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Newly elected Pope Francis I -1761696

These words are reported by the site 1 Peter 5 as coming from the mouth of the Holy Father when asked to explain why he wanted some members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith removed from their posts. The full reported quotation is:

“And I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions. I have decided that they have to leave and they have to leave.”

We need to be careful here, not least in view of the epidemic of ‘fake news’ which assails us daily. What we call ‘fake news’ is often no more than the tendency we all have to live in echo chambers of our own devising. We read websites written by people with whose views we are already in sympathy, and those sites tend to focus on parts of the picture which confirm the views they have already formed. The site in question here has taken a critical view of Pope Francis from the beginning, and it must be admitted, even by his admirers, that he has given his critics a great deal of ammunition: his handling of the two Synods which resulted in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia; his criticism of the Papal Curia; his criticism of his opponents as being over ‘rigid’; and his habit of speaking extempore on aircraft. Despite his claims to enjoy parrhesiathe Holy Father, like many of his temperament in authority, is happier dishing out the criticism than he is taking it.

On the whole, as regular readers will know, I have been inclined not to take the extremely critical view of the Pope that some readers here do, and I have been roundly criticised for it, and being a firm defender of the right to free speech, have not spared myself criticism from other Catholics here; we all have the right to a view, and when all is said and done, except to Sedevacantists, Francis is the Pope, and he, too, has the right to his views. Thus far he has not sought to pronounce Magisterially against the teaching of the Church, and it is perhaps significant that in the matter of the dubia he has avoided giving a straight answer, merely not contradicting his spokesman and others when they say the matter ‘is clear’. His own view seems clear enough:

Some still fail to grasp the point, “ Francis said, referring to certain criticisms directed at the “Amoris Laetitia”, “they see things as black or white, even though it is in the course of life that we are called to discern”. The Council told us this, but historians say that a century needs to pass before a Council is properly assimilated into the body of the Church… we are half way.”

The need for many shades of grey is what irritates his critics, but as he realises, the messiness of ‘real life’ is often not black and white. Which is why it is disappointing, if true, that he thinks he does not need to give reasons for removing people from their posts. It may well be true he does not have to, but it would speak more to the central themes of his papacy, humility and mercy, were he to do so in privately to those concerned. To quote some wise words:

“How many times do we in the Church hear these things: how many times!  ‘But that priest, that man or that woman from the Catholic Action, that bishop, or that Pope tell us we must do this this way!’ and then they do the opposite. This is the scandal that wounds the people and prevents the people of God from growing and going forward. It doesn’t free them.”

That, of course, is a quotation from his own words.

It is easy, which is why it is done so often, to reinforce the voices in one’s own echo chamber and, as some have long done, to conclude that this Pope is a soixante-huitard bent on implementing a ‘spirit of Vatican II’ agenda. But many of those who have come to this conclusion, held it almost from the beginning, and reinforce it through the echo chamber. We are told by Leonardo Boff that the Pope is on his side and soon intends to give permission to the Brazilian bishops to have married priests. Commentators who would give no credence to Boff on anything else, report his words as though they are Gospel truth, not, of course, because they have suddenly decided that Boff is a reliable source, but because what he says fits with their picture of Francis. And so the echo chamber gets louder. In other news, Pope Francis still condemns abortion and gender ideology and supports the teaching of the Magisterium. But since this is not the sort of ‘news’ wanted in the Catholic culture wars, it is not ‘news’. David Cameron once got into a deal of trouble in the Commons when he told a woman MP to ‘calm down dear’, but despite that, I am tempted to think that on the subject of Pope Francis, that advice might not be bad advice.