Austen Ivereigh wrote that “Francis’s freewheeling communication and his proclamation in a missionary key – that is, putting love and mercy and healing first, before rules and doctrines – have particularly offended some on the front line of America’s culture wars. Some see Francis’s off-the-cuff remarks in his daily homilies and frequent interviews as creating ambiguities liable to be exploited and misunderstood by the Church’s enemies. What had given them ‘the confidence, the solid doctrinal ground they needed to fight the good fight,’ in the words of one pro-life writer, was ‘a system in which every word spoken or written by a pope, or for that matter by any office of the Vatican, has been carefully examined and vetted.’ Now, she added acidly, ‘there appears to be no one minding the store.’”
Examples aiding and abetting liberal interpretation: 1) “in a morning homily (he) said that Jesus Christ had redeemed everyone, ‘including atheists,’ which seemed to imply that atheists could be saved without converting. These and other remarks led to criticism that he was ‘naïve’ and ‘imprudent,’ giving succor to those (liberals) attacking the Church. On the eve of Francis’s trip to Rio de Janeiro, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia warned that conservatives ‘have not been really happy’ about Francis, and that ‘he’ll have to care for them, too.’ Their unhappiness increased in the fall of 2013 with Francis’s blockbuster Jesuit interview, which produced what was to them nightmare headlines: 2) POPE BLUNTLY FAULTS CHURCH’S FOCUS ON GAYS AND ABORTION (New York Times), POPE FRANCIS: CHURCH CAN’T ‘INTERFERE’ WIT H GAYS (CNN), and POPE FRANCIS: THE CHURCH NEEDS TO MELLOW OUT ON ABORTION (San Francisco Chronicle). They convinced many that Francis was selling out to secular modernity, a conviction reinforced by the encomia from liberal citadels such as Time) and the Advocate.
3) The Scalfari-Francis interviews, with Francis not vetting the text of his own words…
Ivereigh continues: “Accusing Francis of creating ‘confusion, consternation, and bewilderment among the faithful,’ one conservative commentator worried that ‘such an informal and often ambiguous method of communication cannot help but erode the more solemn teaching authority of the papacy,’ adding that ‘a pope, like a monarch, should realize that when it comes to public utterances, less is more.’ Francis, however, does not see himself as a king, but a fisherman.” Etc.
Examples aiding and abetting conservative orthodoxy: “Shortly after the Jesuit interview in which he spoke of not needing to speak all the time of issues such as abortion, he gave a blistering address to Catholic doctors on the very subject, in which he linked abortion to the throwaway culture, saying that ‘each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ… who even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.’ In Evangelii Gaudium he has shown how being pro-life needs to be part of a broader narrative linked to human rights…
“Francis has taken a similarly clear line in support of Paul VI’s 1968 ban on artificial contraception, Humanae Vitae, a touchstone issue for many liberal Catholics and their publications and t he reason for their discontent with the papacy. In his interview with Corriere della Sera a year after his election, Francis praised Paul VI’s prophetic genius in rejecting the recommendation of the body of experts he had appointed, saying ‘he had the courage to place himself against the majority in defense of moral discipline, acting as a brake on culture, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism…Although the synod might consider pastoral issues related to the living out of the teaching, ‘there was no question of changing the doctrine,’ Francis said.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So, both “sides” are affirmed yet bewildered by Francis. What’s up?
Pay attention to what Francis understands by “doctrine:” “Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives – but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened… It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”
Stop to consider this. Christian doctrine is not about ideas, created persons or things of this world. It is about the Creator Who totally transcends His creation (the “world” as we experience it) as the Creator transcends creation. There can be no greater abyss than that which spans from something to nothing. This has to be understood. The Creator is not part of the experienced world. He is not even the highest part of it. He is not the Supreme Being. He is not a Being at all. He is the action of be-ing, which is ongoingly imparted to everything we experience. And when it is not imparted, nothing is. Absent the Creator, nothing. Therefore, it is impossible to know Him the way we know everything else. And if we do “know” Him as we know everything else, we are trapped in idolatry. We “know” a false god – a god of our making.
St. Anselm, Robert Sokolowski deploying the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, Josef Ratzinger theologizing on relationality that is the divine Persons, and in our won time and place, Bishop Robert Barron plumbing the depths of the Thomistic esse, all have been immensely enlightening and helpful here in upgrading the epistemological horizon that Christian/Catholic Faith works in. Notice that doctrine is not Faith. Faith is the act whereby one becomes the Person of Christ such that one is able to experience within self that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God. This action is the mimicry of the Son in obedience to death before the Will of the Father. Doctrine is to protect that act of mimicry. Doctrine keeps one on the track to make the self-gift. But it itself is not that act. It is thought.
Consider again Ratzinger’s “theological epistemology” whereby one “reads” oneself as “another Christ” (Gal. 2, 20; 3, 16; 3, 28): Christ reveals himself to be prayer. That is, He reveals that He is always in constant contact with the Father. More, He is that contact. He is “Son,” and is constantly engendered by the Father. He, like the Father, is an action of relation. That being the case, if our way of knowing is such that like is known only by like, then to know Christ from within His very Person, we must become that Person by praying always. If that happens, we will know Him from within ourselves in consciousness, and reflecting on that, will be able to conceptualize that into the words: “You are the Christ…” (Mt. 16, 16).
This is the impossible issue that has been dealt Pope Francis: to move the Church out of itself to the peripheries, and thus cease being sick. As he says: “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system… but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage…Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”
What is this “knowing?” It is the consciousness that accompanies the acting person in going out of himself in the most ordinary life of the street and home. It is mysticism. It is presence of God. It is sense of divine Filiation. It is Christian conscience. It is Wisdom. It is always sacrifice. It is the Cross because overcoming self to be of service to the other mimicking the relation of Father and Son is the co-redemption that we are privileged to share. We are ransoming the world at this very moment in a hidden way. It is secular. It is not religious, as the service of the Good Samaritan was secular, not religious, but it was Christ.
I think this is what’s up.