It can be said without disrespect that the strongest suit of the current Holy Father is not communication. A style that is at turns blunt, inspired, caustic, uplifting, pastoral, filled with mercy, and confusing has left much of his flock befuddled and increasingly concerned, rightly or wrongly, about the future. In the end, the best adjective may be clipped: Pope Francis speaks in a choppy patois, much in the style — no surprise here — of his homeland (South America). Often, he is brilliant; often, humorous; or exuberant; compassionate; people relate to him. But there are those who fret over what he says, and their concerns need to be addressed — particularly on issues such as his document, Amoris Laetitia, that was put out there and now hangs mid-air, with conservatives and liberals both unsure what it portends as far as future handling of marriage and divorce and the sacraments. In just the past week, a diocese in Portugal has taken it to mean Communion can soon be given, after discernment of their particular circumstances, to those who are divorced and (without annulment) remarried; ditto for dioceses in Malta and Argentina and the bishops’ conference in Germany; while in Holland a bishop, as bumfuzzled as the laity, has called out for a formal clarification of the document, as have others. While it is refreshing to have a Pope who is “plain speaking” (in the style of Truman), that bluntness does not always equal clarity. There has been a pattern whereby half of the Holy Father’s statements are full of spiritual gravity — that “brilliance” — and the second half leaves the reader perplexed (and in some cases, muttering “heresy”). Scripture is clear and so must be the Vatican. The ship needs good radio communication to navigate through the two pillars.
A big strength is therefore also a stumbling block: that is, the candor, the speaking (and not always featly) in a spontaneous fashion. Airplane press conferences have been particularly challenging. The Pope, in that exuberance (and no doubt, as far as those plane rides, exhaustion), often says things with a syntax that can be taken the wrong way without better context as explanation. For instance: Two weeks ago, he joked that instead of a doctor, he goes to a “witch.” By this he meant someone who practices natural forms of nutrition — but a term that certainly can be taken the wrong way. What is only half-clever can cause trouble, as when messages from Mary are dismissed because Mary, he has noted (several times), is “not a mailman.”
That comes across as harsher than perhaps intended. Is the Vatican press office not allowed to advise, instruct, and correct on papal miscommunication, or is it intimidated by the august nature of the Vatican, when miscommunication there is? Others have been hurt by his choice of other metaphors (see, pro-lifers and large families, when he quipped that Catholics did not have to reproduce “like rabbits”), led even to think he condones homosexuality — though elsewhere he has strongly spoken out against gay “marriage” and repeatedly and strongly has attacked abortion and (last week again), euthanasia. It is surprising that so many are surprised by the Pope’s stands, for a simple reason: he is a Jesuit. He is also the Mercy Pope (of course, along with the great John Paul II). The German bishops are currently discussing blessing (claims one report) homosexual unions. Not good. Mercy is hugely important. When does it go too far, drifting into excessive tolerance (and moral relativism)?
That seems to be the key question. And so we watch respectfully to see how it unfolds. We live in a fantastically polarized politico-socio-religious ambience. There are tinderboxes and land mines and steeped fog everywhere.
Yes, something more, at this point, needs to be (clearly and traditionally) said.
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Pray always for purity and love