Regarding the present controversy between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke, I think only good can come from answering the questions, or “dubia” raised by Burke and three Cardinals Emeritus. This is a big reason why we have the pope in the Church: to give the “final say” at times, when it is sorely needed. The “buck” needs to stop somewhere. What better place than with him?
I’m very reluctant to criticize the pope at all, due to my very strong Catholic reverence for the office (not due to some silly notion that he can never be criticized, which I have never believed), but I have to call it as I see it, as an apologist who may be asked about it.
I know from my own experience as a writer and apologist (which is a teaching function), that writers can be misinterpreted. Writing is an inexact art and we writers are too often insufficiently clear and precise: all the more so in proportion to the complexity of the subject matter.
So if I am asked questions about my meaning and intent, I’m always quick (and glad) to clarify. In fact, I appreciate the opportunity, because I figure that if this one person didn’t accurately understand me (either through his fault or mine, or both), chances are there are many others out there who also didn’t. It helps no one, and hinders the development of a topic, to not be properly understood. Why would I refuse again and again to clarify my meaning on something, if, say, twenty people asked me to do so? What possible advantage or constructive purpose would there be to do that? If I am asked: especially more than once, I immediately set out to clarify.
Therefore (thinking analogically, from my own experience as a teacher), it’s difficult for me to grasp why the pope wouldn’t do so, in light of the increased controversy about this, seeing that he’s the leader of all Catholics and our supreme teacher. Why is he so reluctant to answer? What does he have to lose by doing so? These are the questions on many good and orthodox Catholics’ minds.
Whether a non-answer “proves” he is a liberal or heterodox in general and/or on the disputed point (as the radical Catholic reactionaries would have it), is another matter entirely. I would think not; however, it quite possibly may make him look like he is, or that he is being “stubborn” or unnecessarily intransigent, or lacking pastoral and prudential wisdom, etc., and that isn’t good, especially given the wide and ever-growing “skepticism” or criticism sent his way, about this, and in general.
It’s becoming increasingly inexplicable why he would not simply clarify the issue and be done with it. Again, that’s not the same as denying that he may have a good reason; only to assert that it is difficult (as this thing becomes more and more controversial) to speculate as to what it might be.
I’m not even denying that there can conceivably be any number of “hard cases” where communion for at least one party is perfectly admissible according to traditional Catholic morality and discipline. But, as the questions indicate, complexities and confusion need to be cleared up as to specifics. I’m not sure, myself, what the pope himself believes. It’s also true that those who have nefarious heterodox intent (as I have alluded to in the past) will exploit any confusion or (rightly or wrongly) perceived “loopholes” as a license to depart from true Catholic practice, just as they did with Vatican II and the reform of the Mass. Yet another good reason to clarify with great specificity . . .
I haven’t reversed myself, compared to what I wrote before (I’m anticipating objections), because I said this many times in the comments under my previous related post, but one might say that I have considerably “developed” my opinion and am a little more perplexed (in terms of speculation) than I was when I wrote my piece two weeks ago.
In my humble and respectful opinion (as a mere lay apologist), I think in the very least that it would be good for the Holy Father to tell us why he is not answering, should he definitely decide not to. But I believe it is better to answer . . .
See also the related article, Sorry, But I’ve Changed My Mind About Pope Francis, by Scott Eric Alt, a discussion thread on my Facebook page, and the discussion thread there, regarding this article.