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Pope Francis needs prayers more than criticism

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No person is perfect, not even the Bishop of Rome
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo

Photo Caption: Pope Francis's pontifical exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, has caused division among the Church's cardinals. (CNA)

In Rome, division among cardinals continues concerning Holy Communion for divorced persons who have remarried civilly without first annulling their prior marriage. Thirty cardinals have joined the first four who are awaiting Pope Francis’s answer to their query concerning his pontifical exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

I am happily surprised to know that the bishops of Calgary, Ottawa, and the Military Ordinariate of Canada have made their position known – that they prefer to follow the traditional practice of first annulling the previous marriage.

I am also able to inform my readers that the illustrious and well known Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, expressed his support for Pope Francis in the wake of the doubts raised by the four cardinals about the pontifical exhortation (see Catholic Herald, Feb. 17, 2017, p.10).

In an interview with The Irish Catholic newspaper while on a visit to Belfast, Cardinal Nichols was asked if he shared any of the concerns expressed by Cardinal Raymond Burke and the three other cardinals, and he said: “For me, it is very simple. Pope Francis is the Pope. He is who God has given us and, therefore, we follow his lead.”

Asked how he would respond if the four cardinals published a “formal correction,” Cardinal Nichols said: “The Pope is the one who has been chosen under the influence of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church and we will follow his lead. I am not going to say anything more than that because I think the Pope’s patience and reserve about this whole matter is exactly what we should observe.”

Questioned whether he thought that Amoris Laetitia had changed any of the Church’s teaching, the Cardinal said: “There is no question of that. The issues raised by Amoris Laetitia are not core doctrinal issues, these are about how do we live, in very traditional terms actually. Everything in Amoris Laetitia is drawn from the tradition of the Church: how do we live the mercy of God and how do we enable people who feel judged, feel excluded, feel as if they have no place to begin to explore that [the mercy of God].”

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth tweeted last week: “The council of priests yesterday asked: ‘Whom do we obey, the bishop or the Pope?’ I’d say ‘both!’ But there’s a growing problem. Let’s pray for the Church.”

Some weeks ago, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, said the Church’s traditional teaching on Communion for the remarried could not be changed. This teaching,

reiterated by Pope St. John Paul II, is that the divorced and remarried cannot receive Communion, except possibly when they try to live “in complete continence.”

The Pope made a revealing remark at his first public appearance when, after asking for prayers, he said with a laugh: “This job is not easy.”

Indeed, we should consider Francis’s point that being Pope is far from carefree. As he said in 2014, “Think of the characteristic that we take for granted in a Bishop of Rome today. He must be a guardian of the faith, reformer, theologian, preacher, pastor, liturgist, spiritual father, global statesman, polyglot … those are just the basics. To depict the Pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me.”

The Pope, he said, “is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps, and has friends like everyone else, a normal person.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Peter’s successor “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” As the Vicar of Christ and pastor of the entire Church he has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Catholic Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.

A Pope has these qualities regardless of personal strengths and weaknesses. Our subjective opinion of a particular Pope is, therefore, essentially irrelevant. The objective nature of the office is what matters.

Speaking in jest, Italians described Pius XII as aloof; John XXIII, a gourmand; Paul VI, indecisive; John Paul I, anxious; John Paul II, short-tempered; Benedict XVI, timid; and Francis, ambiguous. These alleged faults are arguably nothing compared to those of St. Peter, the first Pope, who at the crucial moment denied Jesus three times.

For a contemporary illustration of this point, look at the recent Pan-Orthodox Council meeting in Crete. The gathering was supposed to bring together the world’s Orthodox leaders but despite half a century of planning, a number refused to attend at the last minute, underlying the lack of a unifying figure within Orthodoxy.

It is significant that, before he said that being Pope was not easy, Francis asked for prayers, imploring “Reza por mi.”

If we criticize the Pope more than we pray for him, it is we who need to change.


Last Updated on Friday, 28 April 2017 08:48  

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