CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 March 2019

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Pope Francis is a pastor rather than a scholar

Father William Grimm MM
 
The National Catholic Reporter, an independent American weekly, recently carried a story on the attitude toward Pope Francis by “a cadre of faculty” at the seminary of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
 
Some professors are reportedly of the opinion that the pope is “too lax on a roster of issues, including LGBT people in the Church, capital punishment, and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.”
 
Some go so far as to call for Francis to step down because, as the weekly describes their stance, he “is confusing, is weak on enforcing doctrine, and sows discord among believers.”
 
Of course, if sowing discord among believers were cause for discipline, every pope since Pius XII (if not Peter) would have wound up in a cell in the dungeon of the former Vatican prison in Castel Sant’Angelo.
 
The faculty members’ criticism of the pope is typical of those who think Francis is weakening or even betraying doctrines of the Church. Perhaps they even think the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) should open a case file on the pope if it hasn’t already.
 
Perhaps the place for us to look at their criticism is, in fact, the CDF, the successor to the Inquisition and the Vatican’s watchdog of orthodoxy.
 
The CDF has often rightly been accused of not having rid itself of its inquisitorial DNA. Secret accusations, lack of due process and transparency, and high-handed abuse of those deemed to be mistaken (even when those ‘mistakes’ are in fact matters of legitimate theological opinion that merely differ from the legitimate theological opinions of the inquisitors) have characterised the office even, and perhaps especially, in the previous two papacies.
 
So, why would one who generally likes what Pope Francis is doing look to the CDF for help in understanding and evaluating the complaints of those who think he is betraying his role as guardian and enforcer of doctrine?
 
The critics of Pope Francis focus on doctrine and canon law, claiming that he ignores or violates them. However, the place to look is not in the rules, opinions, procedures and actions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but in its name. The name, if not the actions, of the CDF indicate that the critics’ focus is a mistake.
 
The title is Doctrine of the Faith, not Faith of the Doctrine. The main word in the congregation’s title is Faith. Doctrine is derived from faith, depends upon faith and exists for the sake of faith.
 
So, what is faith? Is it assent to a set of propositions? Obedience to commands of God, the Church or Church officials?
 
No, faith is a relationship of love with God the Father in Christ and moved by the Holy Spirit. The model is Jesus who, moved by that Spirit, lived, died and rose in faithfulness to that love.
 
If Jesus be our model, then we must look to how he related to the doctrines that derived from the faith of the Jewish community of which he was a member. In other words, the Law.
 
Even without going into St. Paul’s critique of the Law, we can see in the ministry of Jesus that while he did not repudiate the Law, he made it subject to the demands of his and his followers’ relationship with the Father. In other words, subject to faith.
 
Jesus even went so far as to overrule what may be the prime commandment of the Law, Sabbath observance. In a Catholic context, that would be equivalent to tampering with the rules governing sacramental sharing in the Eucharist. Rules that, unlike the Sabbath rules, are not found in nor based upon scripture.
 
The doctrines of the Church are meant to teach and advance our relationship with God and his people. But they always take second place to that relationship and their value is only to be found in their protecting and advancing that relationship.
 
And so we come back to Pope Francis and his willingness to treat venerable customs and rules as of secondary importance to helping people grow in their relationship with God. His attitude may be due in part to the fact that, unlike his two predecessors, he is a pastor rather than a scholar. 
 
The focus of his ministry has been people rather than texts or concepts.
 
The pope speaks of the Church as a field hospital where imperfect people can begin to find healing without yet becoming perfect in their observance. Observance, which can never be perfect anyway, begins to grow as part of gradual recuperation, not as a prerequisite. It would be a strange hospital, indeed, that only allowed the healthy in.
 
Pope Francis is doing what Jesus did. Jesus upset the scholars of the Law and the Pharisees of his day. Francis does likewise today when blogs have replaced crosses.
 
 


Father William Grimm is the publisher
of UCA News and is based in Tokyo.