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Pope Francis: Catholic Orthodoxy No Big Deal

My orthodox Catholic friends are doubleplus unhappy with the reported remarks of Pope Francis. Here’s the report from Rocco Palmo; here, from Rorate Caeli, is the annotated transcript of his unscripted meeting with Latin American religious.

What’s upset orthodox Catholics is that the Holy Father told the Latin American religious not to take instructions from the CDF (the Church’s doctrinal watchdog) seriously:

They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder [meter la pata], this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing… But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward… Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up…

This is breathtaking stuff; the Pope is saying that orthodoxy is not that important, and he’s undermining the teaching authority of his office. I think I can see what Francis is getting at, but in a time of intense doctrinal confusion and defiance of authoritative Catholic teaching, was this really the thing to say? Poor Pope Ratzinger is probably lying in bed with the shades drawn over all this.

The Pope spoke of Curial corruption, including the presence of  a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. He also talked of the problem of extremes in the life of the Church. This is interesting:

I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…

The second [concern] is for a Gnostic current. Those Pantheisms… Both are elite currents, but this one is of a more educated elite… I heard of a superior general that prompted the sisters of her congregation to not pray in the morning, but to spiritually bathe in the cosmos, things like that… They concern me because they ignore the incarnation! And the Son of God became our flesh, the Word was made flesh, and in Latin America we have flesh abundantly [de tirar al techo]! What happens to the poor, their pains, this is our flesh…

The gospel is not the old rule, nor this Pantheism. If you look at the periphery; the destitute… the drug addicts! The traffic of people… This is the gospel. The poor are the gospel…

He’s not entirely wrong about this. In the case of the former, he is condemning a certain Pharisaical tendency among Traditionalists to exalt the form of the faith over its spirit. Traditionalists can be quite rigid, no doubt about it. On the other hand, in countries like France, I am told that more or less the only Catholics who still go to mass are the Traditionalists. It seems to me a scandalously false equivalence, to say that the Trads are equally a problem to the integrity and vitality of the Catholic faith than these pantheistic New Agers. Besides, who has more power within the institutional structures of the Catholic Church today: people sympathetic to the Trads, or people sympathetic to what the Pope calls the “Pantheists”?

It’s bizarre for the Pope to forget that a prime reason the CDF came in to investigate the American nuns was over the “pantheistic” element taking over the US women’s religious orders. As recently as April, Pope Francis reaffirmed the CDF’s judgment on the American nuns — yet his recent remarks utterly undermine that ruling.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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