The Pope has given another interview. I got a text from a friend of mine telling me about it and I could hear the remorseless groan wafting through cyberspace or whatever that thing is that sends texts flying around the world. But no need to groan, this is a welcome interview conducted by the reliable Andrea Tornelli, and in it the Holy Father clarifies a number of issues - clarifications which are badly needed and may knock down some resistance to him.
Here is the text of the interview. Of all the commentators I direct you to Jimmy Aiken who provides a brief and clear summary of the main controversial issues.
But in brief:
The Pope is not a Marxist, and he believes Marxism is wrong. Note that he does not say that Marxism is misguided or erroneous: he does not offer a brief rebuttal of Marxist theory, he uses a word that not only says it is incorrect, but also makes a moral judgment of the system. But, as always, he sees the human beings in the midst of it and he makes a distinction between Marxism and those who follow it, and sees that they can be good people.
The Pope is not going to make women cardinals. That, he said, would be a clericalization of the laity and the clericalization of women. I hear an echo of Blessed John Paul II's writings on the laity and on women in particular in which he acknowledged the unique and venerable role of the laity: clericalizing the laity is ultimately a denial of the lay state and its place in the mission of the Church. The way forward is to see how the laity may be incorporated more into the mission of the Church without making them faux-clerics. Of course I'm not sure if people are aware of this or not, but this will mean a lot more work being put on the shoulders of the laity and that will effect personal and family time. At the end of the day the mission of the Church is not about power, it is about service, and those who want a greater role in the life of the Church had better get ready to abandon themselves to a greater service: believe me, I know! And the reality of a life of service is not about self-affirmation and self-fulfilment, it about self-denial and sacrifice - lots of sacrifices. And perhaps, as the laity take up a greater share of the work it may eventually be seen why God calls certain individuals to a celibate life of total service with no other obligations or responsibilities other than complete availability to service in the Church (with little or no pay!).
It seems the Pope is not in favour of the German bishops's plans to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried. Or at least that is what I discern from his comments on the issue. Francis says clearly: "The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction": it not a punishment imposed by the Church, rather, as Jimmy Aiken correctly points out: "The exclusion is caused by the fact that people who are civilly remarried are not validly married in the eyes of the Church...As a result, unless they are living as brother and sister, they are committing grave sexual sin and it is the grave sexual sin that creates the barrier to receiving Holy Communion." As I said before, it is a moral issue and the Pope cannot (cannot not won't) change the moral law. It does not mean we are not to be compassionate or exclude people in these unions from the life of the Church, no, but there is a problem that excludes them from full sacramental participation and that element of exclusion will remain until the problem is resolved.
Those issues aside, there is some lovely stuff in the interview, including his reflection on Christmas which I think is worth quoting:
For me Christmas is hope and tenderness...
It is the encounter Jesus. God has always sought out his people, led them, looked after them and promised to be always be close to them. The Book of Deuteronomy says that God walks with us; he takes us by the hand like a father does with his child. This is a beautiful thing. Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation. Many times after the midnight mass I have spent an hour or so alone in the chapel before celebrating the dawn mass. I experienced a profound feeling of consolation and peace. I remember one night of prayer after a mass in the Astalli residence for refugees in Rome, it was Christmas 1974 I think. For me Christmas has always been about this; contemplating the visit of God to his people.
It speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking towards the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenceless that is. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has towards us.
Now that is lovely. I note the scud against ideology and worldly values. I think Francis wants all of us see ourselves as the salt of the earth and light of the world, a people who are different, a people who challenge the world through holy lives. That may well be the key to our survival as Western civilisation collapses under the weight of decadence and greed.
And on another issue: Pope Francis is urging greater adherence to the Sacrament of Confession. He is asking his curial staff to spend time in the confessional in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, the Divine Mercy Church in Rome. And if he wants more priests hearing confession he certainly wants more Catholics coming to the Sacrament. I hope all his liberal fans will heed that call. Let's hope that his admirers in the media will be forming an appropriately repentant queue (with the rest of us!)at the nearest confessional very soon. I would be more than happy to make myself available to shrive the denizens of RTE and the Irish Times in time for Christmas. We'll see how the new papalists respond to that invitation!