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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Don't leave me hanging on the telephone



"Hagan lío!" Pope Francis has said, “Go make a mess” or “Go, stir things up.”

It has been reported that in a telephone conversation, the Holy Father has told an Argentinian woman who is divorced and remarried, that she may receive Holy Communion. (See: La Stampa “Il Papa al telefono mi ha detto che un divorziato può fare la comunione” and Damian Thompson’s follow-up Pope Francis 'phones divorced woman' to say she can receive Communion. This is potentially a huge story)

The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr Lombardi, said,
“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope's public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”
CNN has been in touch with Fr Rosica who said that the phone call is “between the Pope and the woman.”

In my pastoral ministry, I sometimes chat to young men who are experienced at being interviewed under caution by the Police. They all know about the “no comment interview” and how important it is not to make any comment at all, either by remaining completely silent, or by saying “no comment” in answer to every question – and nothing more. Any other words run the risk of giving extra information or incriminating you.

The statements by Holy See personnel have in fact confirmed that the telephone call was made (some commentators have questioned this.) Fr Rosica has also added "The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls" – so there was presumably some doctrinal matter discussed. Fr Lombardi has also spoken of consequences relating to the teaching of the Church – telling people that such consequences must not be inferred rather indicates that the conversation was not simply a chat about the weather.

Beyond that, of course, the matter is all one of speculation. Was the woman’s first marriage a civil marriage? If so, the Pope could grant an instant nullity from defect of form – he is, after all, the supreme legislator. Are the couple living “as brother and sister” (i.e. in a non sexually active relationship)? If so, the Pope could admit the woman to Holy Communion under the “internal forum solution” – though this is subject to the proviso that there should be no public scandal, something rather difficult to affirm given that the recipient of a telephone call from the Pope is not bound by the seal of confession, and might talk to her husband who might then post about it on Facebook, and thereby start a firestorm in the international press. Perhaps I am being too harsh?

Any of these explanations could be issued via the Holy See Press Office or l’Osservatore Romano. Some might say that the Pope does not talk about these private conversations and correct people in their mistaken impressions. But he does...

Liberation theologian, Frei Betto, met with Pope Francis recently, at a General Audience, and afterwards claimed that the Pope had looked favourably on his suggestion that Giordano Bruno should be rehabilitated. l’Osservatore Romano mistakenly thought that the Holy Father would like this to be published, and duly carried a glowing account of the meeting, supposedly at the Casa Santa Marta. Pope Francis demanded an immediate correction, which was published the following day, and the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Lombardi, followed up:
"The Pope did not receive Frei Betto in Santa Marta. It wasn't a real conversation, but merely a greeting in passing as part of the so-called hand kiss at the end of the general audience. The Pope paused for a moment, listened and at the end he concluded, as he does frequently, with an invitation to prayer. It certainly was not his intention to go into the matter of Giordano Bruno."
(See: Pope Francis, Frei Betto and the "Accident" at Osservatore Romano)

So if there is a harmless explanation for the divorce-and-remarriage-holy-communion phone call which doesn't affect the Church's teaching at all, No Sirreee, not a bit of it, why not order Fr Lombardi and l’Osservatore Romano to put things straight? As it is, the phone call has been officially confirmed, together with a denial that it has anything to do with Church teaching. Better to learn from the experience of the lads and their “no comment” interviews: if you are not going to say anything, don’t say anything.

I can’t go along with the assertion that the Pope couldn’t possibly have given the advice he is alleged to have given. He is infallible when he defines things ex cathedra. When he issues non-infallible magisterial teaching, we must give the religious assent of mind and will; but when he speaks privately (and it has been confirmed that whatever was said is indeed private utterance and not magisterial) then we are entitled to disagree with him. Pope Benedict affirmed this explicitly in the preface to his book Jesus of Nazareth.

However I don’t in any way want to criticise those loyal Catholics, priests and laity, who have valiantly defended the Pope and said that there is nothing to see here, we don’t know the full story, and there might be details which put an entirely innocent slant on the matter. They show a commendable loyalty to the Church and to the Holy Father in difficult times.

Nevertheless, I am more convinced by the suggestion that the uncertainty and confusion plays very well into the hands of those who are hinting and suggesting, asking open questions with doe-eyed sentimentality, never committing themselves but flying kites all over the Vatican gardens, leading people to hope that the divorced and remarried might be admitted to Holy Communion.

Is this intentional on the part of Pope Francis? Who am I to judge? (But he did say Hagan lío!)
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