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"This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal."

Last week, Pope Francis sat for another interview--this time with the atheist co-founder of La Repubblica, Eugeio Scalfari, whom the pope recently replied to in writing. The headline of the conversation, "The Pope: How the Church Will Change" (not "I Will Change the Church"), is obviously pinned to today's opening of the Council of Cardinals, and for good reason. Here are some highlights:

"The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old."

"Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs."

"That is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can."

"Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."

The curia is "Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it."

"When I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical."

"Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."

"The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and synods he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously."

"I have already said that the Church will not deal with politics.... Politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion."

"We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities."

Read the whole thing here. And don't miss the conclusion, in which the pope promises Scalfari that next time "we will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember that the Church is feminine."

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Absolutely astonishing and exhilirating.

 

"Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."

I never thought that in my life time I would hear a pope speak words that the Roman curia considers subversive.

"Remember that the Church is feminine" ...  Reminds me of a wise Holy Cross Brother at ND who once announced to our class:  "Gentlemen, always be a spiritual Semite.  Always, remain metaphysically feminine."

 

The Italian headline in La Repubblica is: Il Papa a Scalfari: Così cambierò la Chiesa (not in quotes).

Seemingly (unless I missed something) an interpretation of his words about the Curia: "Questa visione Vaticano-centrica trascura il mondo che ci circonda. Non condivido questa visione e farò di tutto per cambiarla" -- "This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world which surrounds us. I do not share this vision and I will do my very best to change it."

Even the English language headline seems an interpretive leap.

"Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense."

The whole interview is such a paradigm change. The above quote though is priceless. John XXIII also knew how dominating and manipulative the prosleytism process is. .As Jesus said: "Woe to you Pharisees you traverse land and see to make converts and you make them more evil than yourselves."

Narcissistic? Absolutely. Greeley called it clericalization of the church. It was a sin to even criticize a cleric. And "whenever I meet a cleric I become anti-clerical." Priceless. Clerics in Rome, as well as peacocks everywhere, may walk with more humility today. 

These are the nuggets that the American bishops may need to ponder:

"The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old."

"I have already said that the Church will not deal with politics.... Politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion."

Will the Fortnights for Freedom continue?  Will "Faithful Citizenship" be rewritten?  Will it be published anymore?

 

I think love for temporal power is still very strong within the Vatican Walls and in the institutional structure of the whole Church. I think that the institution dominates the poor, missionary Church that you would like.
"In fact, that is the way it is, and in this area you cannot perform miracles. Let me remind you that even Francis in his time held long negotiations with the Roman hierarchy and the Pope to have the rules of his order recognized. Eventually he got the approval but with profound changes and compromises.

Francis aware of the reality of renewal. Sobering.

Again, this all sounds very good, and is certainly a very hopeful turn, but...if women are so darn valuable, why is the "gang of 8" all male? Are there no women he knows and trusts? Not one? 

 

Lisa, maybe that's his pastoral side: communicating in such a way as to be heard by his target audience. In this instance, the audience consists of the church hierarchy. To communicate with them effectively, he has to choose advisors that the rest of the church hierarchy will be willing to listen to. Hence the absence of women. 

 

Everyone will have his/her favorite/least favorite quote.  Here's mine:

 

"I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."

I went to Fr. Z's blog to see the reaction of very conservative Catholics.  They appear to be in a state of near panic, which is very sad.  Fr. Z again tries to reassure them, by trying to spin the Pope's message. He notes that the interview was off the cuff -- hoping, one thinks, that the Pope really didn't mean all that he said.

I think that not only does the Church need Francis...the WORLD needs Francis. He can be transformational far beyond the flock for which he is responsible.  I am starting to believe that he will be transformational.  What an utterly extraordinary person he is.  Pray for his continued good health.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

 

The interview is just extraordinary.  Particularly near the end, where the Holy Father turns the tables, ceases being the subject of the interview and probes what Scalfari believes.  A model of respectful dialogue.  Just amazing.

 

What impresses me most about the interview is Francis' emphasis on what he calls "mysticism".  In answer to, "Do you have a mystical vocation?"  he answers:

 

"… I love the mystics; Francis also was in many aspects of his life, but I do not think I have the vocation and then we must understand the deep meaning of that word. The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life."

 

Has that ever happened to you?

"Rarely. For example, when the conclave elected me Pope. Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the '"Habemus Papam"."

 

He is obviously well acquainted with the sort of prayer which sets out to be totally open to the presence of the Lord.  But note that his non-Ignatian (?) method of reaching that state begins with relaxing and emptying his mind of all thoughts of all sorts   No doubt the relaxing then emptying his mind will sound very New Agey to the EWTN folks and others who don't accept the fact that this process is very much like "Centering Prayer" which is actually a variation on an ancient Christian practice.  At the end he experiences (no doubt) the Holy Spirit illumining his mind.  He didn't get to the ecstatic sort of union of love that we find in mystics like Teresa of Avila and others, but he does say in other parts of the interview that he realizes those are real but rare.  (I wonder whether he has experienced that kind first hand.  He doesn't say.)

 

At any rate, this looks to me like his first lesson concerning contemplative prayer for all of us, and no doubt some people are going to be very nervous about it.  Fortunately, young people are generally more open to such practices.  One more hit for Pope Francis :-)

I agree with Lisa Fullam.  

It is going to be interesting to see how Francesco navigates the troubled oceans that separate women from the church.

I was very touched by the interview, especially at the end, and the details that Scalfari reports bear out the impression of a genuine dialogue, not only the appearance of one. 

He is giving us an example. I am so glad this was reported. He may have conversations like this all the time, but to listen in is a privilege, and enlightening. 

As a sideline, Bill Mazzella, you are going to have to give up your anti-Augustine mantra now, or give up Francis. :) 

"...the troubled oceans that separate women from the church"...   Could we put a "some" before "women" in this sentence?

I was struck by Pope Francis' comment about Pascal. I presume that he is not thinking of the Pascal of the "Provincial Letters," a very witty but harsh attack on the casuistry being propounded by Jesuits and others at the University of Paris. Instead, I presume that Pope Francis is referring to other works of Pascal, particularly the "Pensees," a remarkable collection of thoughts about the human condition. Pascal producedno grand philosophical treatise, but his "Pensees" deserve the attention of thoughtful people even today.

Bernard,

Amen to that. I am looking forward now to the next interview!

I am not one to quote this man, but, in all fairness, he and Francis are in sync on this matter:

"The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by attraction... she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord." http://news.iafrica.com/specialreport/Papacy/124078.html

 

 

Too many interviews spoil the broth -- we need a new category of Major Interview, to be signaled as carrying some substantial authority (the Civilta Cattolica/ America interview), otherwise we bet a blizzard of papal obiter dicta or soundbits that leave no substantial legacy of teaching.

Interviews are a good genre for communication, so much better than the encyclical style. People find the Social Teaching of the Church boring because of the prominence given to unreadable encyclicals. They are an alienated form of communication, too self-conscious on the part of the teacher (always seeking to shore up his authority) and demanding a servile gratitude from the reader who is force to pick out encouraging nuggets here and there from reams of impersonal bureaucratic authoritarian prose.

 

 

oops, we get a blizzard of soundbites, I meant

 

 The question is, how to ensure that Francis's candid style of communication becomes normative, instead of dissipating like fizz.

Eugenio Scalfari: "I do not believe in the soul."

Pope Francis: "You do not believe in it, but you have one."

(ES: "Io non credo all'anima".  PF: "Non ci crede, ma ce' l'ha".)

Dialogue or proselytism?

Is La Repubblica the new L'Osservatore Romano? It sure helps circulation that LR's founder has been chosen by letter and social calls to become a principal papal interlocutor. There was no internet, no instant communication during the nearly twenty-year papacy of Pius XII, but the cult of personality, as far as I can recall from my childhood, was pervasive in the Church, and even beyond. Is it possible that in just over six months' time this type of unhealthy adulation is in danger of being revived? I found this latest (public) conversation a bit uneven and somewhat perplexing. Is it suited to a worldwide audience? Like Sister Aloysius in the in the play/film several years back, "I have doubts."

--- --- ---

I have doubts too about John XXIII's being tacked on as the caboose to John Paul II's train, that is, the dual canonization on the Octave Day of Easter next year. Now increasingly called Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Like Sister Aloysius in the play/film...." One "in the" will do. Why not an editing function as on that Collegeville liturgical blog?

There is an editing function, John. Beneath your comment, it says "delete" "edit" and "reply" in blue, doesn't it? The reply function is disabled (thank heavens; someone decided that nesting comments is not the best way to go after all, I presume), but edit works--at least on my screen. Have you tried it?

"Beneath your comment, it says "delete" "edit" and "reply" in blue, doesn't it?"

Rita, lucky you! I don't have the "edit" button. Can I pay extra to get that privilege?

Rita - I don't have anything beneath the comments except "reply".  I take it from various comments I've seen at this site that the same is true for a number of other readers.  I wonder if it is a function of browser version?  I'm using Google Chrome Version 29.0.1547.76 m.  (As soon as I went to check the version just now, I got an "Updating Google Chrome ..." message, so I suspect I'm not very current :-)).

Oops, maybe the clever program knows I am a contributor and gives me a few extra chances to clean up my prose after I've posted a comment! I promise, I've never tried to edit anybody else's posts... no matter how sorely tempted...

Rita - I usually manage at least one typo per commment, so you have my permission to clean up my comments - in fact, I really wish you would!

I can't edit either.  I use Safari and a MacIntosh computer.  Over the years I"ve found that many programs just don't work with Macintoshes.  I suspect that it's cheaper for businesses, etc., to just ignore us Mac owners.  My bank, for instance, allows me to choose a new password and then the program works for me -- but just twice.  After that I can't log in again.  This has happened several times.  So it seems obvious that the problem isn't with me, it's with the bank's program.

Yikes!  Here is someone displeased with this interview.  His take: "It's a theological wreck".

http://www.russellmoore.com/2013/10/01/some-thoughts-on-pope-francis/

 

From your link, Jim: "From Augustine’s Confessions to “Well, everyone has his own ideas about good and bad…” is a mighty long path."

Augustine's Confessions, book 3, chapter 7: "as if in an armoury, one knowing not what were adapted to the several members should put greaves on his head, or boot himself with a helmet, and then complain because they would not fit. Or as if, on some day when in the afternoon business was forbidden, one were to fume at not being allowed to sell as it was lawful to him in the forenoon. Or when in some house he sees a servant take something in his hand which the butler is not permitted to touch, or something done behind a stable which would be prohibited in the dining-room, and should be indignant that in one house, and one family, the same thing is not distributed everywhere to all. Such are they who cannot endure to hear something to have been lawful for righteous men in former times which is not so now; or that God, for certain temporal reasons, commanded them one thing, and these another, but both obeying the same righteousness; though they see, in one man, one day, and one house, different things to be fit for different members, and a thing which was formerly lawful after a time unlawful— that permitted or commanded in one corner, which done in another is justly prohibited and punished. Is justice, then, various and changeable? Nay, but the times over which she presides are not all alike, because they are times."

 

 I promise, I've never tried to edit anybody else's posts... no matter how sorely tempted...

Thanks, Rita.