Father Z posted an excerpt of this most thoughtful critique of Pope Francis long interview with his usual comments and so on. Go on over to his site to see his take.
Like speed, language is also war. It’s the stuff of propaganda. It’s the stuff of rousing pre-battle speeches and of post-battle excuses. It’s the handiwork of spies and the tool of diplomats. Yes, language is war in every possible way.
Language is like an ensign or a set of colours. Let me give you an example. When I first married my wife, I moved to South London and we attended a church which had a very fine priest. Sadly he retired shortly after I arrived in the parish and he was replaced by another priest – a withered-looking Irish man who seemed allergic to people. I saw the cut of his jib, however, right from the first Mass I attended at which he was the celebrant. Following the Offering Prayers, he said to the congregation: ‘Pray, sisters and brothers …’ Afterwards I said to my wife, ‘That’s the signal, we know where he is coming from now.’
He then goes on to examine ways Pope Francis used language in the interview that he found troubling.
The language of mercy –
The language of latitude. We have to put an end to the growing false memory of Benedict which even the language of Francis is contributing too. Pope Francis has spoken about “small-minded rules”. I would love to ask him what rules he is thinking about. The Church purged itself of a shed-load of small-minded rules after the Council. Recently, Catholicism has been characterized not by small-minded rules, but by a minimalist approach to the law. Legalism has been out for decades.
Likewise, Francis’s concerns over what we might call “campaign doctrines” (abortion, etc) is perturbing. When he says that the Church’s pastoral ministry cannot just be “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines” (just after mentioning gay marriage and abortion), it is as if he is blaming the world’s inability to understand the Church on those who have given their lives to fight the genocide of the unborn or defend Christian marriage. His language aims of course at toning down dogmatism; yet, its moralistic expression (“the Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed”) implies that the Church has gone about banging on about abortion like some revivalist temperance preacher. If you find any priest thumping a pulpit over abortion or over any sexual sin, do let us know. In fighting with this caricature as if it’s true, Pope Francis does nothing other than flatter those who have carefully crafted such an image out of half lies and distortions.
The language of omission – this is a tricky one since no interview is exhaustive. Still, it is always interesting to see how key questions are characterized by those who speak. On the Extraordinary Form – which, in another linguistic coup, is now being called the Vetus Ordo (because it is no longer deemed extraordinary, just old) – the pope says, “I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity.” But, that is only half the story. Anyone who readsSummorum Pontificum will find that is it not only a matter of traditionalist sensibilities. Rather, it is a question of preserving the heritage of the Church. Rather, it is a matter of influencing the Ordinary Form (in a reciprocal relationship theoretically). Like all the language issues I have pointed out, this crucial omission is deeply connotative. If the Extraordinary Form is about sensibilities (as Francis says here), then it is simply a sideshow for traditionalist nostalgia. If it’s a heritage for the entire Church (as Benedict wrote), then it cannot be swept under the carpet. So what does Francis think exactly?
The fig leaf of orthodoxy – there are various points in the interview where he seems to be sailing close to the wind on a matter of doctrine. Take, for example, the question of the infallibility of the believing Church. He correctly uses the expression infallibilitas in credendo (found in theology manuals of the 1950s, mind you). The passage is worth quoting in full:
[All] the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.
But then comes the fig leaf of orthodoxy: “And, of course, we must be very careful not to think that this infallibilitas of all the faithful I am talking about in the light of Vatican II is a form of populism.”
Thinking with the non-hierarchical Church (as Pope Francis describes it) is no more than a matter of counsel, since I need not share the theology of any one school; thinking with the hierarchical Church, on the other hand, is a matter of precept. Reading Francis, you would think these two are of equal importance. But counsel is not precept and precept is not counsel. The confusion of the two is hugely dangerous. What after all if most Catholics think there is nothing wrong with contraception…? Is that infallible? He cannot pretend – though he makes an attempt – that there is no friction in this relationship.
The language of dynamic(s)