Scholar calls for discomfort with Francis to spark reflection

Milan, Italy, Sep 27, 2013 / 03:29 pm (CNA).- The discomfort among some Catholics caused by Pope Francis' frank comments in his recent interview with Jesuit publications should become a source of personal reflection, according to a prominent Italian sociologist.

“It is always useful to try to understand, to transform even the discomfort into cultural and political reflection, rather than keeping it in and later spitting it out as poison, as is the case with so many angry comments that now proliferate on the Internet,” Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist of religion, wrote in a letter to the editor of Il Foglio, an Italian daily.

In addition to being a noted sociologist and author, Introvigne is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions, a group of scholars from around the globe who study new religious movements. He is the main author of the Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy and has worked with both the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on matters of religious liberty and persecution.

He is also a leading member of Alleanza Cattolica, a movement which aims to study and to diffuse the Church's social doctrine. His letter can be read in an English translation at CNA in full here.

In his letter, Introvigne highlighted the great continuity between Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, explaining that when reading an interview of a Pope, one must remember that the medium itself – interviews – can be easily misunderstood.

“The way of expressing oneself in an interview is not the same as in an encyclical. It is much easier to find sentences susceptible to being pulled out of context and thrown maliciously onto the front page,” he wrote.

The scholar observed that two main subjects which have caused irritation among the faithful are Pope Francis' comments on the extraordinary form, or Traditional Latin Mass; and his insistence that the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

Regarding the Traditional Latin Mass, Introvigne noted that while Benedict XVI did want to present the riches of this rite to the entire Latin Church and Pope Francis’ comments seem to portray this effort as an attempt to reach small, marginal groups, the current and former Roman Pontiffs are agreed in believing that the Traditional Latin Mass must not be exploited as the center of ideological rejection of the Second Vatican Council.

Introvigne noted that with respect to “life issues,” Pope Francis realizes that “in a world very far from the faith,” he must “begin again from the first announcement” of the Gospel.

“It isn’t that the moral proclamation isn’t part of the Christian message, nor that Francis is thinking about changing doctrine,” the sociologist said. “But moral teaching for the Pope comes after the proclamation of salvation through the mercy of God.”

Rather than accepting the battle ground of morals chosen by secularizing forces, he said, Pope Francis “announces compassion and mercy.”

“Others, who are also uncomfortable about their strategies and priorities, may also permit themselves to be enthused by the heart of the Magisterium of Pope Bergoglio, the invitation to 'go out' and proclaim the faith to those who don’t go to church,” Introvigne wrote.

“That the world needs so many things, but that without the faith one cannot survive, was – after all – also the greatest teaching of Benedict XVI.”

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