Sunday, 29 September 2013

My Papolatry

I read this post at Ches's blog, and the following one, and as so often, found his musings very thought provoking. He makes his case cogently, and I have a lot of sympathy for it.  He may well be right, but I find myself resisting agreement.  Why is that?

Then in one of the comments on the post, in answer to someone else, he wrote: 'I comfort myself with this thought: unless the pope is issuing solemnly binding teaching, you simply don't even need to bother reading what Francis says. Oh, how the papolators will howl!'

I don't know about howl, but I do disagree. And that realisation made me wonder about my papolatry.

There was much discussion around the time of the Holy Father's election about whether the election was necessarily guided by the Holy Spirit.

My take on this is that it clearly is: but that the cardinal electors may resist such guidance. It would be folly and show a complete lack of theology and history to imagine that that could never happen (the cardinals have free will, after all) or that it had never happened.  So it is certainly a possibility, though I would hope a remote one on that occasion.

I likewise believe that once elected, a new Pope is offered every grace necessary for him to fulfil the office to which he is appointed.  But being a fallible man, his response may be partial, or even wholly resistant to such graces.

So where am I on all this?  As I said, I disagree with Ches that we don't need to bother with what the Holy Father says unless he is issuing solemnly binding teaching.  I think that is an over-reaction to the kind of ultra-montanism to which I may be tempted.

Surely where we must stand is in that place of tension that recognises that, on the one hand the Holy Father is the Holy Father, and on the other, that a Pope may (in extremis) be both a scoundrel and a fool. But we also have duties of both submission and charity.  Our starting point - our hermeneutic, if you like - should be one that assumes wisdom and holiness in our Holy Father. So deciding simply to ignore him until one can't seems a very minimalist, and frankly rather unCatholic, approach. We owe him more than that.

That is where I try to stand, at any rate.  Of course there may be things that any Pope does and says which I think are, at least, prudential errors.  How could there not be?  But that is very different from looking with a critical eye at everything he does and says.

The discipline is to seek how to interpret all he does and says in the most orthodox way we can; and hope and pray that we are right to do so.  Not least because it is at least a theoretical possibility that my judgement may be wrong on occasion (a remote contingency in my case, of course, but as for you, gentle reader....)

One thinks also of Pope Paul Vl; easily demonised by traditional Catholics for allowing the implementation of the Second Vatican Council to be effected in ways that went far beyond what was mandated by the Council: yet he had both the wisdom and the courage to resist catastrophic advice and give us the truly prophetic Humanae Vitae.

So I for one will continue to read Pope Francis' words through lenses of hope, and seek to interpret them in ways which sit squarely in continuity with his great predecessor, even when that may seem difficult at times.

Moreover, I will take as a working assumption that his different style is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that in so far as it discomforts me, that is because I have lessons to learn and growth to accomplish.

That may seem like a counsel of naivety - indeed it may be so.  But I think it is better, for us and for others, than an attitude of suspicion.


Ches said...

Ben, I'm sorry if I scandalise you. Until last week, I was holding very much to your kind of position. But the pope has made many things abundantly clear in his interview and even more things clear in the interview which is now hitting the news stands:

The point of my comment - which was flippant, I agree - was underpinned by the thought that the burdens the Church imposes on us in terms of faith or actually quite light. We do not need to read or listen to every word a pope says (and, boy, do they talk a lot these days!). We just don't. Of course, we have to be attentive to their authority, I'm not denying it. And of course I believe the Holy Spirit is with the Church.

But we cannot deny that history is repeating itself here. Let these words of Pope Francis chill your bones:

"The Council fathers knew that opening to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non believers. After then very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do it."

Ben Trovato said...


I certainly wasn't scandalised by what you wrote: tho' maybe I took your flippancy too literally.

As I said, I have a lot of sympathy for your argument; and more now that I have read the Scalfari conversation.

I recognise that the Church's demands of us are light, in a sense - we only need go to receive Holy Communion once a year - but to take such a minimalist approach still strikes me as lacking...

Not reading the Holy Father's interviews also makes it harder for us to engage in active apostolate, for example, as others will be bound to have read (at least) journalists' headlines about them.

I am continuing to ruminate on all this, and will probably blog further on it, later today.