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.


10 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

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