, mercy is more than forgiveness, more than an exemption from the justice of the law. The idea of mercy is to go beyond the requirements of the law, as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). We do not know what happened to the woman caught in adultery, but her gratitude for not being stoned would well have led her to follow the Spirit present in her heart.

    There is a difference between complying with the law and following the Spirit. Perhaps we could say that forgiveness is to the law what mercy is to the reign of God. The point of “reign of God” preaching is to help us get to the place St. Augustine describes in the phrase, “love God and do what you will.”

    Jesus had a knack to seeing in each circumstance a way to reorient his audience out of conventional reliance upon “what does Church doctrine say” and replace that reliance with attention to the Spirit within. In daily life it is very hard to do this. But if Francis is able to do this with the work product of the two Synods, that would be marvelous! If he is able to do this I would not expect changes in doctrine. The reign of God goes in just the opposite direction, beyond the law.

    This may not meet the expectations of progressives, who want to fight fire with fire by having a more progressive doctrine. But, hopefully, it will provide something “outside the box” to dislodge and disorient conservatives from their preoccupation with keeping doctrine the same. In the end, the proof will be in the pudding: will what Francis says in the Exhortation enable those unjustly oppressed by Church teachings to be liberated?

    I have no idea what Francis could say, without changing doctrine, that would have that result. But I am hopeful.

    • rrice
      Posted March 20, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your well-reasoned thoughts.

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