This interview could be the Pope’s first real encyclical

I note that the pope’s self-designation as a sinner may be inspired by St Escriva who had “a sinner” inscribed on his tomb.

We must make the most of this stunning interview and hope there will be more. The pope is not just ‘shooting his mouth.’ It is a very carefully reflected and calculated intervention, and can even be seen as his real first Encyclical. I read it with the same sentiments as those of my mother on hearing Pope John Paul II preach in Limerick in 1979: ‘Wasn’t it great to hear a man tell you what you’d always believed!’

What most strikes me is the lucidity with which the Pope expounds a mature, broad, and integrated vision of the nature of the Church and its teaching, and with which he names and refutes the distortions created by conservatives who see the Church in sectarian terms and its teachings as a collection of shibboleths. He takes aim in particular at the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith, suggesting that its role is to be a mediator not a manager and that worries about the orthodoxy of a given teacher are best handled by the local bishops.

The hierarchy of truths has been restored by Francis. Strikingly, at the top of the hierarchy he does not place any dogma, be it that of the Holy Trinity, but rather the first, original teaching of Jesus. The earliest layer of the Q document, reconstructed by scholars, that it the nearest we can come to the actual words of the historical Jesus and that underlies much of the Sermon on the Mount for example, provides the themes that Francis has most insistently stressed.

On moral issues, he makes a very simple but far-reaching point: they have to be seen in context. The broader context is that society as a whole has radically changed and that the Church must factor this into its moral reflections. He even mentions changes in the family, which will give aid and comfort to those who think the right to marry should be accorded to same-sex couples.

The language of the new pope is the language of people of today. He has no qualms about using the word ‘gay’ or naming ‘restorationism’ as a bad thing. His musical and literary tastes, also, have a freshness about them that one missed in Benedict XVI’s confessed fondness for Plato, Mozart, Storm, Hesse, Goethe, Mann, Kafka, Annette Kolb. The difference lies I think in the sense that Francis shares his tastes with others, speaking in the demotic tones of a fan when he refers to Puccini’s Turandot or Knappertsbusch’s sublime 1962 Bayreuth Parsifal (a well-known Philips recording) or I promessi sposi.

Are there shadows in the picture? Many people will find his way of talking about the role of women quite inadequate, and will remember that his religious order the Jesuits is unique among religious orders in never having had any female branch at all. Another shadow is the doubt whether Francis can implement structural changes that would enable his vision of church to become real. Barack Obama also made inspiring speeches, but his performance in office has disappointed many of his supporters.

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  1. Magy Stelling says:

    Who ever wrote this sentence:”
    I note that the pope’s self-designation as a sinner may be inspired by St Escriva who had “a sinner” inscribed on his tomb.” never experienced The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius!!! Pope Francis is inspired by Saints Ignatius and Francis of Assisi and not Opus Dei.

  2. Peter Shore says:

    Thanks for that Kevin. Maybe the Pope is Catholic after all.

  3. Mary O Vallely says:

    Joe O’Leary isn’t exaggerating in his use of the word “stunning” to describe the Pope’s words in this interview. As a theologian and priest and someone who has never been afraid to speak out it does my heart good to read his affirmation (and to heed his warning about ‘the shadows’). We were/are all astounded and more than pleased with the Christ-like compassion and understanding that comes across in this interview. Pope Francis speaks of taking ‘context’ into consideration when faced with someone who has overstepped the orthodox mark.
    Then along comes the news about Fr Iggy O’Donovan and an ‘unorthodox’ baptism and our optimism evaporates. So Armagh reports him to Rome. Plus ca change, eh? “They haven’t gone away, y’know”, these pharisaical types among us, eager to report any cleric not conforming to the norm, showing a bit of inclusivity and downright Christ-like compassion. This latest news from Melbourne about the priest, Fr Gregg, defrocked and excommunicated, is more of the same.
    We need to concentrate on the positive and not let ourselves be dragged down to the depths of despair again.
    I urge all those northern priests who care about injustices towards their fellow clerics and towards their congregations to support the ACP meeting in Ballygawley tomorrow, Wednesday 25th. (notice up above). You need to stand up for truth, love and justice and you also need companionship and a safe place to speak. Praying for a positive encounter and for fear to be cast aside! 🙂

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Magy@2: You rush in to correct Joe O’Leary. As I suggested earlier, this encyclical-by-interview should be listed as “Ego Bergoglio, peccator” from its opening statement of identity. I believe our man came under the influence of Argentinian-Irish Jesuits early on in his schooldays. Clearly he carries St Patrick’s Confessio, “Ego Patricius, peccator”, in his back pocket all the time.
    Now, Magy, wouldn’t you care to address Joe’s more substantive/ial reaction to this stunning encyclical? There’s a touch of the epiphany experienced by the two disciples at Emmaus about Joe’s use of his mother’s exclamation at Limerick: “Wasn’t it great to hear a man tell you what you’d always believed!” Not, I’d say, Tony Flannery’s reaction at Galway racecourse a couple of days earlier – but nonetheless authentic.
    Mary O@4: What is wrong with people like Brady of Ara Coeli and Smith of Meath? Too damn long in Rome in their formation days, I’d say. Neither Paul nor Apollos will be let near an Armagh font from now on. And as for the snivelling little informers, we used know how to deal with that type round our way. I’m afraid it’ll take more than a stunning Franciscan interview to change Armagh.
    But roll on, Ballygawley, tomorrow. I see the meeting is in Garbh Achaidh, John Montague’s Rough Field. They say the ACPriests-on- the-Bus have laid on a dozen 85-seater coaches from every art and part, North and South. That’ll take care of 1,020 for a start.

  5. I must confess, Eddie, that I, too was knocked off balance by Joe’s mention of Escriva. In fact, any mention of Opus Dei has that effect on me. One of the reasons I so admired Cardinal Basil Hume was due to the fact that he very wisely banished Opus Dei from his archdiocese when he was Archbishop of Westminister.
    I often wonder where my old UCD friend, Conor Donnelly,is today. Conor introduced me to Opus Dei very early in our under-graduate days. Conor was a wonderful, genuine lad and a great friend who graduated in Medicine but who continued his connection with Opus Dei and he was ordained in University Chapel on St. Stephen’s Green in the early 1980s, an event to which I was invited but unfortunately I could not attend.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    Escriva made it a signature to describe himself as “a sinner” as in his choice of epitaph “Josemaria Escriva sinner”. Bergoglio admires St Escriva and prayed at his tomb when preparing for the recent conclave. The proximity to his own self-description is increased by the shared Spanish tongue. St Patrick calls himself “peccator rusticissimus”, not simply “peccator”; I don’t know if Sts Francis and Ignatius had any similar style of self-designation.

    “A speech is a deed” says Hegel in his Philosophy of History. Even if other deeds of Pope Francis fall short of the speech, it can still be used as a charter, just as Paul VI’s Evangelii nuntiandi and Octagesima adveniens remained valuable beacons even if he disappointed on other occasions.

  7. Soline Humbert says:

    I am wondering: Is it men in high church office who feel more the need to describe themselves as sinners (as contrast to their titles “, “very reverend” monsignor” “your grace”! “Your eminence” ” your holiness” etc…?
    I always believed that our deepest identity was (as affirmed at our baptism) that of beloved daughters and sons of God,partaking in the divinity of Christ? That to me is the Good News and the heart of the Gospel: created by Love, for Love.” My deepest me is God” said St.Catherine of Genoa.

  8. Joe O’Leary @8, “A speech is a deed” as you say Hegel said. Indeed it may be, as in, “In the beginning was the Word..”
    And as in the first “fiat”, when God said, “Let there be..”
    But now we all need and are waiting for Francis to implement the burden of his words.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Soline, I did not check, but I think St Paul in his self-descriptions never calls himself “sinner” (hamartolos) but Apostle, servant, etc. The new translation of the confiteor gives us more of the miserabilist breast-thumping that has muddled and paralyzed us for centuries.

  10. “One of the purposes of excommunication is medicinal. It’s a way for the Church to say that someone has strayed too far and is endangering their souls and the souls of others…..”

    And the ‘Church’ cried, “Crucify him ! Crucify him !”

    Like beauty, tis all in the eye of the beholder.

    It’s not Francis or what he says or believes that would depress me at all. I don’t really read much about him to be honest or any other Pope. Never have. He’s just a human being.

    But the very little I have read, read and see in the man; I get an impression he’d be good to sit and talk to over a bevvie or tea or whatever your poison. I think he might give, as they say, ‘good counsel’.

    Lay as many cards on the table as possible and leave it to you. Person to person – one human being to another – one ‘sinner’ to another. And instead of trying to break hearts and minds and spirits even more than life itself does – trying to mend each other’s – little by little, day by day – one at a time. Everyone so worried about ‘saving’ souls they don’t stop to think about healing them first.

    I think, and again it’s only me – that the true cancer of the Catholic Church is in the desire, by some at least, for a Borg like heart and mind. “Resistance is futile…. you will be assimilated.” This was, is and will forever be the true danger – the real cancer in the Body of Christ I believe.

    I think the Scriptures suggest that whatever has been bound in Heaven is then bound on earth and not the other way around. Though reading it in certain contexts you’d think it’s earth’s will that comes first.

    I read that somewhere years ago – in the Beano or something. Jesus foresakes the ninety nine to pursue the one. The Borg don’t operate like that however. Who ex communicates whom at the end of the day. I don’t know to be honest and wont’ die worrying about it.

    I’d imagine that ninety nine out of every hundred souls out there could care less either.

  11. Gene Carr says:

    I have read the Holy Father’s latest interview, and as I am, admittedly, of a more ‘conservative’ disposition, I could find nothing I could even faintly disagree with, except perhaps one allusion which seemed to equate ‘authoritarian’ with ‘right wing’. Since by far the most authoritarian, bloody and repressive regimes of modern times were left wing and socialist, I thought that was rather odd. Calling himself a sinner is hardly revolutionary; don’t all Popes admit to being sinners? Maybe I am wrong, but didn’t Benedict and John Paul have to confess their sins like everyone else.

    Francis rightly insists that the moral virtues need to be placed in ‘context’. But I think that Joe is a bit off base in insisting that ‘context’ means the ‘broader context of society’ (or that only). I think Francis meant it in the context of the proper hierarchy of truths, for instance the the primacy of the First Commandment, from which all other things follow. The despair of our time including it anti-life expressions start with estrangement from a loving and merciful Father. And perhaps Francis is right that too often, when our generation turn to the Church they see the brooding ressentiment of the brooding older brother rather than the face of a loving, welcoming and merciful Father. The best recent expression of the highest virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity were the three encyclicals written by Benedict, one of which Francis has made his own. I fail to see how Benedict would find anything to disagree with in this interview. I fear that for my liberal-minded friends this honeymoon is going to end in tears. But one can always hope.

  12. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Church has always meant “small community” to me and the formation of small communities of like-minded people pursuing a common good for all involved seems to be the gospel I read about. When you have one person sitting atop a religion overlooking more than a billion people, you can clearly understand why this organization could seem out of touch through their thoughts and actions. MJT @ 10 waits for the Pope to “implement the burden of his words” yet the Pope is not going to implement anything outside of tradition. Heretical in all of this is the idea that a central governing body is now seated as king of the religious man/woman; existing, only seemingly, to hand down its judgments on its clerics and faithful alike. This centralized power is the cancer that eats away at religion, not secularism. Why is there a Pope? Is God’s word not enough in the hands of the Christian faithful or was his kingdom meant to proliferate like a well staffed corporation? In my mind, Pope Francis might well be the last Pope, if we, the Christian faithful, start to treat our religion with the respect it so calls for.

  13. Lloyd Allan MacPherson @15, I believe that the knowledge of Jesus Christ has been kept alive and come to most of us throughout history through the church, meaning all the People of God, which includes laity, priests, bishops and popes. I think people need leadership and guidance in experiencing, understanding and living out the gospel, otherwise commonly they wouldn`t know of it, understand or value it. Transmission from generation to generation of revealed truth will go on, I trust, through this church, which is why I`m hoping Francis gets cracking on urgently with very necessary work.

  14. Clare Hannigan says:

    Some other sayings of Escriva are written below. They are taken from a book The Way which was given to me by a member of Opus Dei in the hope that I would become a member.
    Don’t forget that you are a… dust-bin. That’s why if by any chance the divine Gardener lays his hands on you, and scrubs and cleans you, and fills you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colour that embellish your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are the rubbish bin?
    The day you see yourself as you are, you will think it natural to be despised by others.
    If you knew yourself, you would find joy in being despised and your heart would weep before honours and praise.
    If you were to obey the impulses of your heart and the dictates of reason, you would always be flat on the ground, prostrate, like a filthy worm, ugly and miserable, before that God who puts up with so much from you.
    Pride? Why Before long — years, days, — you will be a heap of rotting flesh: worms, foul-smelling liquids, filthy shreds of cloth, and no one, on earth, will remember you.

    I do not consider this suitable material for the spiritual formation of our children or teenagers. Perhaps the sayings loose something in translation from Spanish. I notice that different editions of this book use slightly different language.

    When we participate in the celebration of the Mass, when we pray the rosary we acknowledge our sinfulness – ‘pray for us sinners’. We have the courage to publicly admit this reality because as baptised Christians we are confident that there is no sin we can commit that will diminish or extinguish God’s unconditional love for us. In the act of acknowledging our sinfulness we embrace God’s healing love.

  15. Gene Carr @14. God is not male. Mother Church is not a ‘brooding older brother’. Neither your theology nor the Popes (plural) bears any relationship to the messiness of life. That is why the Church is haemorrhaging is members. Jesus of Nazareth castigated his Jewish religious leaders for laying heavy burdens on people struggling in their everyday lives: ‘context’ ‘situation’ and ‘experience’ are where we live and while ‘relativism’ is taboo for the Church, everything and everyone is related, it is the nature of life. I agree with you on one point though and that is your fear for your liberal-minded friends that the honeymoon is going to end in tears. I myself prefer to being one of the one per cent out on the margins than one of the 99 per cent in the fold.

  16. Have to admit I laughed at the ‘dustbin’ comment Claire.

    I don’t know much about the man. In some ways I think I can see what he might be trying to say – but would agree it is not appropriate for children or teenagers, young people.

    So much in life degrades them in so many ways – they don’t need further affirmation from the Church how worthless they might feel themselves to be. That the ‘sinner’ is just someone who has not experienced an embrace of the love of God in any real way, perhaps, and we can try to be that for each other – most of all for the young.

    I turned from it all for years thinking and believing then so much of it such a huge and wholesome bunch of crap. And part of that was its leaving me feeling a worthless piece of scum fit only for a ‘dustbin’.

    Then one day I began to read the Scriptures for myself and it all started to change. I remembered a line from a book in the past, “I will open up for you the green pastures of the Scriptures.’ And the Spirit speaks where it will to whom the Spirit will. I began to see that the message – the reality was indeed good and maybe often very true and life enhancing. Raising up to God’s loving embrace. Just the message had been poorly delivered.

    “All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command:

    You must love your neighbour as your self.

    Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour and that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments’. (Rom: 13 8-10)

    What I read today after Mass and praying the rosary.

    Delivery is so much in all of it. I don’t think many young people would disagree with a message that teaches self respect, self worth, love of the self as an image of God – and love of the other as the self. Like all of us – some times need to realise, know they are loved first of all. Something the Church should do I am sure or it’s failing completely.

  17. Linda, Derry says:

    So according to Nuala ” God is not Male”. Must be why Jesus Christ taught us to pray “Our Father” then eh?

  18. @20.
    Linda, is this the same God as ‘Father’ who inflicted horrendous plagues on his enemies? Who watched all the horrors of history, many of them carried out in ‘his’ name? God as Creator, King, God the Omnipotent, the Unmoved Mover, God as Father, these are all metaphors because ‘no language about God is adequate and all of it is improper” (Sally McFague). Aquinas said ‘that we can know that God is and what God is not, but not what God is’. We really don’t know what Jesus said, only what others said he said and those others were all male. God has become irrelevant for many people because God has become static. Just as Jesus introduced a new way of thinking about God, Abba, for his time, we now need a new way of thinking about God for our time that will reflect the new awareness of the equality of women and an inclusivity of all those who are excluded from table-fellowship.

  19. Gene Carr says:

    Nuala @ 18: Not being a theologian, I have not the foggiest notion whether God is male or not. I have simply followed the words of Christ himself who refers to God a ‘Father’, and when asked taught us to pray with the opening words “Our Father . . .”. It seemed to me like a safe theological bet to use the word Father in referring to God.

  20. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    MJT @ 16 – I believe that the knowledge of Jesus Christ’s EXISTENCE has been kept alive by the Church and certainly all of God’s people. I think when people are truly living out the gospel, they simply recognize God as the one true authority in their lives that they need to concern themselves with. That being said, if it is the mandate of the Church to assemble itself like a multinational corporation with a hierarchy that moves people so far away and out of touch with what is happening at ground zero (where the spirit lives and reigns, mind you), you have to question how much of “God’s word” or “the Gospel of Jesus” these people plan on transmitting to the next generation. The youth are not blind to this today and they are always very wary of “elected leaders” in a potentially corrupt system. By potentially corrupt, I mean that the medium and the message do not correspond; if Christ were alive in human form today, would he approve of such establishment? We can’t answer that question though without knowing what he actually thought of the formation of this establishment. I’m sure none of us really knows what it could have been like during 1st Century Roman rule. Then again, has that empire ever crumbled? That would take a real miracle to crumble those walls but I think the boys here are on to something. You can’t defeat oppression by replacing the leader with one more favorable; unfortunately you have to convince yourself that in all of us is a leader and a law that is not corrupt by design.

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