Monday, 23 September 2013

Who's doing "bizarre U-turns"?

It's been a big weekend for Pope Francis. Even bigger for the circa 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide who have attempted to keep up with him. And sadly, it's been another weekend of misinterpretation by the secular media.
Friday morning Australian time, news broke that the Pope had "bluntly faulted the Church's stance on gays and abortion" and "set a new tone for the church" in a candid interview with New York Jesuit magazine, America.

In his interview, the Holy Father was quoted as saying:

“...It is not necessary to talk about these issues [same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia and contraception] all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."
“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the gospel.”
"The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives."
Secular media outlets were salivating. Here was the Pope condemning traditional Church teachings and taking a more liberal moral stance. Right? Misinterpretation number one.

Surely the Holy Father was informing all Catholics that they should relax on these issues and stop "obsessing" over them. Right? Misinterpretation number two.

Then on Saturday, the media were in a tizz. The Pope had apparently done a "bizarre U-turn" by addressing a group of Catholic doctors and gynecologists in Rome encouraging them to refuse to perform abortions. According to the Daily Mail in the UK, the Pope's comments "seemed to directly contradict his warning yesterday that the Catholic Church could fall 'like a house of cards' if it continues in its preoccupation with abortion, gay marriage and contraception." Misinterpretation number three.

The Pope did not say the Catholic Church would fall like a house of cards "if it continues in its preoccupation with abortion, gay marriage and contraception" full stop.

He said: “we have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the gospel.”

In layman's terms, he is merely talking about the way we approach people and the need to look at the bigger picture which is the love of Christ and living the teachings of the Gospel rather than bashing people with teachings and opinions on these issues. That is very different to him telling people to stop obsessing over these issues and that we need to be more liberally minded.

These misinterpretations are similar to the ones made in relation to the Pope's "who am I to judge?" comment in July. Various news outlets around the world went into meltdown reporting that the Pope had taken a new stance to traditional Church teachings on homosexuality.

Again, if we actually look at what he said:

"If they [homosexual people] accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalised...When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby... the tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they're our brothers".
Nowhere do these comments state that Pope Francis was changing the Church's views on homosexual behaviour. He is quite clearly stating that regardless of the behaviour, homosexual people should not be marginalised and should be treated with respect and dignity like all people.

The following quote from the Holy Father backs this up:

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
To me, the secular media are desperate for the Pope to say something they want to hear. So desperate in fact, they are misconstruing his words into messages he's not actually giving. They are waiting keenly for the Pope to say it's ok for women to become priests, or it's ok for same sex attracted couples to marry, or abortion is acceptable, etc. However, as much as they misconstrue, the Pope has not changed the Church's views on any of these issues. He is attempting to unite the Church, allowing Her to become more inclusive, as well as helping all Catholics live the good news of the gospel, rather than always taking the moral high ground on issues such as those mentioned above.

So while the Daily Mail may claim Pope Francis did a "bizzare U-turn" over the weekend, I don't think it is unreasonable to say the secular media are the ones doing the U-turn. They are slowly changing course from embracing this Pope in the early days of his papacy, based on their own false reporting and misinterpretations, to questioning and opposing him based on what he is actually saying and teaching. As the Pope once said, "we mustn't get things out of context."

All the best,
Dom Meese


  1. I agree with Fr John - Great post Dom!

  2. Good précis Dom .. what worries me though is that Pope Francis' wording invites confusion and what should be expected, the mis-understanding (deliberate or not) of his message by the media.

    His media advisors, if he has them, need to fix this up quickly. I've read the most accurate accounts I could find for both the July statement and the recent Sept statement. Both are riddled with ambiguities and prima facie, statements that are for most, contradictory and hard to reconcile. Worse, it was very discouraging for faithful catholics fulfilling the 'beatitudes' with less zeal than St Paul called for, to have it implied they deserve no credibility because they're obsessed.

    Now we know that is not what he meant, but already, laborers in the vineyard are getting belted for that comment. UN agitators and Obama care politicians love this apparent division.

    For the record, the many folk I know who are supposedly "obsessed" with issues like , abortion SSM and contraception, supposedly because they are of the few who speak up against the holocaust and the tide of modernism, are in fact, happy, well balanced, well disciplined thinkers who enact Christ's teachings with conviction. If they had more time in the day, I'm sure they'd widen their sites to include other issues as well but surely these issues require some priority?

    Perhaps some, somewhere are obsessed and have lost objectivity, but our Pope has painted a broad brush here.

    1. Grova, I have to disagree with you here. I think, if you read his quotes in totality, not just the parts that appear in mainstream papers and online sources, his words are quite clear. For example, the media jumped all over his comment of "who am I to judge?". The headlines the next day were all about the Pope changing the Church's stance on same sex attracted people and that because he doesn't judge them, then their behaviour is acceptable. The confusion is caused by the biased and blatantly incorrect reporting, which is attached to a pre-determined agenda.

      His full quote spoke about the difference between gays seeking the Lord and those involved in lobbys. His words and the message here, when read in entirety, are clear to me.

      I'm interested to see comments he has made that are contradictory and hard to reconcile. I'm not saying you're wrong, I just haven't noticed it.

      I don't think we can blame the Pope, or his media advisers, for the results of dishonest journalism. He didn't discredit faithful Catholics by labelling them "obsessed". He said: "The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently." This is very different to labelling faithful Catholics obsessed in my opinion.

      Re your last point, I agree these issues require "some" priority. How far do you think we’d get in a predominantly secular world if we are continuously jumping down people’s throats with arguments against abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage? This constant crusading, for lack of a better word, is not a charitable way to act. In fact I believe it’s a complete turn off and does more harm than good. We need to be spreading the good news of the Gospel and the love of Christ. That should precede continuous arguments on rules.

      Don’t get me wrong, these issues are big issues and must be talked about, just not constantly. As the Pope said, “it is not necessary to talk about these things all the time”.

      This is a great article that expands on this issue.

  3. for interest ...

  4. Well , Grova, If the laborers in the vineyard keep on with a flawed strategy, I reckon a bit of fraternal correction, right from the top, is just what the doctor ordered.
    The case for the absolute immorality of homosexual acts, abortion and contraception is done for, dead in the water, and will never be reclaimed by quoting rules and laws and theologically technical arguments, ad nauseam, to those who aren't inclined to listen to them anymore.
    In order for the secular and the faux-christian world to wake up, they have to be alerted, by our actions and words, to the irresistible truth which is God’s gratuitous love for us and to all that this entails – eg virtue, freedom, mercy, salvation and beatitude.
    It is only by expounding this wider context, in which the moral law is grounded and founded, that we can hope to make up any missionary ground in the world as it is. Thank goodness for this peculiarly pastoral pope who is pointing us in this right direction.

  5. Well said Lazza (in about a third of the words I used!). I agree, as unfortunate as it is, people don't want to, and won't, listen to arguments on rules and contentious issues. That's not to say we put them on the shelf, never to talk about them again. We have a duty to, but as you rightly point out, we need to wake the secular world up through example, mercy, freedom etc.
    I went to hear Cardinal Oullet talk a few months ago when he was in Melbourne. Someone in the audience asked him what exactly do we need to do to turn the culture around? His answer was brilliant and in one word (before expanding). The word was 'family'. He said the best way to turn the culture around is via the family unit and networking with other healthy, wholesome families. He said the wider the net of happy families interacting with each other, the greater the witness we provide to outsiders. He said it is useless throwing rules and scripture at people and this doesn't do any good these days. It definitely changed my outlook on this issue.

  6. Hi Lazza and Dom;
    Notwithstanding quite a few assumptions like ‘flawed strategies’, I don’t disagree with the basic premise of your arguments, however I don’t think its that simple. And I don’t think I’m being pedantic when I complain about the words the Holy Father has used .. in our practical, political world, just one word can make an enormous difference .. eg the word ‘equality’! I know what the Holy Father’s message was, my criticism centres on his choice of words, whether they were necessary or did more harm than good in relation to the message he was trying to give. Lazza, Dom, remember your perspective and knowledge puts you at an advantage to the secular, ignorant (bigoted) world.

    This explanation from Michael Voris on the false dichotomy, between the doctrinal and pastoral approaches, is worthwhile I think. (there’s a 9min video Vortex 130924 _9m .. )

    Here is an excerpt ..

    “.. It IS pastoral to tell someone they need to live a moral life. Is there a way to say it that such a person might respond to it better than another way it would be presented – sure, but that depends on the hearer.
    Some people need to hear things bluntly. Others don’t like hearing things directly because they get their feelings hurt to easily and so forth. The one thing that is curious about some of the Pope’s impressions is that the Church is always going on about abortion and same-sex marriage and contraception. REALLY?

    When is the last time a priest strode into the pulpit and gave a fire and brimstone about contraception that you can remember? When is the last time a bishop – or a bishops’ conference issued any statement about the depravity of an unmarried couple living together.

    It is the MEDIA which has painted this picture of a Church constantly hammering these themes. The vast majority of faithful Catholics know these things are seldom, if ever mentioned in any substantive way on the parish level – they aren’t even talked about and requests TO talk about the doctrines is usually swept away with an excuse that it wouldn’t be pastoral. **So one does wonder where His Holiness’ perception comes from of a Church emphasizing doctrinal over pastoral care – **obsessing** (my emphasis) about them.**

    Nonetheless, it is this false dichotomy between pastoral and doctrinal - set up by the media and by many in the Church who want to undo Her moral teachings – that is to blame for much of the deep concern over the Pope’s interviews. For example, for the intrepid souls of the 40 Days for Life Campaign, are they being too “doctrinal” “too obsessed” by standing outside abortion chambers – highlighting the sanctity of life AND the evil of child murder?
    Or are they motivated by pastoral love and concern for the child and the mother – and the abortionist for that fact?

    ..Again – a false dichotomy. They are being both! For the past 50-60 years .. there has been an effort on the part of many in the Church to play up pastoral care to such a degree that essentially ignore doctrine…”

    The reason I think its more complicated than you acknowledge, is because faithful catholics need to be the yeast in the world – this is a very practical problem; Doctrinal yes, Pastoral yes but also we have to be part of a political ‘battle’, to have our views heard, just as the opposing forces do. We cannot afford to forfeit that space.

  7. part 2

    The Pope’s comments for me, fail to take this practicality into account, for they don’t reflect the context of our secular world, very much on the offensive in so many important legislative areas. His comments can reasonably be taken as implying that the very few who openly oppose the secular world (in those named areas) are just obsessive – But hold on a minute - the fight is NOW .. not tomorrow or yesterday. *Now* is the time for good people to stand up against abortion, where a *holocaust worse than any other* continues, against SSM where proposed ‘active’ legislation threatens civilisation and another stolen generation (at least), and against contraception - because if you don’t fight it, you’ll get more attacks on family and religious freedoms like ObamaCare or like the abortion legislation in Victorian and Tasmanian, or legislation mandating homosexual agendas being taught in schools or hotel owners being forced to close because they don’t want to provide a means for homosexual activity... on and on it goes until someone opposes it – in the political sphere. “Without God we cannot, but without us, He will not”.

    Perhaps the Pope was being ‘political’ in trying to engage the media with what they want to hear – to be conciliatory but if so, for me it’s a bad strategy doomed to fail - as it has miserably this last 50years. Its a reasonable reading of post Vat 2 history, that the Church has near self destructed for the lack of catechesis (the Doctrinal approach) so its seems clearly fallacious to somehow claim that a softly softly ‘pastoral’ approach is going to work now. I’m arguing for all approaches to be adopted simultaneously. The Pope is doing that to some degree but not coherently. His interview(s) allowed faithful catholics who are already ‘out-numbered’ and out-resourced to be unfairly targeted and dismissed as nutters. He didn’t say that of course but He should’ve been advised that would be the effect of his words. Did he need to say it the way He did? I don’t think so? What did he gain?

    I’ll get onto my answer to your question Dom about examples asap and try and make it shorter ! :)

  8. Lazza – re your premise, the labourers who are actually working in the vineyard are successful. Abortion clinic closings, staff becoming pro-life, politicians having the courage to vote against the tide etc. There could be a lot more success with greater support and I think its worth remembering - one never knows when the message heard long ago, finally ‘registers’ with some, especially the young.

    Likewise, the moral “case” can never be ‘dead in the water’. That sounds like rationalising an excuse to do nothing (more?) and so I then worry about Mt 25:45. Either way how can you say, “..never be reclaimed ..”? Ad Nauseam?? That sounds like a subjective perspective at best and certainly doesn’t compare to the secular worlds *successful* methods for social engineering/ propaganderising eg .. homosexual propaganda covered in the media .. that is truly ad nauseam at every level!
    Next, some will never listen but we cannot assume anyone "will never listen" … and how should they be alerted by action and words? Only by those who are deemed not obsessive?? That's illogical.
    We’re supposed to be zealous which in my experience is a more appropriate term for the laborers than ‘obsessed’ which is indeed an appropriate term for so many enemies of the Faith who are winning the agenda wars.

    Finally what evidence is there to conclude that those who concentrate on fighting abortion or SSM etc don’t also use the wholistic approaches based on virtue, freedom, mercy, salvation and beatitude? In my experience, they do clearly. I note reports now that the day after this interview was published, the Pope was very blunt with Gynaecologists re the doctrinal rules on abortion. So did he get it right or wrong in the first interview from the aspect of using words/ methods to avoid confusion?

    Dom, what exactly do you mean by ‘wake the secular world up through example … freedom..”? Veritatis Splendor has a lot to say about the worlds false sense of freedom… I wouldn't want to sanction a false view there by remaining silent.

    Card Oullet’s advice on the family unit is spot on .. but abortion, contraception and SSM are probably the biggest threats to the family in all history. It is war within the family unit for these evils all weaken the forces of true love, leading to divorce etc.

    Your guess that it is ‘useless throwing rules and scripture at people’ is tantamount to saying Christ cannot work with our feeble efforts to soften hearts at some point .. Isn’t that how the Church started, relying on obsessed martyrs too?

    almost done :)

    1. Well, grova, the pope is not telling us to stop doing the good work, just to stop misrepresenting what the Church is, thereby diminishing its appeal. Ie, the Church is not just, or even primarily, a defender of the Natural Law, it is the bearer of the Good News of salvation/deification.
      For trying to pop the cork on this sweet, fragrant message of the New Testament, the pope cops it in the neck from those who prefer, what are perceived to be, harping, carping methods which haven’t worked in the past, despite your claims of success - what is the proprtion of Catholics who artificially contracept? How many abortions are performed in Australia per year How’s the gay lobby travelling in the PR stakes? etc. And how is the evangelisation of the postmodern world going?

  9. Pat, October 8

    Good comment Dom. The Pope's comments were taken out of context. Reading the paragraph after his much publicised comments about abortion, etc, he outlined the stages of preaching and evangelisation, in which the moral teachings on sexuality and life issues then play their fundamental role in salvation. The Pope's statement said:

    "A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”

  10. What a great example for us all, is this gentle but courageous Pope Francis ..

    quod erat demonstrandum ... always wanted to use QED .. I don't often get the chance :)