Father's Bulletin Letter 11.1.20
Oct 28, 2020
“I’m coming over tonight,” read the text from a fellow priest, “I need to vent.” This was on the day the “news” broke that Pope Francis had reportedly made another ambiguous or controversial statement. Unlike other recent popes who, when they spoke, were precise and clear, at times, when Pope Francis speaks, there is required a general scrambling to figure out exactly what he said, work to put it in its proper context and then try to get out what was intended to be said. I understand that this can be annoying in the time of COVID, civil unrest, cultural and political decay and how helpful it would be to hear clear reassurances of a faith in which we should be able to rely in a time of uncertainty.
The evening of the supposed statement, we sat in the basement of the rectory lamenting that whatever the case was, this was going to make ministry more challenging in an already difficult time. (Just writing this letter took up hours.) Before the evening was out, our own Bishop Malesic had taken the time to look into, decide and issue a memo intended to assist priests in speaking to the faithful concerning the pope’s alleged words. Unfortunately, because of COVID, we are not really gathering in groups to talk about such things. That being the case, here are paraphrased bullet points from the memo:
· Comments made by the Holy Father (be they interviews or documentaries or such) do not change universal or particular law.
· The quote attributed to the pope in the documentary in context actually reaffirms the traditional definition of marriage as a lifelong, committed union between one man and one woman.
· The Holy Father’s remarks remind us that everyone has a right to belong to a family and that persons who have homosexual attractions should not be excluded from their families of origin nor from the Church.
· The statement appears to be addressed within the framework of Church teaching which stresses respect for all human persons and that all should be afforded their rights under law even if they are living in situations that we do not condone.
Our Bishop concludes by saying that we should always “go to the source” and verify the working and context in which the pope has been quoted rather than relying on reports. (There has been some mis-reporting doozies - intentional or unintentional - in the past.) Echoing this theme, it seems to me that if the statement had been accurately reported the sensationalism of it would not have died out so quickly. Instead it appears that it was largely a titillating headline. In that regard it seems advisable to always take a deep breath (for a couple of days perhaps) before getting too worked up either way.
But suppose the pope (or any future pope) would say something directly in conflict with 2,000+ years of Church teaching. Further, let us suppose that he declared it as dogma in a formal statement from the Chair of Peter. Would that change Church teaching? No. It would make such a man a heretic, not change a dogmatic teaching and to think that it would do so demonstrates a grave misunderstanding concerning the “powers” of any pope, what constitutes the teachings of the Church and what exactly is meant by infallibility. I was thinking that I would like to teach a class on this but wonder if gathering together is really possible with COVID. *sigh*
Further, it should be remembered that even saints are not perfect human beings. As much as I love and admire St. John Paul II, he had his faults and it was a demonstration of a grave misunderstanding of what a saint is by those who wanted to block his canonization based on mistakes he had made particularly in the area of administration during his pontificate. If even one man were capable of becoming perfect, then none of us would need Jesus. As it is, we do. Even the saints.
A bishop once said, “The Crusades and papal mistresses are what brought me deeper into the Church.” What he meant by that (a great statement to be taken out of context) is that despite the failings of human beings in the past, the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit continues its mission. For example, historically when there had been scandal in the Church, say when we had three men claiming to be pope, there were later saints who followed what history would declare was the “wrong pope,” who were canonized by that same Church. Why? Because we put our faith in God, not in men. When things around us seem crazy, we focus on our personal mission: baptizing, confession, Eucharist, prayer, personal sanctity, spreading the faith, being charitable, leading holy lives. Everything else is either helpful to that or noisy static to be avoided.
That is what we are called to do here at St. Sebastian Parish in Akron, Ohio.