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Web Exclusive: The Pope & the People

Just posted to our website, William L. Portier on Francis and his "pastoral rhetoric of invitation."

Over the past two months, Pope Francis has begun to fashion from the interview/conversation form a new genre of papal pronouncement, minimally authoritative, but unprecedented in its reach. ... In the give and take of conversation, Pope Francis’s ad hoc interviews play off his interlocutors. From Skorka to Spadaro to Scalfari, he does not fear to give up full control and places himself in their hands. The in-flight interview had the highest degree of spontaneity, while Spadaro heavily edited the Jesuit interview. Amazingly, the conversation with Scalfari appears in the latter’s own redaction. Despite variations, the three papal interviews to date have much in common. The pope’s irrepressible and unaffected spiritual joy comes through each time. His interviews do not appear in Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Rather he injects them into the flow of the secular news cycle where they share its immediacy, interactivity and ephemeral nature. ...

This new genre of papal pronouncement dodges grasping handlers and bureaucrats who would brand the pope restrictively, frustrate his wishes, and control his access. Pope Francis is now an anticipated part of the news cycle. The papal news media interview takes him directly to the people, all the people.

Read the whole thing here.

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Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Over the past two months, Pope Francis has begun to fashion from the interview/conversation form a new genre of papal pronouncement, minimally authoritative, but unprecedented in its reach.

Fr. O'Leary has posted some comments here to this effect, as have I.

This may be a new and refreshing thing for the pope, but of course, cardinals in the US have sat for lengthy interviews.  I expect Bergoglio did so in Buenos Aires.  


The knives are being sharpened:


Pietro De Marco analyzes critically the first acts of this “magisterium”  (Note the “ “)

Maybe this pope is trying to send the message that every time he raises an eyebrow, there isn't a need to have a cadre of spokesclerics running around, clarifying, expanding, or otherwise turning a purse into an ear ... or vice versa.

This man is extemporaneous.  That's good.  That means that sometimes he will say some things that aren't exactly kosher with what the last 50 years of papacies said and did.

The Holy Father has been successful so far in managing the message.  That is not always a given with a media interview.  As Portier notes, the one being interviewed places himself in the hands of the interviewer.  I don't know whether or not papal approval prior to publication is a precondition for these interviews, but there is some prudence to it on the part of Francis.  One wonders what would happen should the pope or his people *not* approve a particular interview or request some edits or elisions. The media org could publish it anyway, or it could leak.  The risk could be real.  But Francis seems to take risks.

"The Holy Father has been successful so far in managing the message."

I dearly hope so! There are of course people who are saying that he's been misinterpreted, misrepresented, and taken advantage of, especially in the most recent big interview.

I appreciate the Pope's candor in his interviews. I think that's the way to do it; even if it runs the risk of his remarks being taken out of context or mis-reported, it's not the end of the world. He can always disavow an interview if it's inaccurate and not give interviews in the future to that particular outlet.  If the Pope says he didn't say something, and a journalist (who didn't tape the interview), says he did, which of the two would you believe?)

If the Pope gives enough of these comprehensive interviews over  time, the culmulative effect will give us all a pretty clear idea of where he's coming from.


Thanks, Jim McCrea for the Chiesa link.  If the vitriolic commentary there is  any clue to the nature of current backstairs chatter among the Vatican old guard, Pope Francis made some prudent decisions about his living arrangements.  

I believe the fellow who translated Pietro de Marco's article did so using the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam :-)

"new genre of papal pronouncement, minimally authoritative, but unprecedented in its reach."

That's a good way to put it. What he is doing will not fit neatly into a book written for specialists. He will not be footnoted for it by double-doctor theologians. As thought spreads, it gets thinner. But.  As it spreads, it reaches more people. Make disciples of all nations, not just the highly degreed of the nations.

I liked Pope Benedict's writing (especially after the way his predecessor's philosophical categories rumbled like a wooden cart through Mitteleuropean monsoons). But not even Deus Caritas Est had a large fan base. Francis is writing to an audience that is not going to go back to check the translation against the Italian original, and is not going to review the literature. But it is going to hear what he is saying.

I especially commend William L. Portier's penultimate paragraph, which should be read and considered before this thread wanders off into a discussion of the frightened fire-eaters who are getting all heated up.


Could it be that Francesco's real pastoral genius lies in his commitment to speaking [directly to the people, all the people]?

IMHO, no reform and renewal will ever come from any "commission of cardinals," nor from any hierarch for that matter.  The fact is that most, if not all, hierarchs are hopelessly irrelevant to and dangerously alienated from the lives of most Catholic men and women.

Only the People have the capacity to rescue the church from the pit into which the hierarchs have led the church over the last four decades.  Only the People have the spiritual resilience to overcome the obstacles that confront Catholics today.  It's the only way to save the church.


A similar vein of conversation worth following, allowing for the usual collection of vitriolic comments that crop up there:

Jim J. --

You glorify THE PEOPLE the way some people gloriy the popes.  When the laity finally does get a share in running the Church that will be a fine thing.  But anybody who imagines that the laity won't present some problems of its own doesn't know human nature.  I suspect that there are even more power-grabbers among the laity than there are among the clergy and religious for the simple reason that there are many, many more of us.

In case anybody missed it Robert Imbelli, contributor to this blog, asked a question in an article in America magazine of the pope which looks like a criticism. "Holy Father, in the first conversation you seem more critical of “restorationists” and “legalists” than of “relativists” (who so troubled your illustrious predecessor). You do briefly refer to “relativism,” only to posit that the God of the Bible, whom we encounter on the journey (“nel cammino”), transcends relativism. I think the many eavesdroppers on the conversation would profit greatly from further elucidation of your thinking in this regard. How can we speak today of the God revealed in Jesus Christ as “absolute”?

The pope will rightly not get into such questions as he is on message with the message of Jesus which is to "free the captives." As long as the pope stays on the essential message the Gospel will remain true. 


That quote from the America article is not vitriolic but respectful. Yes, it looks like veiled criticism (and I would prefer it less veiled), but so what? There is nothing wrong with criticizing pope Francis, or any pope, or any one else's ideas.

@ JJ


Can you find something new to say? Your comments are repeitive and thus tiresome.




Bill, every time you say, "freeing the captives," I'm gonna take a shot.



Cheer up Abe, I'm saving your soul. 

Oh, cool. I'm glad somebody's on top of that.

"there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the 'tyranny of relativism', which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth." - Pope Francis, March 22, 2013

Thank you, Bender. The whole paragraph tht you quoted has to be read. Francis puts relativism in its perfect context. 

Here is the Address of Pope Francis cited by Bender. I do wish that words to that effect had been included in the conversation with Scalfari that has drawn criticism from some. It would have avoided the concerns I and others have expressed. However, perhaps they were present and they simply did not register on Signore Scalfari.

Claire, thanks for your commonsense observation. "Vitriol" here may well be in the eye of the beholder. Though if one has the stomach to taste true vitriol, one could re-visit some of the threads apropos Summorum Pontificum.

As for "veiled" or unveiled criticism, I tried to insert the reflection within the "conversational" genre initiated by the Pope and Spadaro, asking for further elucidation. Indeed, I may have been the first (on September 25th) to have actually used the word "genre" of conversation as an interpretive category. But perhaps I claim too much.

No, the knives are not just being sharpened ... they are out!

"This morning the Vatican announced that Pope Francis is calling the third “Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops”, which will convene a year from now, in order to discuss ““The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.  ”Why should we panic?”, do you ask?  The answer is simple.  Pope Francis has made more heretical statements in the past few weeks than any pope in history.  He has displayed numerous ideas that are questionable, to put it kindly.  Just recently, when discussing the sodomites, Pope Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?”.  Not to mention another recent comment in which he said that the Church should stop focusing on social issues.  There is clear cause for alarm here.  Pope Francis is the epitome of the “Spirit of Vatican II”, which is obsessed with not offending anybody (losing tens of thousands of souls in the process).  Word from Rome is that the synod will focus on the church’s position on divorce and the eligibility of remarried couples to receive communion.  What could possibly go wrong?"


From the "When in wonder, when in doubt;  run in circles, scream and shout." school of Catholicism.

Ann Olivier:  I'm not "glorifying" THE PEOPLE.  I'm just desperately trying to survive.  What else are we to do?  I don't see any other way out of the pit that the Catholic Church has fallen into over the last 40 years thanks to the hierarchs.

Categorical, reductionist thinking doesn't help.  I'm not suggesting that THE PEOPLE will get it all-right, all the time.  You're constructing a strawman argument.  If fact, I planning on THE PEOPLE making mistakes, lots of them - because THAT IS THE HUMAN WAY!  It is our nature.  It provides with our greatest victories when we overcome them.  [Think Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.]

Of course, there will be "power-grabbers among the laity" but at least in a democracy these mistakes will be OUR mistakes, which then we will have the competency to change, reform and make amends - NOT relying on some paternal, anti-feminine, power-hungry feudal hegemony.  

The problem with an all-male feudal oligarchy is that there is no natural self-correcting mechanisms because as a class the hierarchs are always acculturated to b _ _ t-kissing their way up the clerical ladder - except for the intervention of the miracle in the person of a John 23rd or [we'll really have to wait and see?] Francesco.

Besides being a Catholic, I am also an American.  I believe in democracy.  I believe in government for, of and by THE PEOPLE.  For me, I don't know about you, it's in my genes.  For all its faults - which we know are legion, democracy may be the best gift American culture has to give to the Catholic Church.

Ann, either you believe in the priesthood of THE PEOPLE or you don't.  Which is it for you?

LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!  The only way we will survive.  The only way we will endure.

@ A Andreassi:  Unlike you, I am certainly not in that enlightened a state: I need the repetition.

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, often would say, but I learned later, was quoting St. Paul:  "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God makes it grow."

I think I'll keep repeating it, keep watering it, until I start detecting evidence of some germination, some sprouting.  Sorry about being so tiresome for you:  It's just that you seem really parched, really thirsty.  

I'm really afraid that this moment in time will be lost if the church doesn't take a completely new path.  The only way out of the mess Catholics are in:  LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE! 


"Of course, there will be "power-grabbers among the laity" but at least in a democracy these mistakes will be OUR mistakes, which then we will have the competency to change, reform and make amends.. ."

Jim J. --

This is where we differ.  I don't think there's anything auomatic about any group's solving their problems, and that includes the people of a democrac. Generalizations such as "Let the People decide" gets us nowhere.  WHAT should the people decide?  HOW should they decide?  

Before you can even begin to answer those questiosn, you need to analyze the current situation, identify the basic problem(s), consider alternative solutions, then choose the best one.  Unless and until you (or somebody else) does all this, merely appealing to the wisdom of "people" is just crying in the dark.


@ Ann Olivier:  I disagree.  You're making the perfect the enemy of the good.  

There is no possible answer to all those questions and conditions to cover all the contingencies that will develop over time.  It reminds me of a patient who wouldn't accept the life-saving treatment because the doctors couldn't assure her that he life would be just like it was before.  But they could assure her that she would be dead.  

There is no road map or "how to" out there for a future church community.  That is the nature of revolutionary movements.  We can only look at our experiences over time [in this case it is centuries] and apply our best collective judgement - with a whole lot of praying.

What we do know is that if we are to even survive till the end of this century as a church, we must reform the way Catholics do priesthood from parish to pope.  Maybe we need to start over again, as if we were 1st century Christians reeling from persecution, the death of the apostles and first witnesses?  Maybe we have to re-discover what resurrection really means in our time?

An inexorable evolution toward a Peoples Church has been underway for a very long time.  The signs are all around us - just check the number of empty pews each Sunday for the most obvious "signs of the times".  The best principles we could adopt, the best controlling idea to apply to reform and renew our common religious and spiritual life together is to LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE.  

Face it, to pull ourselves out of the pit we have been abandoned in by the hierarchy, we will have to do a lot of experimenting, a lot of trial and error, until we find new pastoral models that work for the 21st century.   In the words of Mao Zedong:  Let a thousand flowers bloom!

My suggestion would be to borrow from the ecology and environmental movement of the last 50 years:  Think globally -  Act locally!  Let's find out how serious this new pope is about the principles of subsidiarity.

If I ruled the world, I would start on the parish level and empower each community to make all the decisions critical to their own religious and spiritual life:  Each community could choose their minister(s) - including their bishop.  What ministries that community would foster and develop, even their own liturgies.  Each community would be charged with how it spends its resources.  

[Something that could be done right now:  Each parish drawing upon its own members should institute its own independent trust or foundation (a 501.c.3 non-profit corporation) to receive and manage the donations and charity of the group - no more hand-overs of $billions to the clerics.  This would drive a stake through the heart of the corporation sole monopoly of the clerics - which I contend is one of the core malignancies of the church today.  The golden rule of politics is she/he who has the gold rules!]

Over time, somethings will be solidified into permanent church sturctures of governance.  Maybe around mid-century after decades of experimentation and a good faith effort to really implement Vatican2 on the local level, it will be time for a true ecumenical council where women and men, not just clerics, are represented. 

In the meantime, we must do what we have always done:  Teach.  Pass on the Beatitudes and corporal works of mercy to new generations.  Await the day when new voices once again are value and honored in the church of our birth.

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, was right:  "Christianity is not for sissies."  Let's get crackin'.

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