Yes, the Pope is Catholic . . . But He Has Also Been Unclear.
Late last month there was a thing going around stating that the Holy Father had denied the truth of the Immaculate Conception during one of his addresses. It was bogus. He never truly denied that Our Lady is immaculate. I remember seeing the original claim/article, reading it along with Francis’ own words, and determined there was no real denial. The below article by Fr. Matthew P. Schneider LC on Patheos clears it up nicely with past papal statements from 2013-2017 that show that the Pope clearly affirms the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. I’ve been meaning to post about this, and even though I’m late I will still provide it here in case some of you heard about this issue but never saw anything that clarified things.
My own take: Checking the actual statement I can see how his words can seem a bit unclear and could lead to the type of misinterpretation that was reported. The unclear nature of it is most likely due to the less formal and precise ways that Francis tends to employ when speaking (even on theological topics). And that’s it in this case. He is trying to express the truth that becoming a Saint is not easy, and Mary (just like all Saints) had to start somewhere and grow in virtue and holiness even as Mary did this in a perfectly sinless way due to her Immaculate Conception. However, the way he expresses this point is not the most precise way, but it is still definitely nowhere close to denying that Mary was immaculately conceived. I think this was blown up by some of his more harsher critics that are ready to jump on him for something at this point due to the various controversies that have occurred over the course of Francis’ term.
That being said though . . .
Now, I love our Papa Francis! He is the Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church; let me make these things clear. I’m down with the Pope just like my About This Page post states. But this leads me to one completely respectful, charitable, and fair critique in regards to the style of Pope Francis. This latest incident (that from what I gathered was rather a small blimp) is one in a number of others in which the Holy Father makes some statement/document in a unclear way, and then speculations about its content could mean (here’s where questions of whether his words go against the teachings of the Church spark up) begin due to its ambiguity and impreciseness, which has at times been due to his informal and off-the-cuff style. The media has often blown things out of proportion, no doubt. But then others have to come and explain what he really meant. (Examples: “Who Am I to Judge?”/Amoris Laetitia footnote/Interpreting his catechism change on the Death Penalty in light of established Church teaching and allowance). Others have pointed out that some of these controversies often go without a formal correction by Francis himself. This is rather unfortunately because we should know what he means, and we should have no doubts about the orthodoxy of his statements. I have gradually came to this critique over the course of his papacy so far because there seems to have been a cycle of this type of thing occurring that has went something like this:
1 – Francis says something unclear but appears to be at least slightly provocative in regards to Church teaching.
2 – The media explodes.
3 – Speculations about its orthodoxy or consistency with his predecessors abound.
4 – Some Catholics line up on opposing sides while confusion reigns.
5 – Vatican issues a clarification, but Francis doesn’t directly respond.
6 – Things die down over time and stay cool
Repeat some time in the future.
But this is not to say that Francis cannot be clear about things at all. I have heard him state things very clearly (like his previous statements on the IC referenced in the article) that are dead on.
Nevertheless, this is more of a stylistic critique to Francis/Jorge Bergoglio the man with his own approach to things and not to the Office of the Bishop of Rome. And to offer fair critiques falls well within having proper respect for the Office. That’s how we can come to the conclusions that Alexander VI’s papacy was a difficult one to endure because of his personal corruption and that Pope Gregory the Great’s or JP2’s papacies were ones marked with sanctity. But the small critique of his style I have does not equate to a total evaluation of Francis’ whole term of course.
Plus, I remain the Church’s loyal son and the Pope’s happy subject as a sheep eager to be shepherded!
What do you think? Have you noticed something similar? Or do you think that the issue has been more so others misperceiving his words? Am I incorrect in any way with my assessment? Do you have any fair suggestions about the ways that Francis could do better or issues you feel he should address?