Remember when Pope Francis said “Thank you. It is true that I do not give interviews, but why, I do not know, I can’t, it’s just like that.”? Good times.
I never got around to really posting about the interview Pope Francis gave to La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. Besides that interview I have read a good amount of thoughtful commentary regarding it both pro and con and ranges in between. When I saw yesterday that another interview was going to be released I certainly had mixed feelings. This time he was interviewed by La Repubblica’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari. This was the atheist he had previously dialogued with.
First off it seems Pope Francis is keeping Jimmy Akin very busy. It seems every time he says something in the public forum outside of the normal speech, homily General Audience, etc – it seems Jimmy Akin has to do another article explaining what we need to know concerning it. For example todays Did Pope Francis just say that evangelization is “nonsense”? 8 things to know and share. In addition regarding the newer interview translation problems are being reported such as by Sr. Anne Flanagan and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.
So far the commentary by Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine on the latest interview expresses some of my own thoughts.
- I think he has a particular style and we need to get used to the rapid change in tone. It shouldn’t come as much surprise that a Argentinian Jesuit is not a Polish Thomist Philosopher or a German Augustinian Theologian.
- He’s not a scholar, he’s a pastor. I’m more comfortable with scholars, less so with the pastoral thing. I’m happy with my books and my Germans. Pastoral work has to do with getting down on the street with people in all their messy fallibility and failings, but also with the potential for beauty and faith and love.
- I think that’s wonderful, but there are inherent dangers in it as well. Sometimes you need to be out there on the knife-edge taking risks in order to lure new souls to the kingdom.
Adding to this the interview format is certainly not an ideal vehicle for a balanced expression of what the Church teaches. Especially considering that two of the interviews were to some extent hostile. In one you have reporters asking typical questions in pursuit of a headline and not real understanding. The latest interview with Eugenio Scalfari is also partially combative.
I especially liked Thomas L. McDonald’s closing paragraph:
- The world is not our little Catholic bubble. I like my bubble. I stay in it most of the time. The classroom and the computer and the page allow to me to leave it from time to time, but the preaching and teaching required in the bubble is of a different quality to that required in the world.
- Francis makes me nervous, because his words can be spun by those enemies we have within the Church and without. On the other hand, we shouldn’t get twitchy and skittish about a genuine attempt to engage non-believers and non-Catholics with unguarded language. No teachings are changed. The faith is as it always has been. The messiness of debate and dialog doesn’t alter the truth.
- Those of us in the Church–we who have made the commitment to teaching and preaching the word and following Her in all things–are the 99 sheep, safe at home with our Mother. That’s not to say our salvation is assured, but merely that the shepherd doesn’t have to worry about us quite as much, for the moment.
- Are we then to begrudge the shepherd when he leaves the safety and comfort of the stable to retrieve our lost brother?
Anytime you speak about evangelization and emphasize certain aspects of it, it can seem that you are downplaying others. The both/and so often gets lost in communication and on the receiver’s side the same exists. We all have our hobby-horses and can see everything through them. If the Pope doesn’t sooth us by repeatedly mentioning our hobby-horses we can get suspicious. When you make a broad outline of strategies for evangelization from a top level it can be like a flu vacine where a forecast is made as to what strains should be concentrated on. This does not include all the various strategies at all the levels of the Church down to the Gospel call that we all receive and are to act on. The reality is their is no homogenous culture where one pastoral emphasis will be effective for everyone. The barriers to conversion are many and while there are generalities in conversion stories there is no one-size-fits-all evangelical response. As Pope Francis says in this interview we have to get to know people and to listen to them.
When Thomas L. MacDonald writes “I’m more comfortable with scholars,” I can heartily agree. Frankly Pope Francis’ writings leave me rather cold. When I was reading Ratzinger/Benedict the path was filled with empty highlighter pens. Pope Francis not so much. Maybe it is my vanity and the fact that Pope Francis emphasizes a lot of the basics and is a bit repetitive in his homilies and speeches as he emphasizes a certain point. I probably need lots of work on the basics and it is annoying to hear them mentioned.
Overall I can read the various interviews he as given and to some extent see what he is trying to say in context along with limitation of the interview format. Still if he didn’t give any more interviews I would not see that as a bad thing. The Pope is of course going to get misinterpret by the culture. This does not mean he has to help them along with phrasings that can be so easily misinterpreted.
When it comes to critiques of the Pope’s last interview there is one I would recommend. Long time Catholic blogger Dale Price is a hyperbolic word-smith extraordinaire and while I don’t fully agree with his critique I was often nodding my head in agreement with the thrust of what he was saying.
There are all sorts of small rhetorical problems with the interview, easily sound-bitten parts that are being used by the Left–and occasionally the knife-happy non-left that hates pro-lifers–with glee: “obsessed,” “small-minded rules,” etc. Can you find any soundbites to fling back at the retrograde, unChristian behavior of progressives? Let me know.
Hint: there aren’t any.
Now culling anything for sound bites is a losing proposition. We have reduced the political sphere to this. Yet there is a reality that these are what propagates and is unfortunately the only doctrinal content that many receive. This is why many faithful Catholics might feel they are on the receiving end of stones while revisionist Catholics and those not friendly with the Church are glowing in excitement of “best Pope ever.”
To suggest that they have all misread it and/or are delusional is itself delusional. When was the last time they were this energized? Never. Not in my Catholic lifetime.
Anybody on the left feeling betrayed, cast aside, discounted, demoralized, even a sense of disquiet? Nope. That’s a telling datum, don’t you think? To which I hear NO, FROWNY FACE, IT IS NOT. GET WITH THE PROGRAM.
I for one do think that it is highly probable that most of the new people on the papal bandwagon have misread him, are delusional, or both. While I think the lack of precision in what he says at times is a problem, I don’t doubt at all as he has also repeated in two of the interviews that he is a “Son of the Church” and totally orthodox.
I find it an easy temptation to dismiss those who now like the Pope. Especially as I suspect if they really understood that Pope Francis is not changing any doctrinal content they would be less enthused. I keep waiting for the media honeymoon to be over. Yet it is easy to forget that there will be some that will be drawn into the Church even under an initial misapprehension.
I especially liked Matt Archbold column regarding an atheist co-worker Pope Francis Did What I Didn’t.
Other commentary I liked: