Phone Fallout: Prince of the Air vs Jesus’ Teaching 4 UPDATES

Billy Crystal used to do a great bit mimicking Edward G. Robinson in The Ten Commandments:

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An echo of that appeared in my email the other day from a traditionally-minded Catholic who — having taken previous exception to my having “made excuses” for Pope Francis’ very different style — was incensed over the news that the “Cold-call Pope” had done it again, to great general confusion.

The writer was at pains to be civil, but between the lines, I could almost see Edward G. Robinson slipping a stogie in his mouth and jeering, “Ya! Ya! How do you like your Francis, now?”
Well, I like him just fine, thanks, but I do wish he wasn’t so very fond of “making messes.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock,
an Argentine woman wrote a letter to Pope Francis expressing her feelings about being unable to receive Holy Communion because she has been married to a previously-divorced man whose first marriage has — presumably — never been declared sacramentally null.

We presume, because no one really knows anything beyond the fact that Francis called this woman. From there, her husband went on to Facebook and declared that Francis had released her from the church’s doctrine, pronouncing, “you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Not only does that seem highly doubtful, but without solid context, this is fodder for fury, and fury there began.

The Facebook entry, and subsequent reactions, embellishments, and second-guesses, flew from Argentina to Italy to England to the U.S. Imagine a game of telephone: even when played in one language, by the time the last person hears it, the message has become distorted beyond all recognition. Several language translations, combined with the usual high hysteria that characterizes social media can only promise to deepen distortion.

It makes a mess.

As Terry Mattingly notes, no one really knows anything, but that’s not stopping a ton of ink from being spilled, nor a flurry of opinion being formed. Some are raising up Easter hallelujahs that it might be true. Others are leaving awful combox messages at sites I won’t link to, expressing hopes that we’ll “soon see a new pope.”

My correspondent (choosing to ignore the fact that my posting rate is way down from the norm, for many reasons) had assumed that I was ashamed, or embarrassed, by Francis’ move, hence my silence. I’m neither. I just saw no point in writing about a story that everyone is talking about, while knowing next-to-nothing.

I think Dwight Longenecker did a good job of quickly summing things up, laying out how complicated marriage issues can be for a parish priest to address pastorally, given the infinite number of variables and particulars that can attach to individual cases. He also wonders whether the pope understands the boundaries that come with the papal office and simply rejects them, or whether he is simply making mistakes.

Among Francis’ numerous strengths is his clear reliance upon the Holy Spirit and the will of God; he demonstrates this whenever he wanders into crowds, or allows his car to be surrounded by people; he clearly believes that, from one minute to the next, whether he lives or dies is wholly in God’s hands, and so he doesn’t worry about it. That sort of faith is admirable and instructive to all of us, even if it gives his security detail fits.

When bringing that same trust into his cold calls, though, Francis doesn’t have the benefit of any pre-or-post security folk who can provide at least a modicum of crowd control. He talks to someone, that person (or someone nearby) throws it into Facebook and suddenly the “telephone” game begins and everything is unloosed — it is released unto the air, as it were — and that is one of the favorite battlegrounds of the devil, the “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”.

The cold calls, (and for that matter the unusual interviews) in and of themselves, are not problematic in theory. Difficulties arise, however, when people take the pope’s words and begin to paraphrase, either because they have not bothered to take notes, or because (as is entirely possible) the thrill of talking to the pope contributes to only really hearing half of what he is saying.

When that happens, and the conversation is released “over the air”, the evil one gets his greedy hands on it and confusion reigns.

And the confusion is meant to divide; it’s meant to get the faithful shouting at each other, distrusting each other, jeering at each other, calling sides and ultimately undermining the Church’s understanding of Christ’s own words. The house divided against itself will not stand.

I’ve pooh-poohed the fears of some about Francis’ free-wheeling ways, but this incident may lend validity to some of their concerns; his cold-calls are private, pastoral conversations and we have no right to demand transcripts of them, but that means they become open-ended, unprotected conduits for misrepresentation, and even diabolical disorientation.

Think about it: an effective writer with nefarious intentions could compose a heart-rending letter to the Vatican, one that inspires Francis to get on the horn, and then — with a Vatican confirmation that yes, a call took place — the call’s recipient could spout all kinds of nonsense which, unprovable, could lay groundwork for doubt and division. Once those headlines are generated, they are like pillow feathers that — no matter how fast the clarification — can never be wholly collected and put back in place. Do that enough times, and mere chaos grows into open warfare.

I’m not saying that this Argentine lady wrote to the pope with anything but the best intentions. I’m merely imagining how the pope’s fondness for calling people could be exploited, and why the calls so often “make a mess.”

Everything we know about Pope Francis as Cardinal Bergoglio suggests that while he was sympathetic to the need for leadership to find a better way to teach and live “being church”, he was and is no smasher-of-doctrines.

That said, Pope Francis is not stupid. He’s media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda. That leads many to conclude that he either doesn’t care and is content to “make a mess” and let the Holy Spirit sort it out (an idea I reject because I do not believe Francis wants the destructive energy of chaos about him) or that he wants to create a buzz that will influence discussions at the Extraordinary Synod of the Family which will take place in October. That would be a manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic suggesting a pope who works in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.

There is no confusion in Christ, and I believe Bergoglio is Christ’s man, so that scenario, too, I reject.

So, what is Pope Francis about with these cold calls, which open up the Body of Christ to such mayhem?

I keep thinking back to that first instant he came out to the balcony of Saint Peter’s after his election. He looked so dazed and overwhelmed, almost as though he didn’t know where he was; he seemed briefly befuddled, before he found his words.

Adjusting to any transition in life is difficult and the pope is quick to remind us that he is a man, like any other. I wonder if what we’re seeing is simply a pope trying to balance the core elements of his priesthood with the sometimes restricting office into which he has been thrust, and if occasionally — in his bounding, tireless desire to reach out and be present to the flock — he simply forgets that traditional papal discretion, which can seem so moribund, has evolved out of necessity, because the devil always takes what is uncontrolled and sows chaos with it.

I wonder if he really misses being a less visible, more intimately pastoral cleric and if that’s not simply colliding, in some respects, with his new duties. It would be a perfectly human and understandable struggle, and one that should cull from us our prayers for his sake, and for the sake of the church.

UPDATE:
Fr. Dwight has followed up his post
with another that notes some fallout from the phone call:

In this article on the story in London’s Daily Mail the pope is quoted as saying there is “no harm” in the woman receiving communion. The headline writer added to the pope’s words, so his comment now reads. “A little bread and wine ‘does no harm’”. Now, thanks to the papers, the pope is not only undermining the sacrament of marriage but he is referring to the Body of Christ and the Precious Blood as “A little bread and wine.”

Note that this not what the pope said, but a few extra words the headline writer put into the pope’s mouth.

We must therefore be extremely cautious about taking seriously any of the press reports on this story. Through ignorance and malevolence the members of the secular press will distort the church’s teaching any way they can.

On the other hand, the Vatican news office confirmed that the phone call took place and did not deny the gist of the pope’s comments as reported.

I’m a parish priest. Here is some further fallout from this incident at the local level: Yesterday a parishioner with marriage problems reports to me that her aunt called her from New York to say, “It’s okay for you to get divorced because the Pope said divorced people can go to communion. I saw it on the morning talk show!”


The very clearly articulated teaching of Christ Jesus
is now in the clutches of the Prince of the Air, and it is quickly being distorted and trashed. I’m sure that was not the intention of the pope. It’s the Holy Spirit’s province, now, supported by our works and prayers.

All shall be well, by the way.

UPDATE II:
Speaking of “all shall be well”
, that was really brought home to me thanks to this post by Rebecca Hamilton, who is finding herself not caring much about this story because the plate of her life is absolutely overfull with drama and heartache and a number of challenges. Reading her piece is an excellent way to put things in perspective. All the hand-wringing about Francis betrays a fundamental lack of faith — or maybe mere forgetfulness — that the gates of hell shall not prevail over this church. It’s like people saying “what shall we eat, what shall we wear” when Jesus has assured us that our Heavenly Father has it under control and “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

UPDATE III:
And speaking of Matthew, Chapter 6,
Joseph Susanka’s recommended streaming video for this week is particularly apt and timely. After all, if Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and Karol Józef Wojtyła can rise from humble beginnings and many challenges to become great popes and now saints…we may safely trust that God’s plan is both incomprehensible and sure.

Can I get an Amen?

UPDATE IV:
Funny how this headline doesn’t get the same wide coverage
as the other one, innit? Pope emphasizes ‘indissolubility of Christian matrimony’

Pope Francis on April 25 stressed the need for bishops and priests to give a “consistent witness” to Christian moral teaching, including the lifelong nature of Christian marriage, and to teach these truths “with great compassion.”

“The holiness and indissolubility of Christian matrimony, often disintegrating under tremendous pressure from the secular world, must be deepened by clear doctrine and supported by the witness of committed married couples,” Pope Francis said.

“Christian matrimony is a lifelong covenant of love between one man and one woman; it entails real sacrifices in order to turn away from illusory notions of sexual freedom and in order to foster conjugal fidelity.”

Read the whole thing.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • TapestryGarden

    LIke the Woman at the Well, it may be that Pope Francis simply said go and sin no more rather than “Go for it!” There is much confusion about marriage, annulments, divorce. As a member of our parish RCIA team I’ve seen couples who had no idea they would need to receive annulments prior to receiving the Eucharist. This latest episode will just increase the confusion.

    I don’t question the Pope’s actions or words because I wasn’t privy to the conversation. But between the Lesbians having their child baptized and this latest kerfluffle, I think we are just creating confusion, anger, and resentment among those who did as they were told before presenting themselves for Communion. The Holy Father has to know that the secular media LOVES the idea of a family feud over interpretations of what the Pope said, what the Pope meant and whether or not we’ll have women “priests” next year. It’s going to be an interesting papacy.

  • Gordis85

    Thank you for your fine piece…it helps put me more at ease and to keep praying and hoping for Papa Francis.

    Having said that, I still have mixed feelings over this latest event. Sometimes I am okay with it and “leave it to God” other times, I’m irritated and wish Papa Francis would stop with the phone calls and know his boundaries.

    Can you believe that, Elizabeth?

    Me, a fallen and lazy person. Me, a sinner and procrastinator have the audacity to want to tell Papa Francis to “cut the cold calls and know your place.”

    This whole “phone call game” and the “he said/she said” chismes. (gossip in Spanish) has made me see that I must stop in my tracks and try to think and give Papa Francis the benefit of doubt, to pray more and to TRUST more.

    I am having a real challenge doing that especially with so many bells clanging and ringing and alarming and confusing those of us whose feet are not planted on the ground while our eyes and our heart are yearning for heaven.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. ^^

  • Kitchensink33

    I don’t know. It seems like we work hard to make everything this pope does seem ok. Why should we have to work so hard to explain what he meant? They are his words, so it is his responsibility – his mess to clean up. If the media is wrong, he should say it.

  • MeanLizzie

    but that’s just the point. They’re not “his words” we have no idea what “his words” were — all we know is what some guy posted on FB. As you can see from the link from Fr. Dwight, he did not say “a little bread and wine does no harm.” Someone in an office just made that up and put it in a headline. What we DO know are his words are what are highlighted from the final update.

  • Adam Frey

    Elizabeth, you know what’s funny? I just finished watching DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” this week. (I haven’t seen the whole thing in years and wanted to show it to my daughter for Easter.) Imagine my surprise when I realized that Edwin G. Robinson played Dathan. In the film, he’s portrayed as an Egyptian loyalist who fails Pharoah and gets booted out with the Israelites. During Moses’ time on Sinai, he challenges Moses’ authority, inspires the construction of the golden calf, and is swallowed by an earthquake when God calls down God’s anger.

    I had to double-check that against the Bible. It’s not in there! At least not in that form. DeMille may have drawn his portrayal from extraBiblical sources and created a pastiche portrayal of Dathan. The Bible says nothing about Dathan building the golden calf (Aaron did that), and the scene where he gets swallowed by the earthquake doesn’t happen until the Book of Numbers.

    I’m not knocking DeMille’s movie–he’s a filmmaker who had to alter relatively unimportant events for the sake of time and storytelling. I’m just noting that Robinson’s portrayal of Dathan isn’t true to the original. Anyone who considered themselves an expert on the Exodus after watching the movie isn’t as smart as he thinks.

    …just like anyone who thinks the Pope is a heretic based on multi-layered hearsay also doesn’t have it right. Always go to the source!

  • Proteios

    The truly saddest partof al, of this…. A Pope who seems to want to reach put to people on an individual basis. Amazing as that is. Is being twisted. By Satan. Imagine the Pope calling you. I can’t even. But how awesome. But to suppress it by making him feel abused by those wanting to manipulate his words to justif their lifestyle or this perspective. Sad and satanic all at once. Because to me the only one who would see the true threat of the pope reaching out is the same one who would chastise a poor sinner from touching Christs garment. The one who inprisons them in sin. When the pope calls. Keep it to yourself. And enjoy.

  • Kitchensink33

    They are his words. They are his words interpreted by the person with whom he spoke. If the woman misunderstood him, then he should clarify for the rest of us.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Pope Francis reminds me of a type of leader who has trouble trusting his underlings. Why did he feel the need to call this woman? The parish priest handled it, and if wasn’t enough for the woman then dioceses Bishop should have handled it. Anyway I’m getting used to the confusion. One just has to trust in Providence and have faith it will all work out. But the Holy Father certainly makes me nervous.

  • Joseph

    In the movie, Aaron builds the Golden Calf, though he is forced to do so by Dathan and the rebellious Israelites. DeMille does use extra-biblical sources, some of which are featured prominently in the opening credits. Moses is portrayed as something of an action hero, which he was not, but that does not detract from the movie’s entertainment value, nor from the legacy of Moses and the Exodus.

  • Wally Noon

    A lifelong marriage is it’s own reward, sadly one that not everyone achieves. An offense that we commit against ourselves and our children, not God. The divorced are miserable. The multiply divorced, most miserable of all. Must we hurt them even more through ostracization and exclusion from church life? How does this help children already injured?

    A little bread, a little wine. What can it hurt, indeed? Good pope. Brave pope. Church is for every one of us, weak and strong, good and bad. Whole and broken. If it’s not, then it’s not for me.

  • Jane the Actuary

    I’ve really been struggling with the whole question of how we, as Christians, should react to the fact that sacramental marriage is increasingly becoming quite separate from secular marriage: the former oriented towards children and requiring lifelong fidelity; the latter, we’re incessantly told now, having no connection whatsoever to children, lasting only as long as both partners are happy, and not even requiring sexual fidelity (per periodic human-interest stories on CNN about swingers and polyamorists, if nothing else), and undertaken for social recognition and government benefits.

    This gulf makes the notion of indissoluable marriage quite incomprehensible to most of society — and, I’m afraid makes it all the more difficult for a young Catholic couple to wholly commit, not just on paper, to a sacramental marriage.

    There have been repeated statements (admittedly, to be sure, in the secular press) that the Pope is about to make a big change in church practices towards divorce, remarriage, and annulments, and I wonder if he is, or will be, responding in some way to this growing rift between secular and sacramental marriage.

    http://janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2014/04/thinking-through-couple-items-on.html

  • Nicholas Dyson

    Why is it that since the second Vatican council the church seems to keep finding all these grey areas there are none Christ said you cannot serve two masters

  • Clint

    Dear Elizabeth

    With huge respect for the way in which you present your arguments, and your love and respect for the Pope, for how long are we going to carry on making excuses and looking for explanations for what is clearly becoming a theological train-wreck?? We who are what seem to be the small minority of Catholics who have been rattled by this pontificate take no delight in the fact that with each passing week the fudgy statements, folksiness and woolly thinking just get worse and worse. We have a serious problem on our hands; is somebody, anybody in the Vatican going to address it?

  • PB-in-AL

    In reply to the fourth update read out loud by my wife, I says to her I says, “let’s conjugate, my love…. Amo, amas, amat….”

    Chuckling and a rolling of the eyes ensued. Twenty-four years and counting of putting up with my cheesy jokes have been the least of the struggle of staying married, central to it all has always been our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Without that we’d have been done a looong time ago.

  • http://www.steveskojec.com/ Steve Skojec

    The most plausible explanation you present is the one you reject out of hand:

    “Pope Francis is not stupid. He’s media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda. That leads many to conclude that he either doesn’t care and is content to “make a mess” and let the Holy Spirit sort it out (an idea I reject because I do not believe Francis wants the destructive energy of chaos about him) or that he wants to create a buzz that will influence discussions at the Extraordinary Synod of the Family which will take place in October. That would be a manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic suggesting a pope who works in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.”

    I agree. He’s not stupid. He’s media savvy. He knows what is happening as a result. He could quash what is happening with a simple statement, yet he chooses not to. The synod is coming, and this clearly prepares the way for Cardinal Kasper and his “serene theology” on the issue.

    Why is it so hard to call it a duck when it walks the walk and talks the talk?

    This pope is like every other exploiter of the “Spirit of Vatican II”. Revolution through misdirection, ambiguity, and contradiction.

    You’re right, though. All this confusion and division isn’t coming from God.


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