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Francis does it again

In his first extended interview, the Pope says things like this:

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.

He is referring here to the tendency to be all abortion-and-gay-marriage, all the time. I think he is saying what Joseph Bottum is saying in his Commonweal piece on same-sex marriage. The problem is reenchantment, is transmission of the larger vision of what the Gospel is. I have some comments on Bottum’s piece and on two ways in which Catholic conservatives seem to misunderstand the importance of reenchantment – they are up over at

The issue here is not liberal vs. conservative, Benedict vs. Francis. The issue is a holistic, renewed sense of what it means to live the Gospel vs. piecemeal battles over isolated hot-button issues. Bring on the reenchantment program!

About the Author

David Cloutier is associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University and editor of He is the author of The Vice of Luxury (2015), Walking God's Earth: The Environment and Christian Ethics (2014), and Love, Reason, and God's Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics (2008). In fall 2016, he is starting a position at the Catholic University of America.



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A pope who knows the gospel. True renewal is coming to the church. The Magnificat is in. Mammon is out.

This is such big news that it seems everyone is logging in to the America Magazine website. The article cannot be accessed at the moment. John XXIII revisited and then some. 

I think asserting that "Pope Francis is saying what Joseph Bottum is saying" does a disservice to the Pope. Pope Francis is lucid and persuasive. Joseph Bottum was so rambling and confused that half his readers or more didn't know what he was talking about! 


Fair enough on style - give the pope the big edge! The point is that both suggest the hot-button-issue battles make no sense apart from much larger questions of overall vision and mission - and this vision is about the Gospel, not about natural law code enforcement by civil authority.

I've just skimmed the piece in America, and there's lots lots to chew on there. But already at the back of my mind I can hear some, ordained and otherwise, saying to themselves (to paraphrase the well known words of Magritte), "Ceci n'est pas un pape."

But for the rest of us, he is indeed.

Another first: reference by a Pope to Puccini's opera: "Turandot."

Recall that the most famous aria of the opera is "Nessun dorma!"

There's no sleeping on Francis' watch.

It's encourgaging to hear that Pope Francis prays the breviary and the rosary daily and that he spends an hour each night before the Blessed Sacrament.  His clearly finds his strength in the Lord.

Frank G-- Isn't this great? Maybe the dichotomy between pious practices and generous, active Christianity can end. How about BOTH adoration AND the poor?

I was underwhelmed by his response to what he saw as women's role in the Church:

“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.


Machismo?  Seriously?

I agree with you about Pope Francis's word choice here.

I think that he mistakes assertiveness for machismo.

I understand machismo to refer to brashness.

But I understand assertiveness as the corrective to brashness.

On women

He answers: “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions."

Who is that "we"? As a woman, I do not particularly want to start the process of renewing the role of women in the church by having men "develop a profound theology of the woman". Women do not need men to tell them what their proper place is, even if they think about it profoundly.



I note that similar things could be said about lay people. Adapting the quote:

“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘lay clericalism,’ because a lay person has a different make-up than the clergy. But what I hear about the role of lay persons is often inspired by an ideology of clericalism. Lay people are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the lay people and their role. The lay people are essential for the church. Mary, a lay person, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of lay people in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the laity. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The lay genius is needed wherever we make important decisions."

Personally, I am a proud member of the laity. We are the ones at the margins, the ones who are free to imagine and try out new ways to be Christian. We are more diverse (starting with gender but not just that), richer in humanity. Like the worker-priests of old, we are present wherever there are people. There are many possibilities for us to act in the world. All we need is to figure out what to do, and then do it. 


My favorite quote from Francesco's interview which puts his humility and intellect on full display:


Many of the bad decisions he [Francesco] made while leading Catholics in Argentina came about because of  his "authoritarianism and quick manner of making decisions," the pope said.


My favorite quote: 

We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them.

Thanks to Claire and Irene. I am among those watching Francis from the sidelines,  with hope and admiration. This interview offers a great deal of hope to those who have been disillusioned by, and effectively disenfranchised, in the Catholic church. Because he seems to be willing to at least listen, I even have hope that someday he will realize that his own understanding of women is limited by machismo - framed by the very male machismo culture in which he was raised and has lived his entire life, both inside and outside the church. Male machismo and patriarchy long dominated Latin American culture, and still dominate the Catholic church. I have found some of the comments of even the "enlightened" priests who write blog articles and make comments on this site to be revealing in terms of  how deeply this mindset permeates the thinking of many priests of the Catholic church, even in those who were not also raised in a heavily male machismo environment like Argentina.  The culture in Latin America has changed dramatically in recent decades and several countries have elected several women to lead them.  But the Catholic church continues to want to define women primarily - if not exclusively - by biology and specifically by women's role in reproduction and motherhood.

If the pope truly believes that women, represented by Mary, are "more important than bishops" and that the feminine is needed in the church (which it most definitely is), then at some point he will have to face up to the reality that by denying the priesthood to women he shuts the door on women playing a genuine role in inculcating the church with feminine understanding, insights and values. Perhaps there could be a work around - many have noted that there is no legal requirement for cardinals to be priests. He could also open the door to the ideas of women theologians instead of silencing them as his two predecessors have done.

Francis does not yet seem to see - but I pray that he will - that statements that imply that men should define a "theology of women" and their roles is symptomatic of the very blindness that cripples the church.  


Do not worry about those deatils Claire, Pope Francis seems very much the sort of man, who will give all these important matters all due thorough and thoughtful consideration.

As a layman, I am glad Pope Francis is setting a clear course.  I am a KC and my style is to simply pay proper attention to him, figure out what he is signaling, and to get in line and on board, to get with the program so to speak.

I got "on board" when Benedict was Pope (e.g., Latin mass and learning the new tranlsation of Novus Ordo) and will happily do the same with Pope Francis.

I gladly follow the Pope because I am convinced the Holy Spirit guided his election and helps him in his mission/vocation.



For what it's worth [a big "consider the source"], John Allen is reporting from the Jesuit interview with the Pope:


More generally, the pope says Catholic leaders must find a "new balance" between their primary spiritual mission and their involvement in contentious political questions, warning that if they don't, the church's foundation will "fall like a house of cards."

As he did on the papal plane, Francis clearly rejects the ordination of women to the priesthood.

He indicates, however, that he wants the church to do a better job of hearing women's voices.

"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," the pope says. "The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role."

While Francesco does not go as far as I would like in these comments, I can't help but notice the stark differences in emphasis and spirit  from his brothers of fond memory, Wojtyla and Ratzinger.

Anne Chapman above is raising legitimate and necessary concerns.  Women will be the best judges of these overtures from Francesco at reconciliation with women.  However, this may be the proverbial "crack in the door" so many of us have been hoping and praying for.  At least, we can hope?

Claire and Anne:  I wonder if Pope Francis is aware that there's already a large body of work on a theology of women by women theologians.  I am hopeful about his papacy, but leery that his understanding of women is formed primarily by his culture, both Latin American and the clerical culture of the Church.  Women theologians may not even be on his radar.

What a marvelous, marvelous document this interview is.  I hope that Pope Francis continues to preach in this way rather than using "set pieces" like encyclicals.  The church as field hospital - what a stunning image that is.

It seems to me that he is indicating priorities and directions and possibilities for further development in this interview.  I expect that the work of fleshing these things out and making them concrete will fall, not to him, but to us.  A collaborative work of church renewal.  Deo gratias.


The interview can be also read at toher Jesuits sites, like Thinking Faith ...

I liked so much of what he said.  Being a practicer of Ignatian spirituality, I liked all the mentions of dicernment, of Arrupe and Faber, etc.  And I liked this that he said about Ignatius ....  <I>Ignatius is a mystic, not an ascetic,” 

But I was really disappointed in what he said about women!  I wrote this at my own blog ...

He speaks about women as if they were of a different species than men .... we're all people ... when women want to be treated as men are treated in the church, that doesn't mean they are behaving with machismo, it means they want to be seen as people too. In another part of the interview Francis says ...

“When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighbourhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it. There is a brilliant letter by Father Arrupe to the Centres for Social Research and Action on poverty, in which he says clearly that one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty. The word insertion is dangerous because some religious have taken it as a fad, and disasters have occurred because of a lack of discernment. But it is truly important.”

If only he would apply that wisdom to women and how they are treated by the church. We don't need to be studied, we don't want some special role, and we cannot be defined by those who stand outside of our experience. If Francis could only get one thing - we are you, we are all, men and women, just people of God.

 My favorite line is, "That was crazy." But all the way through I kept thinking of the dioceses in which the prayers after Mass -- what was it? three Hail Marys and the prayer to St. Michael? -- will return. But instead of the conversion of Russia, the intention will be the conversion of Pope Francis.

David Cloutier,

How could it be otherwise? Did not our Lord Himself buttress His ministry to the poor by immersing Himself in prayer?  But we must send an update to Father McBrien who wrote in NCR on 9/8/09 -

Now that most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow, there is little or no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions...

Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.

Francis, like Jesus Himself, understands the criticality of ministry built on a foundation of prayer.  And clearly he recognizes Eucharistic adoration as a marvelous way to pray.

I love the clear, straightforward answers.  Indeed, it gets muddled when he speaks of women.  I have no idea what he means by "female machismo"  -- in its best light I hope he means he does not want simply to admit women to the broken, hyper-clerical world of male-dominated clergy.  I am probably grasping at straws.  While there is so much in this interview which gives me great hope, alas, Francis does not seem likely to break the stained-glass ceiling.

I do find some hope in this line, especially in the context of other statements against clericalism and giving women real voice in church governance:

The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.

The important decisions of the Church are made by Cardinals and Popes. Pre-1917, canon law allowed for lay Cardinals.  There is nothing stopping Francis from changing canon law back to its pre-1917 rules, and adding the really revolutionary change of admitting women to the College.  None of the weak arguments against women priests would have any relevance.  Being a Cardinal, an advisor and elector, has nothing to do with acting in persona Christi.  And really, the only reason lay women never had this role pre-1917 is the history of sexism, which the Church, this Pope in particular, rightly recognizes as sinful.

Making women Cardinals has support in some surprising circles:

I had a line in my posting which I apparently lost while editing and pasting the quote.  It said something like:

As Anne Chapman alluded, the legal current requirement that Cardinals be priests is fairly recent and easily rescindable.

Apologies for not crediting her original mention of the concept in this thread.

I do not see women priests ever becoming reality, and I cannot imagine so-called "lay Cardinals" - men or women - at all.

We will just have to see where Pope Francis leads, and try not to be pushy.


“How about BOTH adoration AND the poor?”   AND the middle class AND the rich.   Remember, we’re called to love even our enemies.

“Women do not need men to tell them what their proper place is…” she said, putting the man in his proper place.

Assertiveness is not a corrective to brashness, in the Catholic way of thinking.  There is no assertiveness in the fiat.

Reading these comments I wonder if we have, a la cafeteria Catholics, cafeteria Francises.

Pope Francis may have been a chemist, but he does not talk like a scientist. No precise, concise, chiseled statements. Instead, he's a painter. At some level we get it, but when we try to zoom onto some detail of what he says and focus on that exclusively, it becomes fuzzy, as if we were looking at a pointillist painting by taking out our magnifying glass, looking at one dot and trying to figure out what it represents. That approach is not helpful. We have to change the way we parse papal texts. Benedict as Millet and Francis as Seurat!

Pope Francis is so open about himself and attentive to others! Maybe he would have made a good husband.


Pope Francis shows himself to be a Jesuit extraordinaire in this interview.  He thinks like a Jesuit, he answers questions like a Jesuits, He prefers to think rather than offer answers on the spot.  Imagine that, "thinking" coming back to Catholicism after  the last two Popes banished it. He "discerns" like a Jesuit.  He has a Jesuit imagination that tends towards narrative, composition of place and entering into the scene.  His thoughts on thinking with the Church are fimly grounded in the proper understanding of what that means; very Ignatian.  He has Jesuit concerns for the well being of humanity, and he has strong preferential option of the poor, as well as for finding God in all things. His whole perspective is informed by cura personalis and the Jesuit "way of proceeding."  He has the power to move the right towards the center as they discover the freedom that lies at the heart of Jesuit and Catholic spirituality.   Ignatius must be immensely proud of this Pope.

I second what Alan Mitchell says. I'm neither a Jesuit nor Jesuit-trained, but what the pope says in this interview is certainly inspiring.

He should just keep on giving interviews, they are far more effective than encyclicals. He is really shaking things up and making a "mess" -- creating the environment in which major changes can be effected.

And here from his address to gynecologists this morning:

the Holy Father underlined that "the first right of the human person is his life”. He spoke of a “culture of waste”, which he said, now enslaves the hearts and minds of many. The cost of this, he continued, is the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. The Pope stressed that every child that is not born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted and every elderly person who is sick or at the end of his life bears the face of Christ.


Would female cardinals have to wear brown?

Per Alan:  " Imagine that, "thinking" coming back to Catholicism after  the last two Popes banished it. . . "

Whew - what sour notes.

And Claire -  "Pope Francis may have been a chemist, but he does not talk like a scientist. No precise, concise, chiseled statements . . ."

What are you talking about?  I have never seen "precise, concise, chiseled statements" in Commonweal - ever.


I am glad Fr. Imbelli highlighted the talk to gyneocologists, and must express sadness that the previous popes are being characterized as "not thinking." A terrible disservice to two brilliant men, and simply the mirror image of the lack of charity shown by the other side. Agree or disagree, the previous popes (especially Benedict) were impressive thinkers. One (JP2) even issued a encyclical on faith and reason! I do hope we can get past this kind of papal stereotyping..

"The door is closed''  ..... And doors have hinges that are used to open doors.

Note: "female machismo" is an oxymoron; male machismo is redundant.

Just  got an email from my brother Bill , an orthopedic surgeon in a field hospital in Afghanistan , asking what I thought about the Pope's interview.  Interesting, the Pope used the image of field hospital for the church! This guy is connecting with everyone and I hope the  reprimanders just stop. 


Re: talking and thinking like a scientist.

As I read the Pope's biography he studied chemistry but not to an advanced degree and he taught the subject as well as other topics.

Speaking as one who majored in chemistry (at a liberal arts college) and went on for an M.S. in Chemisty, I would not have a clue about how I and my fellow students think.

I went on later for M.A. degrees in Theology and Pastoral Couseling. (Not meant to be a shameless plug, just an illustration of my point.)

It is interesting to me that  a friend who studied chemisty with me many years ago and attained a doctorate recently found and notified  me via Linkedin.  He is now a chaplain and spiritual adviser.  He is not the only person I know who studied a science and made a leap into the spiritual realm.

Yes we must, but hopefully not to the abortuary.I was relieved that he did not use the phrase "obsession with abortion" as the media has paraphrased,but I do hope in the future he will re-iterate the Church's teaching on abortion as intrinsically evil.I fear his statement about disjointed moral teachings not being morally equivalent will give fodder to the pro abortion Christians.Moral teachings and doctrine are NOT  morally equivalent and abortion stands apart from moral teaching and doctrine on homosexuality, women's role,even  contraception.How could there be a new balance regarding abortion? I took comfort in the fact that though abortion has been accepted in much of the world ,even by Christians ,the Church was always up front and center defending the unborn. If this ceases to be the case-I will be deeply troubled by that. 

At last! A pope who is not afraid to be and show that he is, human. Admittedly I favor his Jesuit approach to problems and problem-solving. My brother  was a Jesuit and never, ever came across as anything but a human who was unafraid to challenge me and others into deeper thought on any variety of subjects-- even those labeled not up for compromise. 

I agree with the previous commenter who advises us not to be too pushy. Of course, Pope Francis is not perfect and is not the answer to all the church's myriad problems. The beauty of it is that he doesn't claim to be the answer. He wants to lead us, not browbeat us into intellectual submission at the cost of our own intellectual integrity. His approach even suggests, to me at least, that he knows he might also learn from the input of the church at large.

What a breath of fresh air!


 WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Saying he was “sorry it had to come to this,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said today that he was forming an “independent search committee” to select a new Pope.

 The visibly upset jurist appeared at a press conference with the sole other member of the newly formed search committee, Justice Clarence Thomas.

 Justice Scalia said he had “no other alternative” but to pick a new Pope himself after reading what he called a “disturbing” interview with Pope Francis today: “The Pope said he doesn’t want to speak out against abortion and gay marriage. Well, sorry, my friend, but that’s the entire job description. You should have thought of that before you let them blow that white smoke in Rome.”

 Justice Scalia acknowledged that only the College of Cardinals has the legal authority to choose a Pope, but added, “Quite frankly, those jokers got us into this mess. Right, Clarence?”

 Justice Thomas had no comment.

Gene--That's funny.

To my liberal brethern and cistern:  Does it make you at all uncomfortable that I am as thankful for Pope Francis as you are?    I think it should. 

cistern? Hopefully a typo or else please explain.

The Catholic  'finger shakers' like Scalia will now be waving at the wind. And Mark P hasn't got a chance to  make  liberal me un-comfortable....... even after the years of his postings.

Movie lovers take heart. Fellini lives. Francis' favorite flim Is "La Strada."

It might surprise Catholics who call themselves "liberals" to know that Catholics like Mark P and me (i.e., those who "liberals" like to call conservatives or "trads"), that we are thrilled with Pope Francis and grateful to the Holy Spirit.



Ken: actually I am thinking of Benedict. When I wanted to understand what he was talking about I used to take his (short) texts apart and look at them sentence by sentence, almost word by word, and it made sense, and there was almost no redundancy, there was always a progression of ideas. With Pope Francis that doesn't work. Like everyone, I have a gut reaction to what he says, but if I want to reflect on it, I don't know how to go about it. I feel a little bit disoriented, not only by the content but also by the form.

Pope Francis also said he that he loves Roberto Rossellini's "Rome, Open City".  Apparently, Francis' taste is not fettered by political correctness; some viewers are critical of Rossellini's depiction of the Nazis as homosexuals and lesbians in "Roma, citta apperta".  

and he likes to tango... . 

I share the excitement and gratitude for Papa Francesco's tone and content.; electric in its impact. Yet I find Robert Micken's latest Letter to Rome also instructive.

Holding two realities in tandem...

“Is Francis being spared the scrutiny to which his German predecessor was subjected? … And then at the 11 September general audience, in comparing the Church to our mother, Francis said, “All mums have defects … but when we speak of our mother’s defects, we cover them up, that’s how we love her.” If Papa Ratzinger had ever uttered the words “cover up” and “Church” in the same sentence, imagine the outcry!

Which brings us to the Vatican’s attempt in early August quietly to remove the papal nuncio from the Dominican Republic. It took a few weeks before reporters and judicial authorities discovered the reason – Pope Francis had been told personally in early July that his envoy was accused of sexually abusing adolescent boys. There has been little negative reaction to the way the removal took place. But had this happened during the last pontificate, the criticism would have been unsparing.

The sexual abuse allegedly committed by the above-mentioned former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, is troubling for a number of reasons. First of all, the presumed victims are poor kids in a poor part of the world.

Secondly, such allegations against a cleric are always serious, but perhaps even more so when he is a bishop. Most bishops enjoy a certain amount of autonomy and personal authority as ordinaries of dioceses.

Nuncios, however, are different. They are personal envoys of the Pope and directly under his authority in a way diocesan bishops are not. In this particular situation, Pope Francis is the nuncio’s direct superior in a way that, despite attempts by lawyers to show otherwise, he is not in regard to those who head dioceses.

This could bring a new and dangerous twist to legal proceedings against Archbishop Wesołowski should he be found guilty by prosecutors in the Dominican Republic.

Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, has promised that the Holy See will cooperate fully with the investigation. Does that include handing over the 65-year-old nuncio if Dominican authorities demand he stand trial? There is, after all, the principle of diplomatic immunity. Furthermore, the Holy See and the Dominican Republic do not even have an extradition treaty.”


I have found Augustine's Sermons to be bit like the description you gave of the thinkng style of Pope Francis.

Can it be attributed to the different approaches of Extraverts (definitely Pope Francis) and Introverts (most probalbly Pope Benedict XVI)?

Also, Benedict's words were always carefully written out while this is an interview with Francis.



rose-ellen --

We have a new pope who has managed to impress -- for very good reasons --  both conservative and liberal Catholics, Protestants, Jews and even the secular press.  So what do you do?  You talk only about abortion!!  You're a broken record and thereby harm the cause.  Stop it.

Helen (replying to Claire):


"I have found Augustine's Sermons to be bit like the description you gave of the thinkng style of Pope Francis.

Can it be attributed to the different approaches of Extraverts (definitely Pope Francis) and Introverts (most probably Pope Benedict XVI)?

Also, Benedict's words were always carefully written out while this is an interview with Francis."


I would agree with the comparison to Augustine, and the extravert/introvert difference of approach no doubt matters. 

But Benedict XVI did several BOOK-LENGTH interviews (before and after becoming pope), which the interviewer (German journalist Peter Seewald) insists he edited very little, and the results read very like Benedict's more formal writing.  A number of people who worked with Joseph Ratzinger at various points of his career commented on how he spoke 'in complete paragraphs', in effect publishable prose.  Even as pope, he could and did talk 'off the cuff', eg to the Roman clergy, at considerable length, and you would be hard put to identify the resulting texts, from style alone, as not having been written out beforehand.




The issue really is the essential of the gospel to free the captives. When Jesus goes public this is his proclamation and what he is anointed to do. This is what makes Francis special.  Luke 4:18.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis understands the meaning of the "theological notes" which measured the degree of magisterial teaching.  John Paul II  and Benedict XVI wanted everything they pronounced to be treated as infallible, going against the tradition of the "theological notes."  This is why Franceis says not all things are equal in Catholic teaching; he knows about the "theological notes."


You don't have to be a Jesuit to understand the gradations of theological notes, and John Paul II and Benedict were certainly aware of them.  In "Evangelium vitae" there are different degrees e.g., as between the weight of the teaching on abortion and that on contraception.  And in Ratzinger's comments on the Catechism and on "Ad tuendam fidem" indicate that he was well aware of them.

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