The latest tempest in a teapot is the claim that Pope Francis supposedly denied the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It’s nonsense, and ably dealt with by my friend, Fr. Matthew Schneider, in his article, The Pope Didn’t Deny the Immaculate Conception. Anyone can read his reasoning there, but I’d like to highlight the quotations from Pope Francis that Fr. Matthew found:
In view of this motherhood, Mary was preserved from original sin, from that fracture in communion with God, with others and with creation, which deeply wounds every human being. But this fracture was healed in advance in the Mother of the One who came to free us from the slavery of sin. The Immaculata was written in God’s design; she is the fruit of God’s love that saves the world. (12-8-13)
You are all-beautiful, O Mary! In you there is no sin. (12-8-13)
The Angel Gabriel calls Mary “full of grace” (Lk 1:28): in her there is no room for sin, because God chose her from eternity to be the mother of Jesus and preserved her from original sin. (12-8-14)
Today the People of God celebrate, they venerate you, the Immaculate, ever preserved from the stain of sin. […]
Though we are sinners, we are still your children, the children of the Immaculate, called to that holiness that has shown resplendent in you by the grace of God from the beginning. (12-8-14)
He [Jesus] was made equal to us in every way, except one thing, that ‘no’. Except sin. For this reason, he chose Mary, the only creature without sin, immaculate. In the Gospel, with one word only, she is called “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), that is, filled with grace. It means that, in her, full of grace from the start, there is no space for sin. And when we turn to her, we too recognize this beauty: we invoke her, “full of grace”, without a shadow of evil. (12-8-16)
Even the greatest saints were sinners and everything in reality, even the most beautiful things, are corroded by evil: everything, except Mary. She is the one “evergreen oasis” of humanity, the only one uncontaminated, created immaculate so as to fully welcome, with her ‘yes’, God who came into the world and thus to begin a new history. (12-8-17)
I engaged in dialogue about this controversy on my [public] Facebook page:
Bravo to my friend, Fr. Matthew. He soundly refutes the same-old same-old anti-Francis garbage.
I would remind everyone that bearing false witness is objectively a mortal sin, and lying about the Holy Father is all the worse.
Michael Hichborn: While he didn’t outright deny the Immaculate Conception, his statement is nonetheless misleading. And this is the problem with many of Pope Francis’ statements. He says things that can be understood in different perspectives, and when the natural confusion ensues, he refuses to clarify or establish the objective standard … which is the very essence of his job as pope.
He doesn’t need to clarify things where people are interpreting in an empty-headed, cynical / worst-case scenario fashion in the first place. We can use our heads and figure it out ourselves. I know: I’ve refuted probably at least three dozen bogus charges against him over the last five years.
As Fr. Matthew noted: “Pope Francis often speaks casually and informally, versus using strict theological language. Whatever you think of this stylistic choice, it is only fair to interpret informal addresses knowing this.” So we learn that about him, interpret accordingly, and 95% of these “difficulties” are solved.
As with Scripture, if something is unclear or more obscure, we interpret it in light of clearer passages. It’s the same with the pope or anyone else. Thus, when you say he should clarify, he has already in effect done that in his clear affirmations elsewhere. You and his legions of critics were simply too lazy to look it up. Instead of taking a half-hour of your time to delve into it more deeply, you prefer to make the quick accusation.
Andy Dee: It’s all about the interpretation. The pope does have clerics write his homilies, scripts, etc. Confusing words like this don’t help. At first glance, it’s sounds unorthodox. Why so many misleading statements? Is this done intentionally?
Then make a second glance and do the work. That’s my point.
There are some apologists, theologians and professors (prominent ones) who have questions with regards to Pope Francis’ actions or inactions.
And there are apologists like myself and Fr. Matthew who have done the work of defending the Holy Father against many false accusations. It’s a fact that many of these do exist and have been refuted. The more of these one sees, the more one tends to think that the root problem very often lies in the severe bias of the critic, rather than in the pope.
We’ve had bad popes in the past. It’s not inconceivable that we can have one presently or in the future. Just saying.
I agree with the broad statement; disagree that Pope Francis is one.
John Lillis: I’ve known you for a long time and want to pose this simple question to you: Why does the Holy Father need his own legion of Global Interpreters? A quick follow-up… Certainly, there are those who lean-in with a “Trad” knife to twist the Pope’s words into the “worst case scenario;” but are there not also a multitude of people, here yourself and Fr. Matthew, literally writing entire volumes bent on defending his “casual” speaking style? . . . I would hope that we all would want a better, stronger, faster, and clearer Holy Father and an episcopate and presbytery, freed from the Gay Cabal and predators.
That all said, bottom line is this: He’s the Pope, we’ll pray for him, this is a given; and, one and at the same time, his words, however warm and colloquial, are plain wrong on every level: First, yes, both Joseph and Mary were born into the Communion of Saints – so they’re “saints.” Not speaking for Joseph, but, the Blessed Mother was protected against sin and the perfect will to resist temptation, so, though of course, not Canonized, she was A) Living heroic virtue and sinless — thus, a Saint. What’s not to be confused here?
If I were to give one reason for why the pope’s statements seem to need an inordinate amount of explanation (though I think there are several), it would be what Fr. Matthew highlighted:
Pope Francis often speaks casually and informally, versus using strict theological language. Whatever you think of this stylistic choice, it is only fair to interpret informal addresses knowing this.
Not understanding this aspect is an error thought and repeated over and over, therefore we get false charges over and over. As time went on, it became a “narrative” and many jumped on the bandwagon; with a collection of by-now-predictable falsehoods that are accepted uncritically by millions of Catholics.
Increasing hostility leads to basic fallacies and errors of fact, repeated over and over. It’s the idea of the Big Lie: you simply repeat a lie over and over till millions start to believe it apart from reasoned evidence and proof.
It’s also the case that Holy Scripture is systematically misinterpreted for many reasons by various groups (and it, too, requires serious interpretation, doesn’t it?). It doesn’t make it any less inspired or any less revelation.
In other words, the mere presence of widespread questioning and skepticism does not in and of itself prove that the intended recipient is the origin of the problem. It could also possibly be the critics who are the root cause and the problem.
Photo credit: Immaculate Conception (1628), by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]