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Five (More) Lessons from Francis

While all of the publicity has gone to Francis’ gentle and entirely helpful remarks about homosexuality in the clergy, which MSW nails in a few sentences today, a full read of John Allen’s excellent summary of his comments reveals some other gems worthy of note:

1. “John XXIII was the figure of a country priest who loves all of his faithful and knows how to take care of them. He was a great bishop, and also a great nuncio. When he was in Turkey, he was responsible for so many false baptisms in order to save Jews ... he was courageous.” Here we get a stunning reminder of what the pope might mean by “creating a mess” in the Church. I am guessing sacramental theologians do not have an account of the theology behind “false baptisms,” and that the use of the Church’s primary sacrament as a social screen to protect the lives of the vulnerable would make some nervous (to say the least). But here we see John XXIII’s saintliness displayed in his willingness to lie and to use the Church’s sacraments as tools of deception!

2. “I'll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement ... at the end of the '70s and in the '80s, I wasn't a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary.” Two insights packed into the same quote. First, notice the pope’s willingness to change his mind by becoming acquainted with practices that at first he sees as questionable. This is not a blithe acceptance of everything, but rather a humility that refuses to stop at initial impressions. Second, it suggests a liturgical flexibility that does not dismiss the importance of “reverence” and holiness and tradition, but rather refuses to make them ultimate. There are limits to liturgical flexibility (or else we would cease to be Catholic), but they have significant elasticity, and one should look at the fruits.

3. “There are saints in the Roman Curia, among the cardinals, priests, religious, sisters and laity. They work hard, and also do things that are often hidden. I know some who concern themselves with feeding the poor or who give up their free time to work in a parish. As always, the ones who aren't saints make the most noise ... a single tree falling makes a sound, but a whole forest growing doesn't.” I'm totally stealing that tree/forest image. It is very hard in a media-saturated culture where we all have the ability to toot (tweet? blog?) our own horn to go about growing silently and slowly like a tree. Of course, here is Francis giving a big press conference! But the point he is making here is plainly one about the importance of persistent, daily practice of the works of mercy “in secret.” It is very easy to imagine that one is doing “important work,” and so cannot be bother by the quiet, little acts. Or one is not quiet about them. The good ones work hard and are diligent in the works of mercy.

4. “I could be close to the people, greet them, embrace them, without armored cars. During the entire time, there wasn't a single incident. I realize there's always a risk of a crazy person, but having a bishop behind bulletproof glass is crazy, too. Between the two, I prefer the first kind of craziness.” Our preoccupation with luxury goods is being challenged by Francis, but probably even more piercing is his challenge to our excessive preoccupation with personal security, the drive behind our society’s flight to gated communities, SUV’s, and the like. Surveys and experiments constantly show that people are much less vulnerable to crime and accident than they imagine. It is not that we should not use common sense. Putting a seat belt on, paying attention to your surroundings, these makes sense. But common sense means that we don’t have such a high anxiety about security (guns? Zimmerman?) that we let these anxieties result in bad, manifestly un-Christian choices. Almost always, these choices are counterwitnesses to the social virtue of solidarity. We become crazy by trying to protect ourselves against craziness. Frankly, one of the greatest problems with confronting endemic poverty in our country is our construction of so many barriers against encountering it, on the off-chance that we will be hurt. If our cities were more successfully mixed-income, they not only would be solvent, but they would likely be a lot safer and better educated, too.

5. “I love Benedict XVI. He's a humble man of God and a man of prayer. When he resigned, it was a great example. … [John Paul II] was great. Putting both together [John XXIII and John Paul II] is a message to the church, that both were extremely good.” And so perhaps everyone rightly swooning over Francis might follow his example and cease villainizing his predecessors! Please!



Commenting Guidelines

George D. --

Yes, Kahnemann is very interesting on what he calls "intuition".   His use of the term, as i understand him,  seems to include all sorts of *unconscious* mental operations that result in a consciously non-discursive judgment, and they include reasoning and other sorts of mental processes, apparently.  

But I was using "intuition" in the sense of "heart", which is quite a conscious act, as when I see someone maltreating a cat and *feel* that it is evil and therefore morally wrong.  I do think there are such things as mental acts of "the heart" but just what is the heart and how does it work? 

We have many sorts of feelings about things -- what makes some of them objectively valid?  

jAK --

i agree that there is no big difference between the methods of thinking of men and women, though maybe there are some small differences in performance due to men's superior quantitative thinking and women's verbal thinking.  But the differences would be only in degree, not in kind, if they exist at all.  Interests, however, do differ, as do biases which cause us to ask different questions.

I also agree that there can be only one set of criteria of sound theological thinking, and it will be individuals, not classes of people, who measure up to those criteria more or less well.

Gerelyn wrote this to Joe Komonchak:

The question you asked made me think you are unaware of and uninterested in feminist theory/theology, that it's beneath you. 

His question didn’t make me think any of those things.  I found nothing in it to make me think he was “unaware” or “uninterested,” nothing to make me think he found feminist theory “beneath” him.

On the contrary.  We don’t have a list of the books he’s read on the subject, but when he writes,

I have seen feminists dismiss views of "the complementarity of the sexes" as simply code-words for keeping women in their traditional roles.

the only conclusion we can draw is that he has, at the very least, read some feminists.

If—as was alleged -- he was “uninterested,” why did he bother to ask the question?  Isn’t it fair to assume he asked it because he was genuinely interested in what the answer might be?  And if there was any doubt about that, wasn’t it eliminated when he wrote, in a follow-up comment, “If you have an answer to the question, I'd like to hear it.”  I see no reason to think that was an insincere statement.

Most important of all:  Given his track record on this blog, doesn’t he have the right to a presumption of innocence in his favor? Is there any reason for not taking him at his word, any basis for drawing any conclusion except the obvious one? The obvious one is that he meant what he said: “I'm genuinely puzzled by what you mean.”  Someone had said something, he didn’t understand it, so he asked, “what do you mean by it?”  I see in that no reason for labeling him as someone who is “unaware” and “uninterested” and sees the subject at hand as “beneath” him.

So far, Pope Francis is saying and doing all the right things!  But, is he still clinging to all the outmoded rules, regulations, formulas and doctrines---some of which are in urgent need reform?  In other words, does he really want to change anything?  That is the question which still needs to be answered.

As to the internal forum, I think I must have been 50 years old when I first even heard that such a thing existed, and I"m still not sure exactly what it provides for or how it works. 

Although most of the discussion about the press conference has been about gays, i think an equally unexpected statement was that the 0ctober meeting of the Council of 8 Cardinals and the subsequent Synod of Bishops would try to find a pastoral solution for divorced and remarried Catholics. From several comments by Francis, it sounded as if he may see the need to rethink the "no internal forum - i.e. personal conscience" position that Cardinal Ratzinger took in the 1994 CDF Letter approved by JPII. 

7. The mistaken conviction of a divorced and remarried person that he may receive Holy Communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one's own convictions(15), to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissable(16). Marriage, in fact, because it is both the image of the spousal relationship between Christ and his Church as well as the fundamental core and an important factor in the life of civil society, is essentially a public reality.

And I guess they both think that they are conveying he same message Francis did:

Cardinal George:

Pope Francis, on his way back to Rome from the World Youth Day celebration in Rio, reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong.  The Pope also reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same sex orientation.


Cardinal Dolan:

He said the pope's words "may be something people find new and refreshing. I for one don't think it is, and I hate to see previous popes caricatured as not having that," he said in the interview.


I agree that pope Francis' announcement that they're going to get to work on finding a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics is a happy surprise. I have friends in that situation and know that it is painful. If it gets resolved in the near future, we'll open some champagne to celebrate!

Maybe it didn't make headlines because for most people it is a non-issue. Most Catholics who are divorced and remarried have made their peace with it and happily go and receive communion with no guilt (and most pastors let it go). The ones for whom it is an excrutiating dilemma are the ones paying close attention to the catechism. From the viewpoint of P.R., if a solution is found, it'll come too late, after people have found solutions on their own. From the viewpoint of the few faithful ones who are paying attention, it'll be a liberation.

Perhaps the same would happen if church authorities reversed direction on contraception: it'll be too late. Is the love affair between the hierarchy and the people over?


Ann, the so-called "internal forum solution" is a means whereby a divorced and remarried couple *might* legitimately be able to receive communion in the church.  I use the word 'might' because, if properly pursued, it might be determined that they have no basis for readmission to the sacrament.  The process necessarily involves the participation of a cleric who can help the couple evaluate their situation in light of church teaching and canonical practice.

Normally, a couple would be expected to petition for a declaration of nullity in the so-called "external forum", i.e., a local church tribunal.  This approach is a legal/canonical one.  Evidence is gathered and evaluated to determine if annulment is warranted.

However, there can be instances when recourse to the external forum would not serve the ends of justice.  For example, all the important witnesses are dead, or relevant documents were destroyed in a fire or flood.  Perhaps important witnesses refuse to cooperate with the local tribunal.  In such cases, the tribunal might very well have no choice but to declare the marriage a valid sacramental one --- even though the missing information would/might be grounds for a declaration of nullity.  The local tribunal may only act on the basis of available evidence.

In the latter case, the couple would be expected to approach a cleric to discuss their situation.  If he concludes that, but for the absence of relevant supporting witnesses/information, the couple would most likely qualify for a declaration of nullity, he could legitimately advise them that they are free to join with others in the communion line.  Depending on circumstances, the cleric might also advise the couple to transfer their membership to another parish community not familiar with their previous marital situation in order to avoid giving "scandal".

I googled two references (out of many):

+ "Remarriage in the Church: Pastoral Solutions" at, sponsored by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, and

+ "Chapter 66 Internal Forum Solution or 'Good Conscience Solution'" at

As the first link points out, there is a division of opinion about the merits of the internal forum solution.  Some bishops and clergy support it; others do not.  Nonetheless, the writer mentions a CDF letter (1973) referencing both the "external forum" and the "internal forum".  In light of the "JPII priest" phenomenon today, I would advise divorced and remarried Catholics to be very careful in selecting a cleric for counseling. is a very helpful and detailed and pastoral response on annulments and internal forum which I have used in class.     


I would advise divorced and remarried Catholics to be very careful in selecting a cleric for counseling

I second that. 

I also note the existence on another friend who was advised by her spiritual director to keep her marriage a civil marriage only, at least for a few years, because of the difficulties that would come up if she divorced (my friend are old enough to know that marriage is more about hope than about certain knowledge that the bond will last a lifetime).

I also have yet other friends, a Catholic couple, who had a civil marriage but didn't have a religious marriage until, some number of years later, a priest refused to baptize their child unless they had a religious marriage first. (So now they're married religiously, but I am optimistic that, should they ever get divorced, the marriage-under-threat situation would be good grounds for a quick annulment.)

So, here again people a finding their own solutions to the pastoral problems that come up.

I wonder if a pastor who had some vague reservations about a marriage couldn't conveniently forget to do some of the paperwork, so that, should the couple get divorced some day and the spouses look for an annulment, the conditions for nullity would be fulfilled in a straightforward manner (because the form would be faulty). And if they stayed married, well, surely God's blessing did not depend on the witness filling out the forms in the requisite manner, so it would not matter. This would create a loophole for easy annulments. 

Gene:  Jamie Manson at NCR had a good column today in which she said:

Pope Francis' words about women were spirit-breaking. The idea that we need a "deeper theology of women" is remarkable only because, for the past half-century, Catholic women theologians, many of them women religious, have been developing, writing and teaching a profound theology of women. Just because the hierarchy has not cared to read it doesn't mean it doesn't already exist. I shudder to think whom Francis would ask to formulate this "deeper theology.

That might help you understand why I was surprised that Joseph asked the questions he did. 


You have misunderstood me.  My questions had nothing to do with whether or not women have been writing significant works in theology. Of course, they have been, and I've been reading them.

My questions were sparked by phrases used by Ann Olivier, when she spoke of "feminine understanding or insights" as, it seemed, distinct from "male understanding or insights." I wished to know what Ann, a trained philosopher, meant by these phrases--Did they mean, for example, that women or men have insights that are in principle not open to members of the other sex?--, and you can see from her lengthy reply above that she thought this a valid question and took it seriously. A second comment of mine, written before Ann's reply to the first was posted, asked about integration, which I think is a genuine problem if we are to claim that there are sex-specific insights and understandings, but is not if there are none.

Hi, Joseph:

Thanks for the explanation.  

I apologize for misunderstanding you.  

(I was surprised that a theologian of your renown, experience, history, accomplishments, etc. would ask the questions.  Since I hadn't read Ann Olivier's posts, I didn't get the connection.)

I agree with Jamie Manson that the hierarchy cannot be bothered with reading women's theology.  

Glad to know I was wrong in thinking your questions indicated a similar lack of interest.



David C - thanks for that link to the information on annulments and the internal forum.  It really does highlight the pastoral side of the legal requirements.


I think you are apt to get very different responses depending on which priest you ask about the internal forum. My sense is that that may be what Francis wants to clarify. The Ratzinger/CDF memo I linked above essentially said that some people have proposed letting divorced and remarried Catholics receive Communion if they consult a priest before making their decision - and it seemed to reject that proposition.


3....In recent years, in various regions, different pastoral solutions in this area have been suggested according to which, to be sure, a general admission of divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion would not be possible, but the divorced and remarried members of the faithfus could approach Holy Communion in specific cases when they consider themselves authorised according to a judgement of conscience to do so. This would be the case, for example, when they had been abandoned completely unjustly, although they sincerely tried to save the previous marriage, or when they are convinced of the nullity of their previous marriage, although unable to demonstrate it in the external forum or when they have gone through a long period of reflexion and penance, or also when for morally valid reasons they cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.


In some places, it has also been proposed that in order objectively to examine their actual situation, the divorced and remarried would have to consult a prudent and expert priest. This priest, however, would have to respect their eventual decision to approach Holy Communion, without this implying an official authorisation.


In these and similar cases it would be a matter of a tolerant and benevolent pastoral solution in order to do justice to the different situations of the divorced and remarried.


4. Even if analogous pastoral solutions have been proposed by a few Fathers of the Church and in some measure were practiced, nevertheless these never attained the consensus of the Fathers and in no way came to constitute the common doctrine of the Church nor to determine her discipline. It falls to the universal Magisterium, in fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to teach and to interpret authentically the depositum fidei.


With respect to the aforementioned new pastoral proposals, this Congregation deems itself obliged therefore to recall the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ(5), the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists(6)....


9. In inviting pastors to distinguish carefully the various situations of the divorced and remarried, the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio recalls the case of those who are subjectively certain in conscience that their previous marriage, irreparably broken, had never been valid(17). It must be discerned with certainty by means of the external forum established by the Church whether there is objectively such a nullity of marriage

Here's part of what Francis said:

Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, said that his view was that half of all marriages are invalid. But saying so, why? Why marry without being mature enough, why marry without realizing that it is for life, or why get married because socially you should marry?. That's an issue in the pastoral care of marriage. As is the judicial problem of the nullity of marriages. That must be revised, because the ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient to deal with it. The problem of pastoral care of marriage is complicated. 

John H., Joseph j., and David C. - -

Thanks for all the information about annulments, etc.  Given Pope Francis' recent remarks it looks like it's going to be a hot topic in the not too far future, especially since Pope Benedict also thought that the whole topic needed further investigation.  I wouldn't be surprised if the CDF has already done some work on it.

Regarding Francis and his words, I'd also like to call attention to this article by Michael D'Antonio in Foreign Policy, asking the question, "Is Francis too radical for his flock?"


I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread. I have been away and still do not have time to answer Fr. K's question about "feminine understanding". But in reading the thread to catch up, I think that Fr K may have confused me (Anne) with Ann O.  If you are still reading, Fr. K, I will try to respond. If you are not, I will email you.  But not yet. I still don't have time.

Anne Chapman:   Yes, I meant to reply to Ann Olivier, but must have added that "e" at the end.  But feel free to jump in!



About the Author

David Cloutier is associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University and editor of He is the author of Love, Reason, and God's Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics (2008) and is working on a book on the moral problem of luxury in contemporary economic ethics.