Pope Francis addresses the Roman clergy

Source: FSSPX News

On September 16, 2013, the clergy of the Diocese of Rome, gathered in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, met with Pope Francis privately, in other words, without a live broadcast, in keeping with the wishes of the Roman priests and contrary to what had been planned initially.  It was a “family reunion” during which the pope answered five questions that were posed, while reflecting on the “serious problems of the Church”.

Concerning the scandals that are afflicting the Church, Pope Francis reiterated the need to confront these serious problems with lucidity and optimism, for “holiness is stronger than scandals.  Far from collapsing, the Church, I dare say, has never been as well as today.  This is a beautiful moment, as history testifies.  Some saints are recognized outside the Catholic Church, such as Mother Teresa, because there is an everyday sanctity like that of so many mothers and wives, so many men who work for their family.  This fills us with hope.”  This volontaristic irenicism of Pope Francis sharply contrasts with the severe, realistic judgment that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, passed on the situation of the Church shortly before his election:  “Often, Lord, Your Church seems to us like a boat about to sink, a boat taking on water on every side.  And in Your fields we see more weeds than wheat” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, March 25, 2005). 

As for pastoral ministry, the Pope recalled that creativity must not be confused with innovation.  To create means “to seek some other way of transmitting the Gospel....  It is not just about changing.  Newness is created by the Spirit in prayer but also in speaking with the faithful.”  And he cited examples that he experienced in Buenos Aires, such as keeping a certain number of churches open all day so as to assure the presence of a confessor or the start of “personal formation” for couples who hope to get married but cannot participate in marriage preparation programs because they work late....

Concerning an approach to cohabiting couples, the Pope insisted on the necessity of a cordial reception.  “The faithful must feel at home, the priest must accompany them,” he stressed, but he must “always speak the truth”, knowing that “the truth is not limited to the dogmatic definition,” but is part of “the love and the fullness of God”.

Also mentioned was the case of divorced and remarried persons who cannot receive Communion if their previous marriage has not been declared canonically null.  The question of the Church’s responsibility in these situations, the Supreme Pontiff went on to explain, will be on the agenda of the forthcoming days of working with the eight cardinals whom he has asked to counsel him, and of the next Synod of Bishops, which he intends to devote to the theme of the family.  The problem of the discipline of the sacraments for remarried divorcés, the Pope explained, cannot “be reduced solely to whether or not they receive Communion.  For someone who describes the problem in these terms has not understood what the real problem is.”  This, he noted, was a question that Benedict XVI had “taken to heart”.

This is a “serious problem”, the Pope continued, which involves the Church’s responsibility toward families that are living in this situation.  In his view, “the Church must do something to resolve the problems of annulments” of marriage.  The Pope had mentioned this point in very similar terms on the airplane that was bringing him back from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), in late July of this year.  “We have to look at this from the overall perspective of the pastoral care of marriage,” he answered the journalist who had asked him about a possible change of discipline.  He went on to say:  “The Orthodox have a different praxis. They follow the theology of economy, and they give a second chance: they allow that.  But I think that this problem... should be studied within the framework of matrimonial pastoral care. One of the themes that the Council of Cardinals will consider in the meeting in October is how to proceed in relation to matrimonial pastoral care.”

In order to prepare the priests of the Diocese of Rome for their conversation with the Pope, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar of Rome, had forwarded to them, at the Pope’s request, a letter written in 2008, when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio, to his priests after the Aparecida Conference.  In that document, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires reflects on the identity of the priest, who must “avoid becoming self-centered” so as to be able to feel that he belongs to “the flock of the people of God” which is bound to him by two words:  “gift and fidelity”.  The Church needs “pastors of the people and not officials of the State”.  The first requirement, he wrote, “is that the parish priest be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ, because only a priest in love with the Lord can renew a parish.” Yet at the same time “he must be an ardent missionary who lives the constant desire to seek out the remote, not content with simple administration.”  The image of the Good Shepherd therefore demands “disciples in love” and “ardent missionaries”.

Commentary:  During this meeting with the priests of Rome, Pope Francis addresses the question of Catholics who are divorced and have remarried civilly;  in his interview published in the September 19 issue of the Jesuit magazine America, he says on the same subject:  “I ... consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she now lives in peace and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?”  This way of asking questions without giving an answer was pointed out by a Mexican journalist, Lucrecia Rego de Plana, who on September 26 wrote an open letter to the Supreme Pontiff, in which she addresses him with the familiar form tu because she writes to him confidently, “as to [her] own father”.  Here are her legitimate questions:

“When you spoke about the woman who was cohabiting after her divorce and an abortion, you said that ‘she now lives in peace.’  I wonder:  Can a woman who has voluntarily abandoned the grace of God live in peace?  Previous popes, from Saint Peter to Benedict XVI, said that it is not possible to find peace apart from God, but Pope Francis has affirmed it.  What should I support, the Magisterium of the ages or this novelty?  Must I affirm that, as of today, in order to be faithful to the pope, peace can be found in a life of sin?

“Then you asked the question, but you left it without any answer as to what the confessor should do, as though you wanted to open Pandora’s box, knowing that there are hundreds of priests who erroneously counsel couples to continue cohabiting.  Why, my Pope, my dear Pope, did you not tell us in a few words what should be advised in cases like that one, instead of opening the door to doubt in sincere hearts?”

A little earlier in her letter, Lucrecia Rego de Planas writes:  “Many great preachers felt devastated upon hearing that you had said that it was no longer necessary to speak about some topics about which the Church has already spoken and that are set forth in the Catechism.  Tell me, dear Pope Francis, what are we supposed to do, we Christians who want to be faithful to the Pope but also to the Magisterium of the Church and to Tradition?  Should we stop preaching whereas Saint Paul tells us to preach ‘in season and out of season’?  We set aside the courageous preachers, we force them to be silent, while we coddle sinners and sweetly tell them to read the Catechism, if they can and if they want to, so that they will know what the Church says.”

(Sources : apic/ imedia/VIS/radiovatican/romasette – DICI no. 282 dated October 4, 2013)