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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!



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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.



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.