Eye on Francis for March 2016

Here is my monthly column for the American Catholic Council webpage…reyanna

By Reyanna Rice                   March 19 2016

We have all been anxiously awaiting Pope Francis’ response to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops meeting from October 2014.  There is a lot of speculation as to what and when with his Apostolic Exhortation.  Particularly anxious is the very traditional/conservative wing of the Church.  The link below, will take you to a very brief article in Vatican Insider that set the trad blogsites on fire just recently:


I found Cardinal Kaspar’s comments very interesting.  It was his comments that threw gasoline on the smoldering concerns of the traditionalists.  Since the Synod, there has been a lot of virtual ink spilled questioning what the pope will say, questioning the pope’s loyalty to the Church, questioning if he is a legitimate pope if he espouses what they feel is heresy.  And these are just some of the mild things said.  The more progressive side of the Church has not so much questioned but wondered if he is just going to say the same old same old.  Some are even likening him to the “Hamlet Pope”, Paul VI, who dithered for months over the birth control commission’s final report to then cave in to the minority voices in the Curia who pressured him into going against the commission’s final outcome.  They see the long delay in the release of PF’s Apostolic Exhortation as justification of their opinion.

Here is my take on this.  I think it is taking a long time because PF wants this thing to be iron clad correct.  Everything he has published so far has been very correct.  Laudato si comes to my mind when I say this.  He is working with a writing committee on the document….no pope writes these things flying solo.  I know that one of the members of this committee, Victor Fernandez who worked with him on both Evangelii gaudium and Laudato si, is a one man walking brain trust, so I have a lot of confidence it will be done right.  I have read that there has been a lot of back and forth between his writing committee and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.    The head of this congregation, Cardinal Mueller, has been adamant that there will be no change.  He has also been hinting around recently that the Pope does not have the skills needed to make any kind of statement that will change Church teaching even if it is in pastoral practice.  In fact, in the last week reports came out quoting Mueller as saying the pope is no theologian.   So PF has to have what he proposes in this document well reasoned and with no doubt as to its validity.  He is the Pope, so he can go against what CDF says if he feels it is the right thing to do.  Also causing delays is availability of multiple language translations.  When these things are released, it is usual to have all the primary translations ready to release simultaneously with the official version….and in this papacy that is Italian and not Latin.  Now we are facing Holy Week so I think the Pope does not want any uproar to disturb people’s focus on the depth of the Holy Week experience.  And I believe there will be uproar as this thing is sliced and diced and parsed by all the usual sources.

Hints and report about this document have been thin.  I believe that the Pope and his writing committee have this thing sewed up tight so that leaks do not occur.  The usual Vatican gossip sources have not even pried out information on it.  In looking at what has been said about this document in the recent weeks and months, trying to get a feel for what might be coming out, I found a statement that the Pope made to a large gathering of the lay movement, the Neocatechumenal Way, this past week, kind of interesting.  When he speaks with groups like this, his statements are not only directed to just this group.  He does not waste any opportunity to extend his message to the broader audience of the “universal” Church.  I find the press a bit remiss in not reporting things like this more often.  In this talk, and as he usually does, he used the Jesuit hall mark of the three things.  In it, he focused on unity, glory and world. Francis has frequently spoken about unity in the Church.  He does so not just in the context of ecumenism.  Here is the quote on unity:

Unity.  Jesus prays to the Father so that his followers are “perfect in unity” (Jn 17:23) (and BTW, John’s chapter 17 is one of his favorite gospel passages….reyanna): he wants that among themselves they are “one thing only” (v. 22) like He and the Father.  It is his last request before the Passion, his most heartfelt: that there is communion in the Church.  Communion is essential.  God’s and man’s enemy, the devil, can do nothing against the Gospel, against the humble strength of prayer and the Sacraments, but can do a lot of evil to the Church, tempting our humanity.  He provokes conceit, judgment on others, closure, divisions.  He himself is “the division” and often begins with making us believe that we are good, even better than others; thus, he has the ground ready for planting weeds.  It is the temptation of the whole community and it can insinuate itself even in the most beautiful charisms of the Church”.

So…besides the group he had before him, who was he addressing?  He is not ignorant of the fact that he has some very vocal opponents in the traditionalist/conservative Church.  He knows they have been talking of schism and in all kinds of places, such as the New York Times, for months.  He knows that a cardinal who we all know who loves to dress up in some high-priced lace and gilded vestments has said the church is a rudderless ship right now.  I cannot help but think that given what he says the devil provokes that he has directed this statement to those who have threatened to destroy the unity of the Church by breaking away.  No pope wants to have this happen on his watch, but I also think Francis knows the Church cannot just maintain same old same old and survive for long.  He has a lot of weight on his shoulders with this one.

So, here is my take away for all of this from my Eye on Francis:  keep doing what he asks, even pleads, people to do after almost every encounter with them: “Non dimenticate di pregare per me”….”Don’t forget to pray for me”.  And he frequently says “I need it”.  Yes, indeed, he needs it.




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2 Responses to Eye on Francis for March 2016

  1. M Sikora says:

    Well written, Reyanna, with an excellent summary. Thanks for posting.

    • Reyanna Rice says:

      Thanks! Since I am new at writing it is good to get feedback. I think we will know what Francis’exhortation will be as early as this Sunday. This Sunday is Devine Mercy Sunday which probably will fit nicely into his plans as a release date given what I think it’s going to be in the exhortation. Let’s hope and pray it is so. Whatever is in it it will be interesting following the media slice and dice it every which way.

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