Curia rumblings about a pope who won't be filtered

Curia rumblings about a pope who won't be filtered


There’s been a lot of media attention to Pope Francis’ now-famous phone call to an Argentine woman who is civilly married to a divorced man, reportedly telling her she could receive Communion.

While in Rome this week, I’ve made some soundings inside the Roman Curia, and found concern among Vatican officials in two areas. First, they’re worried about the doctrinal and pastoral implications of the pope’s supposed remarks, and the risk of raising expectations for a change in church policy that may never occur.

Second, and more broadly, they’re concerned that the Vatican is losing control over papal communication. In that sense, the phone call was a tipping point: an institution that has spoken for centuries in a formal, calibrated hierarchy of expression is now headed by a man who chats on the phone, delivers soundbites to reporters and improvises daily sermons.

That explains the unusual statement from Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who announced to journalists a few days ago that the pope’s phone call – indeed, any papal phone call – did not form part of the Magisterium, the official teaching of the church. “Consequences relating to the teaching of the church are not to be inferred from these occurrences,” was the way he put it.

Father Lombardi’s statement was probably drafted by the Secretary of State’s office, which used to be the communications gatekeeper at the Vatican, but which today finds itself increasingly on the sidelines. Quite often, Pope Francis does not go through the usual filters anymore.

The Old Guard at the Vatican tends to view many of the pope’s interviews, Tweets and off-the-cuff remarks as expressions of lesser consequence. His morning Mass homilies make headlines almost every day, but – reportedly at the pope’s request – are not being collected for publication in the permanent Vatican record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (they are extemporaneous talks, so there’s no complete text.)

None of this less formal output is considered part of the “capital M” Magisterium. But for most Catholics, that’s a distinction without a difference. They don’t care whether comments like “Who am I to judge?” find their way into the Vatican’s official archives. All they care is that the pope said it.

In the case of the Argentine woman, the fact that Pope Francis would even make such a call bothers some officials at the Vatican. On one level, they say, it creates confusion, because no one is sure exactly what the pope said. The pope should know by now that any private conversation like this will eventually come out in some unsanctioned manner (in this instance, on the Facebook page of the woman’s husband.)

And as one Vatican monsignor put it, why should the pope be talking to her at all? Shouldn’t he be referring her to her spiritual advisor, or asking the local bishop to follow up?

If the gist of the pope’s call was accurately relayed – that the woman could receive Communion – that’s seen by some Vatican conservatives as crossing the Rubicon.

In this case, the woman had been told by her pastor that she could not receive Communion unless her husband received an annulment and the two were married in the church. Didn’t the pope undercut the authority of priests everywhere with his phone call? How are priests to respond when divorced Catholics come to them and declare: “But Father, the pope said it’s OK?”

It’s clear that Pope Francis wants the church to find a better pastoral solution to the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, and all indications are that this fall’s Synod of Bishops will propose some changes – perhaps, as outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a penitential practice that would allow divorced Catholics to receive Communion, with the understanding the church could tolerate, though not accept, second unions.

That idea has generated much debate among bishops and cardinals, and enthusiasm among many Catholics. But it is not playing so well inside the Vatican. “If that happens, we’ve crossed the line into heresy,” one official told me.

I think Francis has some prep work to do in his own backyard.


16 comments (Add your own)

1. Father Carl Diederichs wrote:
I guess some of the "prep work" could be moving the folks who have their underwear in a bundle into pastoral settings around the world.

Fri, May 2, 2014 @ 7:30 AM

2. Joseph Bragotti wrote:
As pastoral priests haven't we all given the same advice under special circumstances? It's time to wake up and smell the roses!

Fri, May 2, 2014 @ 9:15 AM

3. Stephen Spencer wrote:
A Pope cannot be pastoral. Pastoral considerations are more tailored and individual, but you can't be pastoral to the whole world with one statement. There are too many cultural, religious, philosophical, situational, and personality differences.

It is time for the Pope to be humble: the Church is not all about him. He is not the Vicar of Christ to turn the world's attention to himself constantly. He is not to eclipse every bishop and local priest on a day-to-day basis. If he cannot be clear, he needs to talk less: and his personal preferences don't enter into it--any more than the rest of us get to have it our own way at work.

Fri, May 2, 2014 @ 1:01 PM

4. SeanB wrote:
"And as one Vatican monsignor put it, why should the pope be talking to her at all? Shouldn’t he be referring her to her spiritual advisor, or asking the local bishop to follow up?
...
In this case, the woman had been told by her pastor that she could not receive Communion unless her husband received an annulment and the two were married in the church. Didn’t the pope undercut the authority of priests everywhere with his phone call?"

Pastoral or not, whether you think the substance of what is supposed to have been said is right or not, aren't these rather good questions?

Contrary to the spin I increasingly feel we are in one of the most ultramontane papacies since at least Pius X. Why on earth *is* the Bishop of Rome giving counsel in a specific case apparently involving no particularly weird circumstances, in another diocese halfway around the world? Is this really a case calling for exercise of the universal jurisdiction of the Pope?

Fri, May 2, 2014 @ 1:41 PM

5. Lynn wrote:
as a 60+ year old former Catholic (birth -17) I grappled for years while my parents did not receive communion... and no one knew that one of them had been divorced, which was the reason why. Can't tell, couldn't explain... that is the way many people deal with situations that may bring shame to them. Finding this out as a young adult and trying to grapple with the punitive aspect of Holy Communion held hostage to devout Catholics who were expected to raise their children in the church and yet were denied the sacrament screamed WRONG to me then as it does today 40+ years later. A kind priest in a parish not their own told my dad that they should present themselves for communion, and they changed parishes after a retirement move and did just that. As my 30+ year old son, who was brought up in another denomination where he went to church school and received communion every Sunday through the time until he left home says when he occasionally goes to RC Mass *and* receives communion: "No one can keep me from receiving God." Now I just think yes, who it the church to withhold what was freely given to those who believe.

I welcome Francis and the winds of change he has brought through the opened window of his papacy

Fri, May 2, 2014 @ 1:55 PM

6. lori wrote:
The Church is teaches The Truth period. If people can't or wont follow the dogma they should accept them or leave. There are tens of thousands other heretical religions to follow. They have free will to choose.

Sun, May 4, 2014 @ 4:19 PM

7. Miguel Lis-Planells, M.D. wrote:
I understand that Pope Francis calling an Argentine woman to give spiritual advice generates concerns, but let us remember that he was the head of the Argentinian Church for decades. Would any if us stop calling your kids and giving them advice, even if they live half the world away?

The point is that receiving the Eucharist and entering into communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, brings graces to our lives that will, in turn, draw us to a saintly life. According to the article, the husband is the divorcee, not the woman, so technically she is not committing adultery. Her sin is not to be able to bless her union in the Church, which may be her desire, but out of her control...should she be denied the most precious opportunity to enter into physical and spiritual communion with Christ in the Eucharist? That is the question Pope Francis is asking each and every one of us.

Some may dislike Pipe Francis's uncommon approaches, but nonetheless practical and effective. I celebrate and welcome the new ways the Holy Spirit is using to do His work through Pope Francis.
QUE VIVA EL PAPA!

Tue, May 6, 2014 @ 6:30 AM

8. Seattle Kim wrote:
If you don't want to abide by the laws of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, then switch to another church. That goes for the pope as well. By the way, he ceases to be the pope once he espouses heresy.

I'm quite sure Satan and Henry VIII are dancing a jig together in hell.

Enemies from within are far more dangerous than enemies outside.

Wed, May 7, 2014 @ 2:21 AM

9. M.Avila wrote:
"all indications are that this fall’s Synod of Bishops will propose some changes – perhaps, as outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a penitential practice that would allow divorced Catholics to receive Communion, with the understanding the church could tolerate, though not accept, second unions."

“If that happens, we’ve crossed the line into heresy,” one official told me."
Kasper has already crossed the line into heresy, and Francis has been complicit by praising instead of correcting him.

"I think Francis has some prep work to do in his own backyard."
Francis's actions and utterances indicate he has already done his prep work in his backyard in Argentina. Is it possible for the Church to tolerate but not accept Francis?

Wed, May 7, 2014 @ 6:20 AM

10. Fr. John wrote:
Holy Spirit, thank you for Pope Francis. Help us all dance and experience the wonders of God with him. Refresh those who are so cold and frozen into leaving our people in Slavery.

Wed, May 7, 2014 @ 9:22 AM

11. fr.Drazen wrote:
I think as an Eastern Orthodox priest this Pope is very brave but he has to try as much as he can do decentralize the Church and to insist on reform in a conciliar way in in order to express the Catholicity of his own Church. Otherwise his efforts will be seen only as the work of an individual. I think he has to move from individual "sweetness" that is widely recognized to more ecclesiastical way of solving the problems he is facing.

Fri, May 9, 2014 @ 2:00 PM

12. BOOKBABE wrote:
Well, well, well. Aren't we all in a dither about something the news has reported but NO ONE, save Pope Francis and this lady are sure about. None of us, not even the Curia, knows what was said. The woman's husband was the one who posted this on Facebook. We don't know why. Did he misunderstand? Was it wishful thinking? Is his mental state such that reality for us and reality in his mind are far seperate things? Does he have an agenda to promote? Now that the story is out in the world, are he, his wife or both ashamed to make a public correction?

Personally, I'm not worried about it. I'm divorced and remarried. I know that I can't receive the sacraments until things are straightened out. So, we spent two years going through the process of investigation and the tribunal founf my previous marriage was null... a fact that I knew and God is well aware of. My husband and I have a covalidation scheduled and are living without marital relations till then. Afterward, it will be joyful to receive the Eurcharist. Was is a sacrafice for us? Yes. But this is such a miniscule sacrafice on our part compared to the sacrafice Christ made for us that it is embarassing to discuss the two in the same conversation.

Having gone through this slow, thoughtful process gave my husband and I ample opportunities to talk about including God in our marriage and daily life...which was something sorely lacking the first time around.

Wed, May 14, 2014 @ 11:59 PM

13. Michael wrote:
In the Church's ideas, I am unlawfully married. I could not care less. I go to Communion every time I go to Mass. Period.

Mon, June 2, 2014 @ 4:21 AM

14. JC wrote:
Stephen Spencer and SeanB,

I think you both miss the point. Most people do not want a hair-splitting legalist with a love of jargon ('ultramontane') for Pope. They want an imitation of Christ - someone they can appeal to directly in the hope of understanding and, if necessary, forgiveness.

I think you should read (or re-read) Morris West's 'Shoes of the Fisherman'. That summarises, I think, quite neatly what people want from their pontiff. Having said that, Kiril I, while acting mercifully, may not have picked up the telephone least he open the floodgates. But people want to be able to put a human face - and heart - to their faith.

JC.

Mon, June 30, 2014 @ 11:58 PM

15. Chrissie wrote:
fr. John: "Amen!"

Sat, August 30, 2014 @ 7:44 AM

16. Lowell Rinker wrote:
@Lynn....my story was very similar growing up. We four kids (I was the oldest) were unaware that our dad had been married before. When I was about 10 yrs old, I asked my parents if it was so important that we kids receive the Eucharist, why it was that they did not, even though they went to mass every week. My mother pulled me aside and told me the story....I then suggested that they ask again if they could receive. Well, they did....and about a month later, my parents came back from the Communion line with tears in the eyes. Little did I know that they were required to sign a contract which pledged that they would live the rest of their lives as "brother and sister" rather than "husband and wife". Now that they have both passed, this document is in my possession. I found out about this many years later....I went from being a 10 yr old who thought his church had come to its senses, to an angry Catholic adult who had no use for the man-made bureaucracy of today's church....so, I for one, applaud the Pope's openness and reaching out to a flock who need to be embraced rather than judged and punished.

Mon, September 1, 2014 @ 9:01 AM

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