Posts Tagged ‘Religion & Media’

What the Holy Father Said

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Well, since everybody else is talking about it, I guess I should.

I’m speaking about, of course, the Holy Father’s remarks to the journalists on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Brazil.

Since I finally got to read the whole text of his conversation, it’s a good time to weigh in with a half-dozen or so of my own observations.

For one, the Pope was visibly “on a high” from his first international pastoral visit in Rio.  Understandably so.  Because I was there with him, I can verify that the superlatives being used — “oceanic” crowds, “frenzied” welcomes, “inspirational, heartfelt” words — are not exaggerations at all.

After the conclave, one of my brother cardinals predicted to me that, as Pope John Paul II “won back” the formerly communist controlled “Eastern bloc” countries, Pope Francis would revive the Church on his home continent of Latin America.  From what we saw in Brazil, he’s sure off to a great start.

In Rio, he was so positive, upbeat, forward looking, realistic, and challenging.  Look at his heartfelt pleas for “a Church that is poor and for the poor” as he visited hovels in the favela; his rejection of a “throwaway culture” that marginalizes elders, youth, babies, weak, handicapped, and refugees; his embrace of a “youthful, energetic faith,” with 3,000,000 young people giving the lie to the stereotype of a withered, listless, moribund Church; and his ringing chant that “lasting hope and joy comes from our faith in Jesus, from a God who enjoys surprising us.”

Two, mercy is the word that seems to summarize Francis’ talks:  both God’s tender mercy for us, and the mercy He wants us to have for one another.  I recalled his first Angelus in Rome after the white smoke, when he spoke of God’s lavish mercy, and his homily at his inaugural Mass on St. Joseph’s Day, when he asked us to be tender.

This mercy flows, not instead of or in spite of the Church, but through her!  This pastor reminds us that Jesus Christ and His Church are one.

Mercy, he claims, is not just for those who show-up.  No, says the world’s parish priest, “We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us; we go out and reach for them.”

Three, mercy was not just the theme of those radiant World Youth Days in Rio, but also of his now renowned hour-and-twenty minute comfortable conversation with the press on the plane.

So, his brief remarks on homosexuality were about mercy:  everyone has a welcome home in the Church; the Church considers unjust discrimination against any homosexual a sin;  and homosexual acts, which are contrary to Revelation — as are heterosexual acts outside of lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriage between one man and one woman — can always be healed by God’s mercy.  And when God’s mercy is sought, it is always given, the sin wiped away and forgotten; because of this, nobody — not the Pope, not a bishop, not a priest — can judge another!  Actions?  Yes; the heart? No.  No change in Church teaching here . . . or no intended “correction” to a more “dour” approach by his predecessors.  After all, it was under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that the Catechism was composed, which reminded us that people with same sex attraction were as much God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, as anybody else.

Four, his comments on the alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican were perceptive.  What bothers him is any lobby.  There can be only one agenda in the Church:  that of Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His Church.  He even praised the favorite “whipping boy” of all of us — bishops included — the Curia, which is made up, he insisted, of a vast majority of selfless, generous, virtuous priests and people, with, okay, a few lemons.

Then, five, there’s his reaffirmation of the need for a “theology of women,” who hardly need a Roman collar to lead and serve in the Church.  After all, Pope Francis reminds us, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “is the most important of all the apostles.”

A few final words.

One wonders if the Holy Father is frustrated by all this attention to his interview.  For six days he spoke powerfully about lofty issues such as friendship, service, trust, joy, hope, love for the poor, humility, discipleship, faith, and simplicity.  Those words got a bit of coverage.  The “hot button” issues such as women’s ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, or celibacy, as I noted in my blog Monday, did not seem of any concern to the three million youth, or to their beloved Pope Francis.

But, as usual, the press predictably brought these weary issues up, and have given them more ink than any of the other noble themes that rang through Copacabana Beach.  It’s not the Church that is obsessed with those topics, but the media!

And haunting all of the coverage is the hint that we now finally have a Pope who will change the Church’s ageless teaching.  Of course, Catholics know that the Pope, like all of us, is a servant of the truth of the Gospel, not a crafter.  Doctrine is a given; it is settled, inherited, faithfully passed on.  That’s his duty, and he’s sure doing it well.  As Gayle King commented during our interview on CBS This Morning yesterday, “This really seems a change in style rather than substance.”  Bingo!  And the change I find refreshing!

Then the very event of a Pope comfortably, glibly, confidently visiting and dialoguing with the press!  That in itself, as more than one journalist remarked to me here in New York, is what’s really “revolutionary.”

Preserving Our Faith

Monday, August 1st, 2011

The headline was so familiar: Yet another group was “challenging the Vatican” on something, this time, on upholding the timeless teaching of the Church that only men are called to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

One can’t really find too much fault with the content of the article, namely that some small groups in North America, Austria, and Australia, the usual lineup, are protesting this particular teaching of the Church.

What one does find frustrating is the tenor of the headline and the article that “the Vatican” has these bizarre, outmoded, oppressive “policies” that need to be “revised” so that such “guidelines of Rome” are brought more in line with enlightened thinking of today.

One would think that leaders in “the Vatican” occasionally meet to decide what “rules” they should issue or reinforce today, or what changes in procedure they should introduce to guarantee that the Church is more relevant.

While this seems to be the presumption of most people who attempt to report on the Church, it is, indeed, a presumption that is invalid.

“The Vatican” is a plot of ground the size of an eighteen-hole golf course on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome.  It happens also to be the home of the successor to the man buried on this acreage under the splendid basilica which bears his name, St. Peter’s.

These 108 acres, “the Vatican” have absolutely no authority at all to alter the teaching of the Church.  Its sacred duty, rather, is to preserve and hand on the deposit of faith we have received from revelation, from the Bible, from Jesus, from His apostles.

So, to imply that the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, and his closest aides regularly meet as some political entity to read the latest poll and “change Church policy,” like that of ordaining only men, is silly.

Call it whatever you went — “the Vatican,” “Rome,” “the Pope,” “the Holy See,” “the Magisterium” — whatever you call it, it does not “make up,” “change,” or “issue” new doctrines.  It inherits them, receives them, “handed on” (from the Latin word tradiitio,) by Tradition.

Yes, it may rethink how the truth entrusted to it might be better explained, or more credibly presented, or expressed in a more contemporary way.

Yes, it might become concerned when it’s clear that a good chunk of people no longer follow a particular teaching or moral precept.

But it does not then call a meeting and vote whether or not to change the teaching.

At times it – “the Vatican,” “Rome,” “the Pope,” “the Holy See,” “the Magisterium” — might even wish it could change certain teachings.  For instance, I would wager most bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral leaders, and maybe even the Holy Father himself has, at one time or another wished the Church could alter the teaching of Jesus that marriage is forever, and that one cannot break that sacred bond asunder.

But it can’t, because it didn’t make up the teaching to begin with.

So, plug in whatever word you want in the boilerplate headline: “Group Challenges Vatican on its Policy of __________________” — abortion, marriage, euthanasia, lying, stealing, artificial contraception, sexual acts outside of marriage, ordination of women — fill in the “flavor of the day,” but the headline is still inaccurate: these are not “policies” decided by some person in the Vatican; these are not “bans” put out by some committee.  These are doctrines, timeless teachings not ours to alter.

It sometimes seems as if many view the Church as a political institution, with a new pope or new bishop able to set out his own positions and priorities the way an incoming president or governor would.  Back in 2009, for instance, when I was appointed Archbishop of New York, I was asked by a reporter how my “policy” on gay “marriage” would differ from the “policy” of Cardinal Egan.  I tried to explain, as gently as I could, that the responsibility of any bishop is to clearly and charitably articulate the teaching of the Church, not to establish “policy” on which teaching he will follow and which teaching he will change.

To be clear, yes, the Church does have some “policies” that can be changed, for instance, abstinence of meat on Friday, fasting from food before Holy Communion, or even priestly celibacy.  These indeed are part of the Church’s discipline — still not to be dismissed lightly — and can be modified, and there are so many other areas of pastoral strategy where we need vigorous discussion and fresh ideas.

But, sorry, not in the area of doctrine, not part of the Church’s received Tradition.  Some might protest, take out ads, have yet another meeting.  Go ahead.  But, they should at least be accurate: don’t blame “the Vatican” for doctrines you don’t like.  Blame Revelation, the Bible, Jesus, and Sacred Tradition.  “The Vatican” does not “make-up” teaching, but only passes it on.

In the end, of course, our challenge is not to change the teachings of Jesus and His Church to conform to our whims, but to change our lives to conform to His teaching.

That’s a headline you won’t see.