January 24, 2018, 1:48 am
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Why Pope Francis does not answer his critics

In their latest “filial correction” of Pope Francis by a group of theologians and church laymen, both clergy and laity have expressed concerns about the Pope’s teaching, particularly emanating from Amoris Laetitia.

Despite the repeated pleas and warnings of chaos and confusion, Fr.Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest, author and broadcaster, explained in an article why the Pope has refused to respond or acknowledge the initiatives. Here are pertinent excerpts from it: 

They said the apostolic exhortation contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”

They pointed out that a clarification of Amoris Laetitia was “clearly needed” in the wake of “widespread” differing interpretations of the apostolic exhortation.

The Pope’s response, Fr.Longenecker noted, seems to ignore and marginalize his critics. For many this is surprising since Pope Francis has always spoken passionately about the need to listen to others and engage in dialogue. 

It is also surprising since Austen Ivereigh–Pope Francis’ biographer–has claimed repeatedly that Pope Francis “welcomes criticism.”

Critics of propositional faith also believe that it is divisive. If “the encounter with Christ” is emphasized rather than propositional formulas of doctrine and morals, we will connect better with non-Catholic Christians and people of faith and goodwill who are outside the boundaries of Christian belief. In other words, “doctrine is divisive” but if we focus on religious experience we are more likely to find common ground.

In reading the Gospel it is difficult not to sympathize with those who criticize “propositional faith.” After all, Jesus’ main opponents were the religious people who were indeed legalistic, judgmental and bound to their laws and man- made traditions. 

Jesus, on the other hand, waded in and “made a mess” to use Francis’ terminology. He defied the legalistic technicalities, met people where they were and brought healing, compassion and forgiveness.

Why then does Pope Francis not answer his critics? I believe, Fr. Longenecker said, it is because he is not in favour of “propositional faith”. He wants Catholics to move beyond the technicalities, the details of doctrine and the constrictions of Canon Law to live out a Catholic life more like Jesus’–allowing for the complications and ambiguities of real life, meeting real people who face difficult decisions and are trying to be close to God while tiptoeing through the legalities and rules of being a Catholic Christian.

In other words, Fr.Longenecker noted, Pope Francis does not answer his critics because he does not wish to play their game. He does not wish to be drawn into their legalistic arguments. That is why he lets his statements stand without further clarification. That is why he does answer the “corrections” he receives.

I expect the Pope believes the teaching of the church is clear. He has not contradicted it, so is no further need for discussion and debate.

Instead he wants us to live and get on with the complicated business of bringing Jesus Christ to people who are tied up in sometimes messy business of life.

As a pastor, Fr. Longenecker concluded in his article, I understand this and am sympathetic to what I believe Pope Francis is trying to do.


Quote of the Day: “Amoris Laetetia is a post-symdal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis. It means the ‘Joy of Love’ in Latin.”  – From Concise Oxford Dictionary
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