Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Digesting What Pope Francis Said

I’m trying to digest the many thought-provoking and challenging responses Pope Francis made in his now-famed interview with the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica. 

He was asked what he thought about an expression St Ignatius used in his Spiritual Exercises: “think with the Church.”

Pope Francis replied that no one is saved alone. He underscored the relationship each individual must have with the human community, and reminded that “the church is the people of God” and explained that “thinking with the Church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibiltas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together.”

He went on, “This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the Church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit.”

Then he cautioned that this infallibilitas of all the faithful is not a matter of populism. The hierarchical Church is part of the people of God, “pastors and people together. The Church is the totality of God’s people.” 

He was asked what he thought the Church needed most at this point in history, what he dreamed of for the Church.

Pope Francis replied that the church needs “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds.”

He went on, “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Then he cautioned Church ministers that they “must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax.” 

He was asked what he thought about the Roman Curia (the Church’s bureaucracy).

Pope Francis replied that the Curia and its offices are at the service of the pope and the bishops. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help.”

Then he cautioned, “In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship..” 

He was asked about the relationship between papal primacy and the collegiality of bishops (a hot but unresolved topic at the Second Vatican Council).

Pope Francis replied that the people, the bishops and the pope must walk together. He brought up the idea of synodality (one of the earliest structures in the Church to maintain unity and communion, a coming together to discuss problems, to express differing opinions, and then arrive at a decision).

He went on to say, “Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synods of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic.”

Then he cautioned, “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.”

(Jesuit historian Father John W. O’Malley reports that Pope Francis has read Bishop John R.Quinn’s book The Reform of the Papacy in which Quinn says, “Today’s synods seem distant from the ideal set forth in the council decree on bishops…The tendency since the council would appear to be to restrict the synod as much as possible.” 

I’m trying to digest what Pope Francis said in his famed interview. His responses seem to me to reflect both the letter and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The full interview was published in the September 30  issue of America magazine (except for one sentence inadvertently omitted from Pope Francis’ reply to a question about women in the life of the Church. The missing sentence began his remarks: “It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the Church.”)

He went on to say, “The challenge of today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the Church is exercised for various areas of the Church.” 

I suspect I will be trying to digest what Pope Francis said for quite some time.

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