Face Reality or opt for False Clarity

Australian Archbishop Says the Church Should Not Strive for “False Clarity”
Michael O’Loughlin
Archbishop Mark Coleridge thinks some of his fellow prelates are afraid of confronting reality.
As the head of the Archdiocese of Brisbane on the east coast of Australia, the archbishop was a delegate to the synod of bishops in Rome in 2015. There, he said, he witnessed healthy disagreement about issues important to families during the two-week meeting—prompted by Pope Francis’ call for open and honest dialogue. That debate has continued more than a year after the synod came to a close, with some bishops calling for greater clarity from the pope.
But Archbishop Coleridge told America that uncertainty is simply part of modern life.
“At times at the synod I heard voices that sounded very clear and certain but only because they never grappled with the real question or never dealt with the real facts,” he said in a recent interview. “So there’s a false clarity that comes because you don’t address reality, and there’s a false certainty that can come for the same reason.”
The archbishop, who worked in the Vatican’s secretary of state’s office in the late 1990s, was responding to a question about critics of Pope Francis who have taken issue with his apostolic letter, “Amoris Laetitia,” in which the pope calls for a pathway to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Critics of the pope have stepped up their attacks on the document in recent months, emboldened by a letter sent to the pope by four cardinals in September asking for yes or no answers to five questions about the document. They say the pope is sowing confusion in the church on questions settled by previous popes, including St. John Paul II.
But the pope’s supporters, including Archbishop Coleridge, say Francis is simply asking the church to confront challenging questions.
“I think what Pope Francis wants is a church that moves toward clarity and certainty on certain issues after we’ve grappled with the issues, not before,” he continued. “In other words, he wants a genuine clarity and a genuine certainty rather than the artificial clarity or certainty that comes when you never grapple with the issues.”
During the 2015 synod, Archbishop Coleridge blogged about his experience as a synod delegate, offering Catholics a window into a process that, aside from occasional interviews with participants, was conducted in private.
He is a proponent of church leaders using social media, and he tweets on an eclectic range of topics from @ArchbishopMark. In recent weeks, he’s tweeted his thoughts on the unification of Italy, his desire for a heavenly dinner with Leonard Cohen and Fidel Castro and the mental fortitude of Australian professional athletes.
Archbishop Coleridge said he agrees with a fellow Aussie, Cardinal George Pell, who said in London recently that some Catholics are “unnerved” by the debate about “Amoris Laetitia.”
“I think that’s probably the right word, and I sensed in the words of the four cardinals men who were unnerved,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “Clearly, they had been spoken to by a lot of people who were unnerved. I can understand that.”
But where Cardinal Pell went on to suggest the pope needed to offer clarity on the issue, Archbishop Coleridge said Francis is simply acting like a pastor.
The pope, he said, is “bringing out into the very public setting of the papacy what any pastor does in his parish or diocese.”
He noted that pastors are “very often dealing in a world of grays and you have to accompany people, listen to them before you speak to them, give them time and give them space, and then speak your word perhaps.”
Ultimately, individual believers have to discern where God is at work in their own lives—a process that doesn’t always lend itself to simple yes or no answers.
“Some people expect from the pope clarity and certainty on every question and every issue, but a pastor can’t provide that necessarily,” he said.
He said Francis is moving the church from a static way of doing business to one that is kinetic, something those used to a different kind of papacy are finding difficult.
“But there are still people who are more comfortable, for various reasons, with a more static way of thinking and speaking,” he said. “And there are people who are perhaps more comfortable in a world of black and white and who find the process of discernment, which deals in shades of gray, messy and unnerving.”
As for how Pope Francis is handling the criticism, Archbishop Coleridge said not to worry.
“I can’t imagine that Pope Francis is deeply anguished over some of the opposition that he faces,” he said. “He’s a man who doesn’t seem rattled by that sort of thing.”
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

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  1. I’ll try a third time…..What would make the Irish People ready to meet Pope Francis? …It seems to me that a readiness would simply be an open heart and mind, a willingness to allow Christ to flow through the presence of Pope Francis, perhaps, to someone who needs his message for hope and life.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    AB Mark is a man after my own heart. He speaks a lot of sense unlike the four Cardinals. ‘ Unnerved’ is a good way to describe them. I would suggest however that their judgemental rigidity shows an unhealthy state of mind. Anyone who can only live with definites, within that confined space of right V wrong is not going to be very happy with humanity’s struggling to do the right thing, of failing, struggling, failing again and struggling again and again. The Australian prelate shows a compassionate understanding in much of what he writes and has a better chance of reaching out to ordinary people, of connecting with them heart to heart. We struggle, we question, we wonder, we don’t always ‘fit’ the norm. That’s life for so many. Why are these men fixated on getting clarification? They frighten me at times but then I think of how needy they are, that they cannot live with uncertainty, and I feel sorry for them. I like what AB Coleridge says here. Good on him.
    I do believe though that the Pope should answer the 4 cardinals. Neglecting to engage with them is not helpful and we have a long, painful history of using that weapon of ignoring dissenting voices. Our Irish hierarchs need to take note. Ignoring someone is rude and unchristian, it seems to me, so I hope Pope Francis responds to their questions.

  3. Teresa Mee says:

    Mary says,’I do believe though that the Pope should answer the 4 cardinals. Neglecting to engage with them is not helpful..’
    Are they just questions,Mary, or are they elements of a campaign? Sometimes, from what’s going on among a substantial cluster of bishops, it looks dangerously close to the latter.

  4. Mary Vallely says:

    Yes, Teresa @3 , you may indeed be right. There is game playing going on, no doubt, and the intention may well be to trap the Pope or to embarrass him at the very least. Still, it doesn’t mean that he cannot act in a mannerly fashion and respond publicly as they have challenged him to. He’s bigger than that and Jesuits, after all, are masters at handling that sort of scenario with tact and diplomacy. I just believe that the weapon of non-response should be put in a drawer in a museum somewhere in the Vatican vaults. It is no longer right nor just.
    (By the way I am well aware that I am completely out of my depth and know nothing about the politics behind this but it is gratifying to feel that we have a voice here on this forum so thank you to the ACP for providing the space in which to engage. )

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    I think the readiness factor is mainly to those who cling to clericalism.
    What does preparing for the Pope entail? Make that list and I bet this is what Pope Francis despises about the Church as we have it right now. Will Ireland be ready for the Pope in 2018? I think if we listen carefully, Pope Francis is willing to drive the Church into a schism which is beneficial and if Ireland brings certain questions to the forefront, the Pope will have no choice but to answer.
    There are those in the church who long for the “good ol’ days” and then there are those like us who are helping shape a more inclusive Church. I personally think and have stated in the past that the Pope’s best move is to make the Papacy obscure. Inverting the triangle is one way to accomplish it. His movement and actions are showing that his strategy is certainly pointing in this direction. He just wants to become one more in a long line of servants to the people of God.

  6. Francis could respond to the ‘four unnerved’ in the way that Jesus did – by telling a parable that challenges the assumptions behind the questions.
    ‘The wheat and the tares’ might be a good one to start with, but many of the parables exactly address legalism.

  7. Kevin Walters says:

    Mary @2
    Mary, I have read, that the cardinals’ letter takes a traditional form: it asks the Pope to say whether certain teachings are still valid. It asks five questions, anticipating a yes or no answer. Among these questions are (to paraphrase) “Does the teaching on Communion for the remarried still stand?” and “Are intrinsically evil acts always wrong?”
    Jesus teaches “not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” How can Pope Francis reply to these question? Here cannot the law is black and white. It appears that he has chosen to remain silent; the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”.
    But their questions can be answered with AUTHORITY as God Himself has given him means to do this
    The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves all of us. And, He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, the TRUE image of Divine Mercy an image of man’s brokenness calls on the Church to repent (Change direction) but to do this those who lead the Church will have to openly acknowledge their own brokenness before mankind in accepting responsibility for installing a self-serving image of worldly goodness (Clericalism) in God house on earth contrary to God’s inviolate Word (Will).
    Please consider reading an article that I wrote some time ago The Webb of Clericalism.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    I suspect that Ab Mark Coleridge is a very polite man. I suspect, too, that those four cardinals are not merely unnerved but unhinged – excardinati in fact. Time, perhaps, to pension off old Monsignore Amore and let young Signora Laetitia deal with these knotty dubia. An Ode to Joy is what’s needed in interpreting this Apostolic Exhortation. (Not to be confused, of course, with a much earlier more secular volume, The Joy of Sex.)

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