Pope Francis: An Interview with Jesuits
In a wide ranging interview with the Jesuit publication America Magazine, Pope Francis has spoken about some of the key issues and criticisms of his pontificate as well as offering his perspective on female ordination, the abuse crisis and racism.
Well sort of. If you can make sense of some of his answers you're a brighter man/woman than me. But it is interesting in lots of ways; the assembled Jesuits don't hold back in terms of the questions they ask and the Holy Father does give some interesting responses.
Asked about the growing political polarisation in the US, the pope warned of a divisive mentality suggesting that to be Catholic is to always harmonise differences. He explains that the way the Holy Spirit acts is first to cause disorder (giving the example of Pentecost) and then to bring about harmony.
“The Holy Spirit in the church does not reduce everything to just one value; rather, it harmonises opposing differences. That is the Catholic spirit. The more harmony there is between the differences and the opposites the more Catholic it is. The more polarisation there is, the more one loses the Catholic spirit and falls into a sectarian spirit.”
This answer seems to provide some insight into the way the pope conducts his office: He constantly provokes controversial discussion and has consistently welcomed wide ranging discussion on almost any theme. I am not convinced this approach is justifiable for a pope though as it causes great consternation for the faithful. It has echoes of the growing moral relativism I see in the pope's approach and is what he says true? I don't think it is, after all Jesus says:
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" Luke 12:49
And he did divide opinion, most especially among the ruling religious class. To be a Catholic means standing up for some radical principles, it means standing up for truth:
"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." Luke 12:51
I do think there is an important aspect to being Catholic that is unifying, one of the special things about the Catholic Church is the unity its members share despite their incredible diversity. But this unity is a unity of profession; a unity of creed. We assent to Catholic truth as deposited by Jesus and the Apostles and guaranteed by the pope. It is a unity which causes us to be despised by the world (Jn 18:15-25) because it is counter-cultural. "opposing differences" are indeed "harmonised" by being subordinate to our creed. What makes Catholicism special is that unity under the pope, as Cardinals Ladaria and Ouellet told the German bishops - cum Petro, sub Petro - but in order to subordinate ourselves in this way, it would be useful to have a pope who could clearly articulate it!
On abortion, the pope made what seemed to me to be a rather controversial distinction between a living human being and a foetus:
“there is a living human being. I do not say a person, because this is debated, but a living human being.” He said, going on to repeat his previous condemnation of abortion “Is it right to hire a “hit man” to resolve a problem?”
This sounds wrong doesn't it? Compare it to, for example, Benedict XVI, Homily, 27 Nov 2010:
"It is not an accumulation of biological material but rather of a new living being, dynamic and marvellously ordered, a new individual of the human species. This is what Jesus was in Mary’s womb this is what we all were in our mother’s womb. We may say with Tertullian, an ancient Christian writer: 'the one who will be a man is one already' (Apologeticum IX, 8) there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception."
Donum Vitae, the 1987 teaching document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on the gift of life, says that “The human being must be respected – as a person – from the very first instant of his existence.”
It seems beyond Pope Francis to express even the basics without inserting some modicum of controversy.
When pressed on the US bishops’ conference's disagreements around this issue, problems which the pope himself has stoked by contradicting Archbishop Cordileone for example, Pope Francis explained that there is a problem which arises when the reality of killing a human being is transformed into a political question.
The pope said that when the pastoral dimension is lost the problem becomes more political than pastoral. Stressing it does not belong to one party or another.
Pope Francis said that a failure of pastoral care results from the politicisation of abortion, stating that “we cannot deal with [abortion] as if it is only a civil matter.”
What does any of this mean? How do we combat abortion if not in the political sphere? How do we change the situation if we don't lobby our law makers and politicians to recognise the fundamental truths and importance of the sanctity and dignity of human life from conception to natural death?
The pope's response is characteristically vague and unhelpful here as far as I am concerned, I do not understand the distinction he makes or why it is important.
Asked about the spectre of abuse in the Church, the pope called it “one of the most monstrous things. He makes the point that this is a scourge on the whole of society and not just the Church. He cites some statistics which show that more abuse takes place in organisations outside the Church, yet he does acknowledge that one instance inside the Church is one too many saying:
“the Church takes responsibility for its own sin, and we go forward, sinners, trusting in the mercy of God.”
When asked why he doesn’t speak out against the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Holy Father said he prefers to speak about the cruelty of the conflict and designated the Ukrainian people “martyrs”. He said he sometimes does not specify so as not to offend and instead condemns in general “although it is well known whom I am condemning.” He said.
Asked about black Catholics in the US suffering racism, the pope said he is “close to the suffering they are experiencing” and that racism is “an intolerable sin against God”.
When asked what he would say to a woman who is already serving in the life of the church, but who still feels called to be a priest, the pope said the problem is a theological one which amputates the being of the church if reduced solely to a ministerial dimension.
There's no doubt that Pope Francis did something right here: he firmly closes the door on female ordination as reported here by Jules Gomes for example. But his argument is so baffling he totally confuses me. I thought I understood this argument well, but after reading the pope's explanation, I'm now not so sure!
“The way is not only [ordained] ministry. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse.”
OK I get this metaphor - it is a well known parallel we see in Ephesians 5:25 for example. But the pope then made three distinctive principles: the Petrine, the Marian and the Administrative. He said the Petrine principle is that of ministry while the Marian principle (the principle of the woman in the Church) mirrors the dignity of women because the Church is a woman and a spouse. The Administrative way is not theological but organisational and this is where he thinks more space should be given to women in the Church.
“the Petrine principle and the Marian principle that make up the church. Therefore, that the woman does not enter into the ministerial life is not a deprivation. No. Your place is that which is much more important and which we have yet to develop, the catechesis about women in the way of the Marian principle.”
These are unfamiliar categories to me - OK I get the Petrine office could be stretched to some sort of masculine principle of ministry and the Marian dimension to the Church is a maternal one, but to mix these two - what seem to be theological categories - up with administrative??
Pope Francis went on to say women have an ecclesial sense about whether a man is suitable or not for the priesthood.
Reacting to criticism that he favoured Communism, the pope said this was a socio-political reduction of the Gospel message
“If I see the Gospel in a sociological way only, yes, I am a communist, and so too is Jesus.”
Asked about his silence on human rights abuses in China the pope said “It is not a matter of speaking or silence. That is not the reality. The reality is to dialogue or not to dialogue. And one dialogs up to the point that is possible.” He said that the Christians there “have to be cared for, so that they may be good Chinese and good Christians.”
Pope Francis was speaking at his Santa Marta residence in the Vatican where five representatives of America Media interviewed him.