By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
Pope Francis granted an interview to journalists on the flight back to Rome after his Holy Land pilgrimage. Longtime Vatican journalist John L. Allen Jr. weighed the pros and cons of “letting it all hang out,” as he called it, in a subsequent Boston Globe article. Popes rarely if ever granted interviews without first having had an opportunity to review the proposed questions. Pope Francis has eschewed this kind of caution and did so again in a repeat of his blockbuster interview on the plane returning from World Youth Day in Rio.
One of the cons was that Pope Francis let slip word for the first time that he plans to meet with sexual abuse victims and gave a date for the encounter in early June. Pressure has been intense for the Pope to offer some such gesture and no doubt he has been feeling it. But immediately after news sources published the interview, Sean Cardinal O’Malley’s office in Boston confirmed the date but insisted it wasn’t set. O’Malley will join the Pope for the planned event. A later printed text of the Pope’s in-flight remarks from the Vatican replaced the June date with a less specific “soon.”
Allen reminds us that Pope Benedict XVI “held six meetings with abuse victims but that none were announced until after they had occurred in order to avoid the appearance of a publicity stunt or a media circus.”
Sensitivity to the victims entails leaving to their decision the option of preserving anonymity or not doing so in order to interact with the press in connection with such a pastoral initiative. Announcing the meeting beforehand might serve to ease a little the public pressure on the Pope while at the same possibly jeopardizing the pastoral nature of the event itself. No doubt Pope Francis is contemplating these very realities at this moment in the aftermath of the interview.
The Pope, speaking about the upcoming fall synod on the family, said, “I do not like that many have said the synod is about remarried divorcees,” clarifying that he does not want the entire process, designed as it is to deal with the family and family problems as a whole, “reduced to a case study” upon whether remarried divorcees can receive Communion or not. Pope Francis asks that the synod be seen as treating the totality of the family and the problems it faces today. He said “marriage is in crisis, and therefore the family is too. The problem of family pastoral care is very broad.”
His remarks are a repeat of his concern in convoking the synod on the family and his desire that the priorities for the synod address in a “broad” way the problems and challenges faced by the family.
In regard to the divorced the Pope reminded us that “divorcees are not excommunicated, and very often they are treated as if they are.” Pastoral sensitivity does not place but rather removes barriers to reception of the sacraments, and this includes awareness of what constitutes a true impediment and what does not.
The Pope’s interview also reminded us that we must continue to pray through Pius XII’s intercession for a miracle. The Pope said that the “cause is open,” but as yet there is “no miracle” so that at this time it is “not possible to go ahead.”
On celibacy, Pope Francis reiterated that “celibacy is not a dogma, but rule of life I greatly appreciate, a gift for the Church.” He also said that because the Church discipline is not a dogma that “the door always remains open” to changing the practice. His comments make it seem unlikely, however, that this is something he will pursue. It would be somewhat strange for a priest and Pope, himself celibate for so many years and who so effectively demonstrates himself the benefits of celibacy for the Church, to pursue a policy which counters his own personal and compelling witness within that very discipline.
The Pope again criticized the economic system “with money at the center” which as result, “carries out various ‘waste’ measures,” which means that “children are discarded, there is a low birthrate, and the elderly are abandoned.” His comments indicate that pastors might want in caring for families at the pastoral level to work to discourage this mindset within the family. Perhaps family problems stem from the adoption of this point of view where money is pursued as an end rather than a means for food, clothing, shelter, and other things which are limited by nature. And being temporal, they do not merit displacing our relationship with God.
Desecration of the Lord’s Day by unnecessary shopping and servile work also tear at the fabric of family life. The lack of proper order in one’s relationship with God and disregard for the Commandments should be the solid basis for the family and not a luxury or occasional pursuit.
Pope Francis’ now famous spontaneity both endears him to many around the world as well as perhaps frustrating some of his Vatican and ecclesial co-workers, sometimes scrambling as they are to correct or refine the information he provides.
But no doubt the Vicar of Christ has often found that impulse to be a gift as he said was so for his most meaningful gestures in the Holy Land, such as pausing at the wall of separation between Palestinians and Jews. His off-the-cuff request to stop the car and the resulting moment of prayer with his head touching the wall no doubt touched many whose lives and aspirations are imprisoned by the walls of other men. The photos of this moment have sparked hope in the hearts of many that Pope Francis will continue to pray and struggle for their earthly peace as well as their heavenly rest.
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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)