Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo

Pope continues to surprise with the way he reveals his thoughts

Voices Oct. 9, 2017

Pope Francis gestures as he talks during a pastoral visit in Cesena, Italy, Oct. 1. Pope Francis' lack of crystalline precision has created serious controversies among clergy and lay people, writes Msgr. Lopez-Gallo. (Alberto Lingria / Reuters / CNS)

Msgr. Lopez-Gallo continues his series on the eight Popes who forged his priesthood. This week, he continues with a third instalment on Pope Francis.                                                

We are continually surprised at the way Pope Francis reveals his thoughts about his vision for the Church.  So different from the clarity and transparency of Paul VI or Benedict XVI, his lack of crystalline precision has created serious controversies among clergy and lay people.

Already in the fifth year of his pontificate, his guidelines have given rise to much speculation about the workings of his mind and we wonder if he has deliberately avoided precision to let cardinals and theologians arrive at the truth through debate, knowing that vox populi, vox Dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God!

An example of this is the cloudy issue of allowing holy Communion to remarried couples who have not obtained a declaration of nullity for their previous marriage.   “My feeling is that Francis wants to see where the Spirit will lead the Church in this,” said Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher in Ottawa on July 20, adding, “Obviously, this has led to controversies in the Church and areas of strong opinions that were expressed.”

From early childhood we learned that to receive Communion we must be in a state of grace.  People who cohabit or live in adultery are not in a state of grace.

We cannot say that Francis is unaware of his debate.  It is well known that four very learned cardinals sent him precise questions regarding this and he has not replied to them. 

Perhaps the most well-known prelate posing these questions to the Pope is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who rejected the accusation aimed at him for doing so: “No, I am not saying the Pope is in heresy.”

In fact, Francis has neither spoken ex cathedra about this matter, nor ordered that Communion be given to all divorced and remarried couples. 

Archbishop Durocher defends the Pope and reminds us that disputes have been admitted since early Christianity, giving us an example of how St. Paul replied to the first Christians of Corinth over the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to the Greek gods (Cor. 8).  Some Corinthians argued it would be sacrilegious, while others said the meat was not sacrificed to real gods.  St. Paul’s conclusion was that while everything is permissible in Christ, “not everything is constructive,” Durocher sai that everything is permissible in Christ, but, said Durocher – “Maybe it’s permissible but maybe it’s not constructive.”  

 Explaining this with reference to Amoris Laetitia, Archbishop Durocher said that the overall message of Chapter 8 of the apostolic exhortation deals with supporting people who may not be living the ideal, helping them to discern where God is leading them. 

In Chapter 8, Durocher explains, the Pope “kind of opens up” the possibility of Communion for them, in a footnote to a discussion on how accompaniment, typically by a priest, can help people grow in their faith, in their relationship with God.

The footnote says, “...these can include on certain occasions access to reconciliation and Communion,” although the Pope doesn’t say what those circumstances would be. 

To indicate that the couple should be accompanied by a priest is not enough, because although the priest can help people grow in their faith, under what criterion or judgment will he operate when he decides to admit one couple to Communion and not another?

And the controversy of the early Corinthians persisted.  Archbishop Durocher explains their situation: “You might feel eating this meat, there’s nothing to it, there’s no harm, but the person next to you might not be at that level in that faith or might have a different approach and you are scandalizing them and you are breaking the unity of the community … So is it good to do that?  … Maybe it’s permissible, but maybe it’s not constructive.”

The Holy Father, on one occasion speaking about parish life, said:  “I don’t know if this is a simplistic answer but I don’t have any other.  I’m not a brilliant pastoral theologian, I just say whatever comes to mind.”

There are other recent examples of such a non-theological approach to fundamental matters of the sacraments and morality.  On June 16, 2016, at the pastoral congress of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis answered a question about marriage in which he famously said that the “large majority of sacramental marriages are not valid.”

That was later altered to read “a portion” instead of “large majority.” In the same address, the Holy Father remarked:  “I have seen a great deal of fidelity in these cohabiting couples … I am certain that this is a true marriage and they have the grace of matrimony precisely because of the fidelity that they have.”

In terms of sacramental theology, this is incorrect.  It is not possible to attain the grace of a sacrament without receiving the sacrament.  Moreover, it is a total reversal of the Church’s sacramental theology to say that “precisely” because of something we do – in this case, fidelity – we then “have the grace of matrimony.” It would imply that if we don’t see fidelity, the grace of matrimony was not received.