05 August 2015
The Pope knows the power of leaving people guessing
Where do Pope Francis’ remarks today on the divorced and remarried leave the debate?
On Wednesday's General Audience he addressed the topic once again.
“The Church knows well that such a situation [divorced and remarried couples] contradicts the Christian Sacrament,” he said before explaining: “However, her look of teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons.”
Many have argued he is personally in favour of a development of Church teaching in this area. After all, his papacy has been characterised by mercy and last year he chose Cardinal Walter Kasper to address cardinals on the theological arguments behind allowing admitting the divorced and remarried to communion.
Those in favour of a change will be encouraged by his emphasis at today’s general audience that the divorced and remarried are “not excommunicated.” And they will also like his point that the children of the divorced and remarried are the ones who suffer if their parents are “held at a distance” by the Church.
But his comments can be read both ways.
In his remarks Francis said divorce and remarriage “contradicts” the sacrament of marriage and quoted Benedict XVI who in 2012 said there were no “simple recipes” for admitting the remarried back to Communion. Is the Pope saying that church teaching should stay the same but be presented more mercifully?
And in what he said today Francis is clearly preparing the ground for October’s Synod on the Family where this question is likely to re-emerge. The force of the opposition against such a change at last year’s gathering may have surprised him.
Perhaps it is his Jesuit formation, but a characteristic of Jorge Bergolio is his capacity to leave people guessing about what he really thinks. In a 2005 profile of Bergoglio, Jose Maria Poirier described him as being able to “move pieces along with the best chess players” while his former press secretary Guillermo Marco said in a RTE documentary the Pope’s “head is like a game of thrones, in a good way,” a reference to the fantasy television series about warring noble families.
The synod in October is set up for a battle that might at times resemble those from the television series, and some bishops may urge Francis to impose his will on the synod. This appears unlikely given his collegial approach and his belief that processes are as important as the outcomes. His leadership over the production of the Latin American bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document – the manifesto for the contemporary Latin American Church – is an example of that collegiality in action.
At the last synod his only intervention was to encourage those participating to speak freely, while he listened. Sometimes the best strategy for a pope is to remain silent.
Christopher Lamb is The Tablet's Assistant Editor (Home News)
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