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  • John Thavis

A headline and a non-headline: The pope’s ‘mini-Magisterium’

There was Big News and little news out of the Vatican today.

The Big News grabbed the headlines: Pope Francis told the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation that he should “act decisively” with regard to cases of sexual abuse by priests, “continuing along the lines set by Benedict XVI.”

This should be done “first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty, and in the commitment of bishops’ conferences to formulate and implement the necessary directives in this area that is so important for the Church’s witness and credibility.”

“The Holy Father assured that victims of abuse are present in a particular way in his prayers for those who are suffering.”

I’m not even sure what all this means. The first thing to note is that the information came in a statement by the doctrinal congregation after the papal audience. The second thing is its defense of the retired Pope Benedict and his handling of abuse cases.

More specifically, the reference to the “commitment” by bishops’ conferences to “formulate and implement” necessary directives touches on unfinished business. In 2011, the doctrinal congregation issued a circular letter that required every bishops’ conference in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse. It would be interesting to see a progress report on that project.

The little news

The lesser news from the Vatican came, as usual, in Pope Francis’ homily at his morning Mass in the Vatican guest house.

Today’s theme was the name of Jesus. The pope related a story from his days as archbishop in Buenos Aires:

“A humble man works in the curia of Buenos Aires. He has worked there for 30 years, he is the father of eight children. Before he goes out, before going out to do the things that he must do, he always says, ‘Jesus!’ And I once asked him, ‘Why do you always say’ Jesus ‘?’ ‘When I say’ Jesus ‘- this humble man told me – I feel strong, I feel I can work, and I know that He is with me, that He keeps me safe.’”

The pope continued: “This man never studied theology, he only has the grace of baptism and the power of the Spirit. And this testimony did me a lot of good too, because it reminds us that in this world that offers us so many saviors, it is only the name of Jesus that saves.”

Pope Francis went on to say that “in order to solve their problems many people resort to fortune tellers and tarot cards. But only Jesus saves and we must bear witness to this! He is the only one.”

I find these morning homilies fascinating, a kind of mini-Magisterium. They are not really part of the pope’s official pronouncements, but thankfully Vatican Radio is there to report on them.

The other day the pope spoke about how important it was to resist the temptation of constant complaining in the face of life’s disappointments. A few days earlier, he talked about the destructive power of gossip.

I hope someone is transcribing these sermons. They are always linked to the readings of the day, and seemed designed to provide food for thought at a very accessible level. Frequently, they underline how pastors can learn from people who have never had formal theological training.

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