Pope Francis pauses during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 15, 2022. CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters

Editorial: Pick a faith lane, Your Holiness

  • June 24, 2022

Pope Francis last week issued a welcome call for Catholic theologians to transmit the truths of the faith in a way that will help those of faith live the faith in their daily lives.

But perhaps some theologian somewhere, in answering the call, could whisper in the Holy Father’s ear that it would be helpful to the effort if he ceased dropping random faith-bombs that leave the faithful utterly mystified.

Since his 2013 succession of Benedict XVI, Francis has unquestionably effected enormous good. His early urging that Catholics must stop encountering Christ with faces set as if they are just returning from a funeral was a vital exhortation to fulfill the joy of the Gospel. His great encyclical Laudato Si’ gave the weight of the papacy to engaging nature with holistic holiness. The humility he shows by coming to Canada seeking forgiveness for Catholic sins against Indigenous people is Christian to its core and physically courageous given the pain he suffers just walking.

Negating none of that, it must also be said that Francis’ years as the Vicar of Christ on Earth have caused on occasion unnecessary, unnerving, even destabilizing tumult, starting with his refusal to accept the very appellation that qualifies papal succession, then extending to his infamous “who am I to judge?” response to a question about homosexuality in the Church.

The response to his response, of course, would normally be: “You are the Roman Catholic Vicar of Christ, and as such responsible for and obedient to the deposit of faith extended by Tradition through the Apostles from Christ.”

Yet at times over nine years, the deposit of faith has seemed more like a trading floor of fashionable ideologies. What’s new is eminently valued. What has endured as a foundational belief is often derided as shopworn moralism. Is that why so many faithful become occluded-eyed with bafflement, rather than raising their eyes to Heaven in veneration and wonder, when Francis speaks? Is it why, as Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote last spring in the National Catholic Register, the German Church seems fatefully bound for schism as radical theologies are pressed by new-think theologians whom Francis cannot thwart with the certainty Benedict possessed?

Both seem reasonable possibilities when the “truths” Francis urges Catholic theologians to transmit come with his derisory observation that, “Sometimes the sermons or catechesis we hear are mostly composed of moralism and are not ‘theological’ enough, that is, able to speak to us about God and to answer the questions of meaning that accompany people’s lives, and which we often do not have the courage to formulate openly.”

The sentence reveals a stunning lapse of understanding that the faithful look to the Church not for moralistic nostrums but for the foundation of moral life. To constantly buckle that foundation with novel theologies doesn’t just upend the daily lives of the faithful. It leads them, staggering, for the exits.

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