America Magazine: Pope Francis responds to attacks from EWTN, other church critics: ‘They are the work of the devil.’

Gerard O’Connell reports in America Magazine:

When a Jesuit in Slovakia asked Pope Francis “How are you?”, the pope stunned them with his answer: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”

“There were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” Pope Francis said.

That statement was not the only striking piece of information given by the pope during his conversation with 53 Jesuits from Slovakia. The group met at the nunciature in Bratislava on Sept. 12 during the pope’s visit to the country. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., the editor in chief of Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica,was present at the meeting and published the full transcript of the conversation today.

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  1. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #10. I don’t see that this needs further elaboration from me here, Ger. I am not familiar with most of these groups or individuals, and find it difficult just now to predict the future.

    Young people need also to beware of cults and self-advertising charismatic personalities. Essentially prayer is the option to be led and advised by something greater than ‘the culture’ – and these days ‘the culture’ could include the dangerous Catholic right as well as secular hedonism – e.g. outfits like ‘church militant’.

    You will find my favourite prayer to the Holy Spirit at ‘Prayers’.

    These days it is difficult to see beyond the Covid horizon, which obviously makes ‘walking together’ doubly problematic. Perhaps we are being readied for a time when we will be too much in need of one another’s company to want to argue?

  2. Ger Hopkins says:

    I think you’re really on to something there, Sean #9. Once again we’re lucky to have a site where this kind of conversation is possible.

    It’s not hard to see how useful the Catholic message in general, and private prayer in particular, should be in helping teenagers cope with the difficulties they encounter both online and in real life.

    As you say, someone to whom praying the Creed comes naturally can remind themselves that ‘Jesus is judge of the living as well as the dead’. Which might help whenever ‘low self esteem’ kicked in due to some unfortunate social experience involving judgement by peers.

    I’d love to hear more: are there other Prayers besides the Creed that you’d highlight or are you thinking more of Prayer as conversation? Of course there’s the sense of belonging that comes with the action of praying – saying the Angelus, the Rosary or the Office of Readings for example. (Leading on to the offer of acceptance and belonging that comes from partaking in the Rites of the Church).
    Anyone dealing with judgement and criticism is better off stepping away from it rather than engaging with it and for teenagers today you couldn’t step away more, you couldn’t be more countercultural, than being Catholic. The youthful ProLife movement offers both this sense of belonging and the countercultural rejection of a sometimes pretty awful youth culture that surrounds us.

    Counterbalancing this of course is the fact that young Catholics will face more judgement and prejudice and bullying for being a Catholic. Online of course, but also from the unrestrainedly anti-Catholic old media.

    It’s a fascinating approach, Sean – I’d love to hear you flesh it out.

    To what extent is this being implemented already? – nudging young people towards private individual prayer as a support in dealing with the enormous difficulties of their always on, always judged, very isolated lives today.

    I’d imagine there are people in youth ministry who already spend time making your more general point that the Church’s message is a natural fit for dealing with the social media pressures young people face today. Youth ministers are probably saying this in face to face situations – it would be great to see some of them make the point in online videos that could reach many more, including those who wouldn’t seek out youth ministers in person.

    I’d imagine you know some who might be up for making such videos. It would be easy enough to post those videos in a youtube channel or on a friendly parish website (or diocesan website). The hard bit would be crafting the message encouraging more to contribute. And getting that message out. If there is indeed something to the idea of prayer being a help for young people facing their 21st century problems then that should start showing up in contributions. If it got anywhere it would be a great resource for teachers. None of it requires endorsement or a go ahead from clergy or heirarchy – but I’m sure some of them would be up for it.

    (Or is all of this being done already?)

    I hesitate to mention them to you Sean but I think it’s the kind of idea Catholic Arena, Immaculata Productions, Fr Brendan Kilcoyne, Fr Bill O Shaughnessey or Servants HM Films would jump at.

    More, Sean. Please.

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #6 & #7
    1 John 4:4 ‘Children, you are from God and have overcome them, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.’

    ‘They who have been overcome’ are the ‘the spirits in the world’ who set out to mislead. ‘He who is in you’ is the Holy Spirit. This passage reminds us that the Holy Spirit is ‘the advocate for the defence’ also, always on call when ‘spirits in the world’ – the silly notions and judgements that ‘get into’ people – oppress us.

    Ger, just now I can’t test this, with us still shielding here – but can any teenager today be without experience of oppression from e.g. trolling, the usurpation of the role of judge of others that happens so casually, and can even warp temporarily someone we thought we could trust?

    It is utterly tragic that even yet our clergy do not seem to know the importance of insisting to young people that the gifts of the holy spirit are not sentimental fiction but vitally necessary when the ‘social adventure’ of youthful exploration of social media goes sour, as, inevitably, it will soon enough for so many.

    That recent news of Facebook research on the harmful impact of Instagram comparison – when photoshopped body images are uploaded in the pursuit of admiration and then compared with what other viewing teenagers see in their own mirrors – it’s just the latest evidence of the mental / spiritual health minefield that the Internet is. ‘You are ugly, not fit to be here, a loser, useless, not smart’ – the incoming messages and deductions can be relentless.

    What is the point of reciting the Creed and agreeing that Jesus is judge of the living as well as the dead if that is not real for us whenever ‘low self esteem’ kicks in, due to some unfortunate social experience.

    In 2019 I heard an English Jesuit deliver an hour-long lecture on mental health in Catholic schools – in Derry – without once referring to prayer as a mental health resource for Catholic young people. The lecture could have been delivered to an entirely secular gathering without change, based as it was upon merely ideal practical arrangements and relationships – yet he took offence when I said that. But if prayer is indeed irrelevant in such circumstances – the acute loss of self-esteem (depression) that mental illness can begin with – what on earth could be the point of it?

    And what could be the point of Confirmation either, for that matter?

    Genesis is now for me all about the invidious comparisons we make between ourselves and God, our shame about our own nakedness and vulnerability in comparison to an all-powerful God. That’s what lies behind the superhero fixation also, the vain fantasy of being so much more than we are. I could go on – but Jesus is surely telling us not to be ashamed to be just ourselves, and don’t all young people need to know that?

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    I think the devil may well be at work in the new translation of the liturgy, as when this morning the clunky Collect reads ‘make those hastening to attain your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven.’ Who talks like that?

    The Prayer over the Offerings asks ‘that this our offering may find acceptance with you and that through it the wellspring of all blessing may be laid open before us.’ Who cooked up this spooky gobbledygook?

    Sean notes very helpfully that the devil does not figure in the Creed. I checked Paul VIs’s ‘Creed of the People of God,’ June 30, 1968, and to my surprise found that neither the devil nor hell are mentioned. Elsewhere Paul VI insisted that the devil was a personal being, and Francis seems to believe this too. No one objects to talking of satanic structures. On Paul VI see:

    I have always been happy to regard evil as a mere deficiency of being, and thus as bereft of ultimate reality, and to regard God as an utterly simple being in whom there is no shadow of change or division and of course no evil. I am now rereading Schelling’s ‘Of Human Freedom’ (1809), his last substantial publication though he continued to teach for another 45 years. As a sort of recovering Idealist, he skewers these beliefs as blind to the reality of evil, and thus to the reality of human freedom which depends on its capacity for evil. Influenced by Jacob Boehme he holds that the full reality of freedom and evil means there must be an abyss in God before he is established in his being and that this is what opens the possibility of evil. I still find Schelling’s speculation loathsome and prefer to take refuge in Augustine and the church’s teaching, but he does challenge one to take the phenomenon of evil more seriously.

    Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church this is what we find:

    Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. 266 Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. 267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” 268

    Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. 269 This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” 270 The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”. 271

    It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.” 272

    Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning”, who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father. 273 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 274 In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God.

    The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature – to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” 275

    266 Cf. Gen 3:1-5; Wis 2:24.

    267 Cf Jn 8:44; Rev 12:9.

    268 Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 800.

    269 Cf. 2 Pt 2:4.

    270 Gen 3:5.

    271 I Jn 3:8; Jn 8:44.

    272 St. John Damascene, Defide orth. 2, 4: PG 94, 877.

  5. Ger Hopkins says:

    @Sean #3
    Very thoughtful comment as usual.

    To paraphrase:
    When the Pope refers to the Devil it means that instead of blaming and ‘demonising’ individuals he can name the pattern, whatever it is that ‘gets into’ people to make them behave a certain way.
    Or hate the sin but love the sinner.

    You obviously care a lot and think a lot about how the message of the Church comes across to young people, Sean.
    Genuine open question here: how do you think references to Satan and the Devil are received? Or for that matter Angels or Apparitions?

    Many would have comfortable middle class parents with a devotion to scientism and granite counter tops and islands in their kitchens. And who would be dismissive of mentions of the devil. But among the young people you know, Sean, is there an openness to this language or is it a negative?

  6. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Good to see that Fr Iggy has given up the ould idolatry. For Augustine, Iggy’s patron and mine, idolators were almost as bad as Donatists.

  7. Fr Iggy O'Donovan says:

    Many of us who had become somewhat disillusioned during the papacies of JP II, and Benedict experienced something of a revival of hopes with the arrival of Francis. In the beginning I idolised him. However I sometimes feel my idol may have feet of clay. Mrs McAleese has of late alluded to this. I know reform in Rome is fiendishly difficult and I sympathise with Francis. The CDF is probably irreformable.
    I remember when Paul VI blamed our post-conciliar woes to “the smoke of Satan” entering the Church. I do wish Francis would ease up somewhat on blaming Old Nick for our troubles. Some of the criticism of Francis arises from legitimate debate and fair criticism. There has to be room in our Christian community for all views. If each side attributes the others shortcomings to the machinations of the Devil, I feel the only beneficiary of this fundamentalism is Old Nick himself.

  8. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Secularism sneers at religious talk of ‘the devil’, but how then to account for secularism’s own scandals – specifically the non-arrival so far of global liberty, equality and fraternity after two centuries and more?

    Notice the absence from the pope’s ‘hissy fit’ of all targeting of individual humans. All of us could name specific individuals who are clearly ‘out to get’ Francis, but he does not go there. Instead he names the pattern, whatever it is that ‘gets into’ people to make them behave identically in a targeted and vindictive way – forgetting that just a few short years ago they themselves were indicting all disagreement with the pope with the awful charge of ‘dissent’.

    Satan is the pattern of opposition to and of lying about whoever dares to speak the truth, and that pattern is globally discernible today, e.g. in the murder of over two hundred opponents of environmental crime in 2020.

    ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,’ said Jesus, on the return of the 70 from casting out demons. To speak of the devil is to avoid blaming and ‘demonising’ anyone in particular and even to look forward to their redemption. It is an indispensible verbal operator, but notice that when we say the Creed ‘the devil’ doesn’t come into that.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    No harm to hit back once or twice, as long as he does not make a habit of it at the expense of papal dignity.

    I wish he’d stop talking about ‘the devil.’ Remember the trouble this caused him in Argentina.

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “Some say the Devil is dead, the Devil is dead, the Devil is dead,
    Some say the Devil is dead and buried in Killarney.
    More say he rose again, more say he rose again, more say he rose
    And …”

    But my grandaunt Bessie always had a bit of a soft spot for Himself. “God’s good – and the Divil’s not bad,” was her usual response to any problem or disaster in the family. She was never one to make enemies unnecessarily.

    If, like me, you’ve felt a little uneasy over the last eight years about Pope Francis’ tweets and homilies on the Devil, Satan, the Father of Lies, the Tempter, the Enemy, the Demon, the Accuser, the Ancient Serpent, the Seducer, the Great Dragon . . . it’s good to know that he’s alive and well and at least occasionally guesting on a large Global TV Network broadcasting out of Irondale, Alabama to about 150 countries – a slightly wider audience than ACP’s probably.

    However, though both the ‘National Catholic Register’ (?NCR) and the Catholic News Agency (CNA) report Francis’ Bratislava comments about the work of the Devil, neither of them identify the “large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the Pope” with EWTN. And surely they would both know? Did Francis mean RTÉ?

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