DECONSTRUCTING POPE FRANCIS
Averthanus L. D’Souza
Ever since his election to the Papacy, by his personal lifestyle choices and his public statements, Pope Francis has grabbed the attention of the public – specially the media of mass communication. The media seem to be hanging on every word which comes out of the mouth of this prelate, who, even before his election demonstrated a simple and frugal lifestyle and his desire to live in close contact with people. Living in a normal apartment, cooking his own meals, travelling by public transport and visiting his people in the slums, endeared Archbishop Bergoglio to his flock. After being elected Pope, he clings to this simplicity and has created his own image of what a Pastor should look like. On one occasion, he told his audience that the shepherd should have the smell of the sheep he is in contact with, otherwise his credibility will be at stake. This has truly endeared Pope Francis to the world. Some of his statements, which are straight from his heart, have given rise to a great deal of speculation, which, however, do not always correspond to his actual statements or to his intentions.
Pope Francis is not an academic, although he taught literature and psychology at Immaculate Conception College in Santa Fé in Argentina. He is not precise in his use of language and does not weigh his words like an academic would, trying to present an idea so as not to be misunderstood. Pope Francis has created a sensation in the short time since he became Pope. Everyone is anxious to embrace him and to suborn him as a spokesperson for his own point of view. While shooting straight from the hip is a special skill, it also carries its own risks. While Pope Francis is evidently bringing his own personal style to the Papacy, there is evidence that he is being both misunderstood and misinterpreted. The misunderstandings are not due to what he says. A close examination of his public statements clearly shows that whatever he says is strictly orthodox and within the traditional framework of the Church’s teachings. The problems arise because those who have a particular agenda to promote use Pope Francis’s statements to convey meanings which are not consonant with what he has actually said, or which cannot be deduced from his statements.
Let us look at a few examples of deliberate misreporting of Pope Francis and of misinterpreting the statements he has made.
Pope Francis has convoked an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops for October 2014 to discuss the contemporary challenges facing the family as a social
(and divinely ordained) institution. In preparation for this Synod of Bishops, as is the normal practice with all other Synods, a Questionnaire has been circulated to all the Bishops of the world with a view to identifying the key factors which need pastoral attention. Because the family is the normal institution within which all lay Catholics grow and seek to obtain their eternal salvation, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has requested the Bishops of the world to involve lay Catholics in formulating their responses to the Questionnaire. This has been construed (= misinterpreted) to mean that the Pope is going to throw out the traditional understanding of the nature of the family, and to jettison the Church’s teaching on issues such as contraception, live-in relationships (“de facto sexual unions”), pre and extra marital relationships and homosexual unions. This interpretation of the intention of the Questionnaire is as far removed from reality as a fairy tale is removed from history. Some women religious, backed (and encouraged) by some over-enthusiastic priests, have even launched a movement to put on the agenda of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, the question of ordination of women to the priesthood and the appointment of women to the Cardinalate. The question of the ordination of women is as remote from the primary focus of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops as is the question of the legitimacy of war as an instrument of foreign policy. The confusion, as is quite evident, is caused by some hyperactive women (including some women religious) attempting to force their own agenda onto the Agenda of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops.
Another area of confusion which has been caused by extraneous forces is the traditional teaching of the Church on the intrinsic immorality of homosexual unions. Many interested parties, supported very strongly by some media, are already predicting that the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops will jettison the traditional teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The mainstream media and the social networks are awash with prognostications that the Pope will change the stand of the Catholic Church on homosexual unions. They are even predicting that Pope Francis will ensure that the forthcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops will come out with a new (and more “acceptable”) doctrine on the morality of homosexual relationships. The manner in which the media are distorting the possible outcome of the Synod is also very revealing. In one internet exchange the statement has been made that: “though Francis maintained the right of the Church to express opinions (sic) on homosexuality, he believed the Christian should not judge or ridicule.” The unfortunate confusion caused by this post is the obvious confusion between the attitude of Christians – and of the Church – to homosexuals, and the inherent incompatibility of homosexuality with the Natural Law. An unnatural act is always immoral, and no Pope or Synod of
Bishops can change this fact. But it has been the constant and consistent practice of the Church not to condemn or ridicule the sinner. Even Jesus is seen to be compassionate and merciful to sinners; but Jesus never ever declared that sin is not sin. He condemned immoral behavior in the strongest possible language. In fact, he claimed to have come to “call sinners to repentance” and showed his willingness to “forgive” those who had sinned. Pope Francis’s statement that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, who am I to condemn him?” is entirely consistent with the compassionate attitude of Jesus and of His Church. But this can, by no stretch of the imagination, be construed to be an approval by Pope Francis of homosexuality per se.
Another statement by Pope Francis, contained in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” about the injustice of the system of unbridled capitalism has similarly been distorted and misinterpreted without regard to the accuracy of the statement or to the consistent teaching of the Church on the Social Question. Pope Francis does not say anything new about the shortcomings of capitalism. He has only repeated what was said earlier by Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. An economic system which has been built on the principle of the primacy of “Profit” at the expense of the rights of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, is inherently unjust. It cannot be held to be fair just because it is successful. The economy is about Persons – not about Profits. Whenever profits are pursued at the expense of persons, there is grave injustice done to the deprived, the disabled and the excluded. This has been the clear and the consistent teaching of the Church down the centuries. To condemn Pope Francis as a Marxist is wholly unfair as it is based on a serious ignorance of the Social Teaching of the Church.
To conclude this brief reflection, it must be pointed out that there are forces which are antagonistic to the Church. They see the Church as an obstacle to their immoral universe in which all values are relative. They seek to sabotage the moral influence of the Church in times of great intellectual and social crises. What better way than to show that the Pope himself is going to be the great wrecker of the Church ? Let us not be swept into the mainstream madness of a world which has strayed far from the Truth. The irony of the present situation is seen in the fact that a “fashion magazine”- Esquire- has “chosen” Pope Francis as the “Best Dressed Man” of the Year. The fact that Pope Francis dresses just like all the Popes who preceded him should show up the ludicrousness of the mainstream media. In fact, it is well known the Pope Francis refused to give up his “working man’s” shoes in favour of the fancier Papal shoes. This itself should have disqualified him in
the eyes of Esquire magazine – but aren’t we expecting too much from a world gone mad?