Candid Insights to Pope Francis’ Theology and Pastoral Approach

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On June 6, 2013, Pope Francis received the presiding board of the Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos y Religiosas (CLAR) (the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women). An unauthorized transcript of the Pope’s words was made by those present, and it has been leaked to the public.  Many media reports focused on Pope Francis’ offhanded statement about the “gay lobby” in the Vatican.  However, there are far more interesting statements made by Pope Francis that provide a very interesting insight to his theology, his pastoral approach and his vision for the Church.

You can read a full English translation of report here, but below are some of the most interesting excerpts, together with my commentary:

“They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, 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… (emphasis added) [Comment: This is fascinating on a couple of levels.  First, Pope Francis is encouraging the religious to push the envelope in spreading the Gospel, and not overly worry about making a theological or doctrinal mistake.  This is a big theme for Pope Francis and one of the stylistic differences from Pope Benedict.  Pope Benedict was very careful in his statements and would provide the full context of an issue in several pages, which do not easily translate to soundbites.  The press would take selected statements of Pope Benedict out of context.  In contrast, Pope Francis seems much more comfortable giving soundbites without their full context.  The latter may not be as theologically precise or fulfilling, but it more effectively uses current media.  Second, Pope Francis downplays the consequences of receiving a letter from the CDF.  This validates something I have long suspected; that the CDF will maintain its role of protecting the orthodoxy, the implications of straying off the rails are not a big deal.  A recent example is the different approaches that Joseph Ratzinger took when he was head of the CDF and later when he became Pope Benedict.  As head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger developed a reputation as a hardliner (“God’s rottweiler”).  However, as Pope Benedict, he focused more on the big picture of Christianity, writing some of the most beautiful and open encyclicals in recent memory.  Moreover, Pope Benedict worked hard at reaching out to those who not share the Church’s views, whether it be the SSPX or atheists.  Pope Francis is just making explicit the various roles of the CDF in the context of the overall message of spreading the Gospel.  Pope Francis will lay out the doctrinal siderails below.] .

It is necessary to shake things up. It is not news that an old man dies of cold in Ottaviano [Rorate note: referring to the surroundings of via Ottaviano and the Ottaviano Rome Metro station, near the Vatican], or that there be so many children with no education, or hungry, I think of Argentina…On the other hand, the main stock exchanges go up or down 3 points, and this is a world event. One must shake things up! This cannot be. Computers are not made in the image and likeness of God; they are an instrument, yes, but nothing more. Money is not image and likeness of God. Only the person is image and likeness of God. It is necessary to flip it over. This is the gospel. (emphasis added) [Comment: Pope Francis is clearly a man of action and he is calling for all Christians to be very proactive in spreading the Gospel message].

It is necessary to go to the causes, to the roots. Abortion is bad, but that is clear. But behind the approval of this law, what interests are behind it… they are at times the conditions posed by the great organizations to support with money, you know that? It is necessary to go to the causes, we cannot remain only in the symptoms. Do not be afraid to denounce… you will suffer, you will have problems, but do not be afraid to denounce, that is the prophecy of religious life… [Comment: Pope Francis is strongly advocating going after the institutional sin of contemporary society.  It is not enough for Christians to sit on the sidelines focusing on personal piety or to march on abortion clinics. We need to address the institutional causes of consumerism (treating a human as less than human), poverty and despair.] 

I share with you two concerns.  [Pope Francis is laying out the doctrinal siderails for Christians, both of which are prevalent in Christianity today.  The common theme for both of these siderails is an intense focus on making Christ the center of your prayer life.]

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… [Comment:  Pope Francis is calling for a pure spirituality of asking for God’s grace and living the Gospel; not a “check-the-box so I can go to heaven” mentality.  Pope Francis theology, similar to his predecessors of the last 70 years, are describing Christianity as a love story with Christ and an engagement with the world, not a form of personal piety]

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! What happens to the poor, their pains, this is our flesh… [Comment: Pope Francis is describing the other siderail; ignoring Christ and adopting a vague form of spiritualism.  Christianity is a unique religion in that it makes a radical claim that the universal energy or Logos, became human.  To ignore or downplay this Truth is to ignore the calling that God has for us in this world; with its focus on serving others, especially those most vulnerable.] 

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… [Comment:  The poor are the Gospel!  Pope Francis is living up to his namesake by focusing on the castoffs of society.]

* * *

Pray for me… that I make mistakes the least possible… [Pope Francis’ humility shines through.  Moreover, he again emphasizes that it OK to make mistakes as long as you are trying to live the Gospel].

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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2 Responses to Candid Insights to Pope Francis’ Theology and Pastoral Approach

  1. One of the Pope’s comments made me wonder about the theological implications of human’s creating AI (artificial intelligence). If man is made in God’s Image, and man makes AI with free will in OUR image, wouldn’t it be proper to say that the AI is created in God’s image as well?

    Or put another way, if God wanted to give a machine a soul, couldn’t he do it?

    • Hi Patrick:

      These are fascinating questions that are beginning to enter into theological discussions. I have not read a lot in this area so can not speak intelligently, but theologians such as Ilia Delio and Ronald Cole-Turner have written on the theological implications of AI, or transhumanism.

      My interest in AI ties in nicely with my science fiction interests, primarily Battlestar Galactica and, to a lesser extent, Star Trek The Next Generation. Both of these series discuss in depth AI and what it means to be human. I am hoping to do a Theology of Battlestar Galactica eventually:-)

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