Pope denounces the "rigid" attached to doctrine as "Pharisees"

"maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you." 
1 Cor 11:2

So yesterday Pope denounced the "rigid" attached to doctrine as "Pharisees...weak to the point of rottenness." To Western ears, it sounded as if he was criticising faithful Catholics who stick to Church teaching; he even used the word "doctrine" (dottrina in the original Italian)which means "teaching". But that would be absurd. For the Pope, our Holy Father to criticise faithful Catholics for following Church teaching???!!!! I had to stop, turn myself around and have a careful think about what he said.

"Pope Francis recalled how “Pius XII freed us from the very heavy cross that was the Eucharistic fast”:
“But some of you might remember. You couldn’t even drink a drop of water. Not even that! And to brush your teeth, it had to be done in such a way that you didn’t swallow the water. But I myself as a young boy went to confession for having made the Communion, because I thought a drop of water had gone in. Is it true or no? It’s true. When Pius XII changed the discipline: ‘Ah, heresy! No! He touched the discipline of the Church.’ So many Pharisees were scandalized. So many. Because Pius XII had acted like Jesus: he saw the need of the people. ‘But the poor people, with such warmth.’ These priests who said three Masses, the last at one o’clock, after noon, fasting. The discipline of the Church. And these Pharisees [spoke about] ‘our discipline’ – rigid on the outside, but, as Jesus said of them, ‘rotting in the heart,’ weak, weak to the point of rottenness. Gloomy in the heart.”
“This is the drama of these people,” and Jesus denounces hypocrisy and opportunism:
“Even our life can become like that, even our life. And sometimes, I confess something to you, when I have seen a Christian, a Christian of that kind, with a weak heart, not firm, not fixed on the rock—Jesus – and with such rigidness on the outside, I ask the Lord: ‘But Lord, throw a banana peel in front of them, so that they will take a good fall, and feel shame that they are sinners, and so encounter You, [and realise] that You are the Saviour. Many times a sin will make us feel shame, and make us encounter the Lord, Who pardons us, as the sick who were there and went to the Lord for healing.”
I think you could argue either way on his original point. The fast was harsh, perhaps a bit too harsh. But it served to reinforce the importance of what you were about to do. Also, despite his dislike for it in his youth, he ended up as Pope...So it can't have done him any spiritual harm!

I am a bit concerned about his words here, and my concern centres around why he says such things. I think he is acting from a sense of mercy, to say to people 'look, don't worry too much about this or that little detail. Concentrate instead on being good, on loving each other, on what matters.' From that perspective he is absolutely correct. We should not dwell on minutiae; details should not stand between us and a conversion of heart; our turning towards Christ. Often in the modern world there appear to be barriers for many people approaching Christ and His Church and the Pope is addressing these barriers and attempting to break them down. He is setting his priorities: that people come first to Christ.

This is essential. We fail so often today to explain to people that being a Christian is first and foremost about forming a real relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. We have fallen into a strange habit of sacramentalising our people, without evangelising them. At Confirmation classes, I try to teach young people in a short while what should have been drip-fed to them over the whole of their lives.

Also the disciplines of faith are not there to present a barrier to following Christ, rather they are pedagogical. They are training: exercises that prepare our minds and bodies for a metaphysical encounter. They serve to raise our minds and spirits to the contemplation of the divine. They enforce upon us the importance of what we are doing.

But when they become the reason in and of themselves; when we exhibit a slavish adherence to praxis which denigrates the fundamental dignity of the human person made in the image of Christ, we fail to recognise the value of such actions. Such actions must always be ways to lead us to encounter Christ.

Jesus taught: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Jesus attacked the Pharisees because they attempted to maintain their Holiness through false rules and at the expense of other people's salvation. He didn't criticise them for being faithful. Some misinterpret Jesus' attitude and practice their own inauthentic personal interpretation of Catholicism and work to make it almost impossible for faithful Catholics to practice the authentic Faith. Being a Pharisee isn't about imposing rules. It is all about imposing false rules.

I am reminded by my friend Rauri McCallion that we must remember how the Pope's experience in South American has been different to our experience here in Europe. We know the dangers of abandoning the rules - or rather, of kicking them into touch and saying they don't matter. In Europe and in North America, we never had to face juntas, "disappeared" and the brutal, ruthless crackdowns on ordinary people (Ruari is a former member of Chile Solidarity Campaign and an acquaintance of Sheila Cassidy). Nevertheless our struggles are no less intense for being cultural, rather than physical. There are times when our Holy Father does not seem to fully appreciates this.

I think the concern is (and I don't know that the Holy Father is aware of this necessarily) that some people will feel attacked by his words. These will be people who take the practice of their face seriously, people who will feel that the Pope is criticising that practice. Yet for many devout Catholics, the very expression of their love for Christ and His Church is communicated through these careful actions. To consider that the Pope is criticising this is making the wrong assumption it seems to me.

But the Holy Father should know that it looks like he is criticising Catholics; people who follow the teachings and practice of the Church. It looks like he is advocating a liberalising of teaching like fasting before communion and worse, criticising those who trust and love and follow him. It looks like he is doing this to try and draw people who currently don't care about the Church in. But looking back at the last fifty years or so, it is clear that the strategy of liberalising in order to make the Church more welcoming does not work. In fact it results in alienating those who hold fast to Church teaching, and does not draw those who don't care in. They continue not caring! This is one homily I would really like the Holy Father to explain a bit more!


  1. On the specific issue of the Eucharistic Fast, I think that the Holy Father has failed to take into account the historical perspective. Until very recently, it was not the norm for the laity to receive regularly. For example, St Therese in her autobiography speaks of getting the permission of her confessor to receive on the Major Feasts.

    She also talks of the special preparation for each time she received: sacramental confession and particular preparation (catechesis) at the knees of her father or an older sister. In such a context, a fast from midnight is completely comprehensible: tough on priests, of course, but then that is (or was) part of their vocation.

    With the modern practice of receiving regularly, perhaps the discipline needed to change (though one could make a case that we are now a little too relaxed about preparation...) The Holy Father was brought up at a time when regular reception had arrived, but the old discipline pertained; and possibly catechesis was not as good as it should have been...

    1. I think he is also guilty of a lack of historical understanding: asking priests to fast until after they had said a Mass at 1.00 pm today would be a tough imposition. A young man entering a seminary in 1950 would never have thought that things could be otherwise. Similarly the toothpaste rule (I had that one when I was little): it wasn't about "not swallowing toothpaste", but about the strength and depth of one's preparation for Holy Communion. It looks outlandish in an age where everybody always goes to Communion and it is pretty rare for there to be less than an hour between finishing food or a cup of tea at home and actually receiving Communion, but there you are. You can't, or at least you shouldn't, read History backwards.

      And what's all the banana skin stuff about? "I hope my brother slips and falls" is an odd thing for a Pope to say.

  2. Like the "Semi-neo-Pelagians"- or some such type- the holy father referred to some time ago, I have yet to meet these "rigid" Catholics.
    The chance would, I dare say, be a fine thing.

  3. "I think the concern is (and I don't know that the Holy Father is aware of this necessarily) that some people will feel attacked by his words. These will be people who take the practice of their face seriously, people who will feel that the Pope is criticising that practice. Yet for many devout Catholics, the very expression of their love for Christ and His Church is communicated through these careful actions. To consider that the Pope is criticising this is making the wrong assumption it seems to me."

    Yes, this Pope is always criticising faithful Catholics. Very tedious to say the least. It seems to me that he ought to be a little more strategic in picking his battles.

  4. There is nothing to worry about, Pope Francis is not having a dig at traditionalists nor he is trying to relax the rules so Kasper and Cormac can come and change doctrine. He is actually calling us to go 'deeper' in our faith. It is simply not enough to go to mass everyday and to strickly follow the catechism of the catholic church. We need to be like Christ, love until it hurts. How many times do we live individualistic lives and forget of our brother or sister who suffers? How many people who called themselves catholics are prepared to step out with the truth and defend the weak risking jobs or reputation? Pope Francis is indeed talking to those who call themselves catholics but do not give it all.
    The Holy Father also uses great examples, he refers to the time he was growing up - possibly it was similar to the parents or grandparents of those in Europe - when the faith was not taught with love but it was more like rules and indoctrination. My parents in South America and all the people of their generation, don't want anything to do with the church now. It was all rules. Indeed my mother who came back to the church when I did my first holy communion, practices very well the 10 commandments and follows the catechism but there is no love in there, she is indeed rigid. Pope Francis example needs to be seen then as an example of its time, it is not an attack on traditionalists. When he speaks of Pharisees, I think he means the hierarchy of the church. Again he is not attacking those traditionalists but he is saying, 'it is not enough to be in a high position' they must also live it like Christ.

    1. Thanks, some valuable perspective there!

    2. More apologetics for this man. Nobody should have to explain what the Pope meant.

      Let your yes be yes and your no be no.


  5. The problem with the Pope's remarks is that they are only relevant to his generation. All the "pharisees" are dead, and our generation have grown up in an age of anarchy not over weaning discipline. The equivalent is of an old country doctor mis-diognosing an illness because he relies on the medical knowledge he acquired years ago.


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