Monday, July 14, 2014

PAPAL STATEMENTS

Pope Francis
This Post first appeared on 27th September, 2013 Recent events have made it even more relevant.

One thing is undeniable about Pope Francis, he has caused Catholics to look again, and carefully think through, their attitudes to Papal statements and actions.

We are not talking about Magisterial statements here, but routine expressions of opinion.

Admittedly there were not so many of these from Popes in recent decades , and when they came, they were usually only incidental to some major considered formal statement, letter or homily.But the recent , now famous at least, interview given by the Holy Father, has produced a torrent of his "off the cuff" remarks, many of which are very far from Magisterial teaching and entering into the area of statements of fact.Some have come to question a significant part of those "facts" - and those doing the questioning are those normally considered ultramontane - absolutely committed to the Pope in everything.

The point at issue is this part of the Holy Father's comments:

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. "
It did not help consideration of these comments when the mainstream mass media began headlining along the lines "POPE SAYS CHURCH IS OBSESSED WITH ABORTION,GAYS AND CONTRACEPTION". That is of course not quite what the Holy Father said, and it does suggest a conclusion that is ABSOLUTELY NOT anything he said.
However, those who have borne the heat of the day on just these issues, were quick to point out that, at least in the Anglosphere and in Europe there is not the slightest question of the Church at the Diocesan or Parish level "obsessing" over these topics. Indeed, very many have asked "When was the last time you heard the Church's teaching in these areas defended or propounded? Answer not in the last 40 years!"
Their conclusion then, is that what the Holy Father has said or implied is simply not true - his facts are wrong.
This has forced people to reflect on their customary reactions which have tended to be ultramontane - generally to hold the view that whatever the Holy Father said was right - no question. ( Of course they all knew that occasionally even a saintly Pope like Blessed Pope John Paul II could impulsively do something silly - like kissing a Koran on one occasion - his actorly instincts getting the better of him on the spur of the moment.) 
But the phenomenon of Pope Francis has, it seems unnecessarily, caused even the greatest loyalists to examine their position and realise and bring to the fore, what they had of course always known , that there are strict limits to Papal Infallibility and even to what is or is not Magisterial teaching.And many have expressed a reduced confidence in the ultimate support of the Holy Father in their local battles for the Faith that they have previously taken for granted.
The latter point  was given added importance when the Holy Father said later in the interview:
"It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally".

This was truly alarming for most Catholics who have had to struggle to defend Catholic teaching and practice against dissident Bishops and
 even Episcopal Conferences at times.

So, though it is early days as yet, it is true to say that one effect of Pope Francis' Pontificate has been to make even the most loyal "Papist" think very carefully about his/her obligations in Faith in regard to non-Magisterial statements and actions by the Pope.This is not necessarily a gain for the sacred office.

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