pope francisJohn Allen reports with his usual succinct, objective style on an Italian journalist’s criticism of Pope Francis.

Vittorio Messori’s evaluation is that “this papacy oscillates continually between adhesion and perplexity,”

According to Messori, those average Catholics today are confused about which Pope Francis to follow. He offers three instances of what he sees as contradictions:

  • The Francis of the morning homilies at the Santa Marta, full of classical pastoral wisdom and even repeated warnings about not falling into the devil’s snares, versus the Francis who called up Marco Pannella to wish him well in his work. (Pannella is the legendary leader of Italy’s Radical Party, a passionate advocate of legalized abortion and divorce, euthanasia, gay rights, and almost every other liberal cause.)
  • The Francis of his Curia speech, who defined the Catholic Church as the mystical body of Christ, versus the Francis of an interview with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, in which the pope supposedly said “God is not Catholic” — thereby, according to Messori, suggesting that the Church is no more than an “optional accessory” to the Holy Trinity. (The qualifier “supposedly” is obligatory because Scalfari later conceded he didn’t tape the exchange or take notes, so he was working from memory.)
  • The Francis who knows from direct experience the massive losses Catholicism has sustained in Latin America to Pentecostals and Evangelicals, versus the Francis who took a day trip to wish good luck to a friend who, according to Messori, “is a pastor of precisely one of the communities which is emptying out the Catholic Church with the very proselytism [Francis] has so harshly condemned among his own flock.” (In July, Francis traveled to Caserta in Italy to visit a Pentecostal community led by Giovanni Traettino, a friend from his time in Buenos Aires.)

Messori’s message has been attacked by other Italians who believe he is speaking for himself, but putting the concerns into the mouths of “ordinary Catholics” who, they claim, are not concerned about the Pope at all.

I can speak for ordinary Catholics I know of and say that Messori’s observations are correct. Many Catholics are disturbed and confused by seemingly contradictory statements and style of Pope Francis.

My own view is that the Pope is his own man and preaches and lives the gospel with his own unique gifts. The precision and planned statements of the theologian Benedict XVI is what we were used to.

Francis’ own free wheeling style is more off the cuff, informal and easy going. I don’t think he wants us to take every word that drops from his lips at an infallible proclamation. We should get used to this Pope of Surprises and, on the one hand, not take all that he says very seriously while on the other hand taking everything he says very seriously.

What do I mean by this? Only that we should consider everything he says in the light of the whole teaching of the Catholic Church down through the ages. When it fits with that and is part of that we take his statements and gestures seriously as the successor of Peter. When he does or says something outside the box we should take it with a pinch of salt, put it into context, remember that it was off the cuff and let it slide.

That’s the way this pope is.

It’s no big deal.

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