The Personalist Project

We are traveling.  Our plan had been to post about our trip as we go, but so far this has proven too much. We'll try again next week, when we're in Holland and a bit more settled.

Meanwhile, a member wrote in to ask our thoughts about the Pope's interview. I'm hoping Devra will address it. She is much more qualified than I am, having read it in full and having helped translate a book of Cardinal Bergoglio's addresses and sermons. But I can offer a thought in response to the reaction to the interview among so many conservative Catholics.

My thinking centers on an insight from Newman and Wojtlya both—one I find myself pondering more and more in recent years. Newman wrote of the "infinite abyss of existence" that is each individual soul, and about the mysterious subjectivity of "the illative sense"—the faculty by which we judge for ourselves what to do, what to believe, etc. Wojtyla constantly stressed personal responsibility. "You must decide." He too lived and wrote from a deep awareness of the inscrutability of God's dealings with another person, and the "impassibility" of the frontier between my will and another's.

Each of us has an "interior terrain", a zone of personal responsibility—an area "handed over to us" by God, where we're in charge.

My sense of the implications of this great and central personalist truth crystalized at a new depth with Dr. Peter's talk at our home on the Art of Loving Your Spouse. He referred to the verse, "First remove the log in your own eye..." and proposed that when it comes to the moral faults of others, it is always the case that there is log in our own eye.

Our prime moral responsibility (which is big enough for all the attention and energy we can muster) is for ourselves. If we are spending time and attention deciding what other people should do, we are off track. We're off track in a way perhaps analogous to the way we're off when we're being anxious about the future. "Let tomorrow take care of itself; today has troubles enough of it's own." We're simply not given the grace and strength to deal with tomorrow's troubles, only today's. Similarly, we don't have the grace to take on other people's responsibilities. And when we try, we deplete ourselves of the resources we need to handle our own. We also make others' tasks much more difficult.

It became clearer still when, at a member's recommendation, I read the book Boundaries, and realized how misdirected so much of my moral attention has been throughout my life. It's gone to things that really aren't my concern at all. I've done harm that way. And meanwhile, the area that is my concern has been sadly neglected and exposed to marauders.

I remember a moment some years back when I was talking to a friend about the dilemma I felt on learning that a cousin had come out as gay. How was I to let him know that I didn't approve without being unloving? She asked me, very sincerely, "Why do you think you need to tell him you don't approve?" I was completely taken aback. But a light went on.

Why did I think I needed to tell him? He hadn't asked my opinion. Why was I making it my job to tell other people what I thought of their moral choices? 

Then I had some vivid and painful experiences of being on the other side of that mode of approach—I mean of having other people feel free to make judgments and offer opinions about me and my intimate decisions. I felt keenly how unjust and how damaging those judgments were. Sometimes they came from friends and family—from people close to me—people whose help and support I sorely needed. Instead of help and support, though, I got rude interference. It was just as if, instead of helping me carry the heavy cross I'd been given, they stuck their foot out to trip me on my way.

I'm not complaining about it. I see it now as a huge grace and "a severe mercy," because not one of those friends or family members was behaving in any way different from the way I'd been behaving toward others all my life. To see it, to experience its harmful effects "in my own skin," was to be put on the path to recovery from the same bad habit, which was a great gift. I now like to think of mysef as "a recovering moralizer."

But back to the Pope's interview. What perturbs me is the way so many otherwise faithful Catholics are making free to pronounce on it—not on what they learned from it, or what they take him to mean, or how it affects them or challenges them—but on its general advisability. They shamelessly declare it imprudent or misguided or whatever. They say he shouldn't have done it. He should refrain in future from giving interviews to journalists. He should shift his emphasis, and so on. They are, in effect, presuming to publicly school the Pope about how to be Pope.

I want to say, first, that this is a very embarrassing spectable in Catholics who profess fidelity to him as Vicar of Christ on earth, and second, that the Pope needs our help in evangelizing the world, not our ignorant and interfering opinions about how he should be conducting his office.

When I've said this elsewhere (on facebook and at Ricochet), I've been reminded that the Pope's every word isn't infallible and that we don't owe him sycophancy. But this is not really to the point, is it? The point isn't that the Pope can do no wrong; it's that he alone is in a position to judge how to be Pope in the here and now. He has the responsibility; he has the charism; he has the grace. We don't.

It's for us carry out faithfully the responsibilities in front of us. It's for us to attend to the arduous task of our own deeper conversion. It's for us to learn from the Pope how we can better participate in the great work of the New Evangelization. It's for us to give witness to the Light of Christ at work in us. It's for us to be ready to give an answer if anyone asks us the reason for our hope...

It's for me to decide how to be and act as myself. It's for the Pope to be Pope.

Comments (48)

Cynthia Newcombe

#1, Sep 24, 2013 8:31am

Katie I love this and I am glad you wrote it!  This needs to be said because this criticism and judgment is exactly what has been going on since Pope Francis was elected. Why it is that so many people think that they are so much smarter than our Holy Father and could do a better job?  If only we had ears that could hear and a heart that was truly open to listen!

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#2, Sep 24, 2013 2:47pm

I've been thinking about the Pope's interview myself, particularly in the context of a personalistic approach to evangelization. This quote in particular jumped out at me:

"Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."

He doesn't merely say that we should or shouldn't 'interfere spiritually', but that it is not possible. Which speaks to what you have to say here, I think, because in the end, regardless of what you say to others, or what they say to you, in the end you each remain responsible for your own moral conduct and spiritual life. No amount of outside movement can force an interior movement. 

I do need to think out for myself how these things interact with the Spiritual Acts of Mercy and the responsibilities we *do* have for one another, not to mention how we are to live the Great Commision to 'go out and make disciples'/ 

Rhett Segall

#3, Sep 25, 2013 12:35pm

Some media outlets misapplied Pope Francis’ use of the term “obsessed”. They used it to mean that the Pope was saying that the Church should not aggressively denounce abortion, etc. However, the Pope’s point, understood in context, was that  in standing up against any evil it’s important to do so from the vantage point of the whole gospel. (“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” )  

However, certain evils are so egregious that it is imperative to confront the evil, day in and day out, with the message of the gospel. But surely it would be a misuse of the term to say that Martin Luther King was “obsessed” with civil rights or that Elie Wiesel was “obsessed” with the Holocaust. I hold abortion to be one of those evils that should be consistently confronted with the message of the Scripture which tells us that “before we were formed in our mother’s womb God knew us. (Psalm 139).

Sam Roeble

#4, Sep 25, 2013 4:11pm

Excellent article, honest and humble take on the whole situation.

If I could re-title it, I would replace "our own beeswax" with "our Father's beeswax"...And this, I think, is an important point: it is our business to learn from the Pope and make judgments of what directly applies to our responsibilities and what does not.  Ignoring him is not necessarily the way to go, but neither is being so interested in his words as to add or subtract them from his mouth.

In conclusion: the Pope's interview is a catalyst for dialogue, and its interpretation reveals the thoughts of many hearts...

Patrick Dunn

#5, Sep 26, 2013 10:49am

How does the moral imperative to mind one's own business reconcile with the work of mercy "admonishing the sinner"? Or the Gospel call to evangelize?

It is interesting to consider this too in light of Pope Francis, who has personally called Catholics elsewhere to shake things up in the Church, make a "mess," and even, “If we annoy people, blessed be the Lord."

I fear that considering reality through the personalist lens is more and more opening up a doorway for a silent relativism.  While it's true that we each have an "interior terrain", a zone of personal responsibility—an area "handed over to us" by God, where we're in charge, it's also true that we are not called to only focus on ourselves, our own terrain.

Adding to the confusion, at least for me, is the aformentioned remarks by Pope Francis which do not appear to be self-consistent.  Mind our own business but do not be self-referential.  Go to the existential peripheries and yet "Who are we to judge?".

Our right response to all of this is neither as clear as what Katie has stated, nor what the criticial otherwise faithful Catholics are offering.

Patrick Dunn

#6, Sep 26, 2013 10:54am

There is nothing wrong, for instance, with a response like this:

It is seeking to understand. It is not trying to be the Pope. Denouncing all 'criticism' outright is too facile a response.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#7, Sep 26, 2013 12:24pm


I see Personalistic thought as a tool for navigating that apparent contradiction, and I hope to write something about that at some point. For what it's worth, I recommended Boundaries to Katie, and the Christian author also grapples a bit with how to discern when our own moral responsibility involves intervening in someone else's life; the two are not incompatible. 

It's these liminal areas that are the most interesting, and where we most need clear and nuanced thinking. It's certainly not 'criticism' to seek to understand and unpack what the Pope has had to say, but if we examine closely our need to express our opinions on what he *ought* to have said or done, we might find that we have no very clear idea of why we feel the need to say them, or what our intended ends are. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#8, Sep 26, 2013 10:29pm

Micheal Gerson sees a personalism to the Pope's approach:

"There is a good Catholic theological term for this: the “hierarchy of truths.” Not every true thing has equal weight or urgency.

But this does not adequately capture Francis’s deeper insight: the priority of the person. This personalism is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. In every way that matters to God, human beings are completely equal and completely loved. They can’t be reduced to ethical object lessons. Their dignity runs deeper than their failures. They matter more than any cause; they are the cause."

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Sep 27, 2013 2:23am

Patrick Dunn, Sep. 26 at 10:49am

How does the moral imperative to mind one's own business reconcile with the work of mercy "admonishing the sinner"? 

This is a good question.

One way of answering it would be to say that plainly sometimes "admonishing the sinner" is our business. Pastors have a particular responsibility in this regard, and parents toward their children. Doctors may at times have to tell their patients that their behavior is ruining their health. Sometimes a person may receive a strong spiritual call to deliver a message, like Catherine of Sienna feeling impelled to tell the Pope to leave Avignon and go back to Rome. 

But I don't imagine anyone thinks that the Catholic critics of the Pope's interview were "admonishing a sinner." He wasn't sinning, was he?

People aren't accusing the Pope of doing wrong; they're claiming that he's made bad judgments in prudential matters. They are implying that they know better what he ought to have done and how he ought to conduct his office. This is what I think especially risible and especially egregious.

What does any of us know of his reasoning? Do we have his perspective? Do we have his cares? 

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Sep 27, 2013 2:37am

Have we been privy to his conversations with the Pope Emeritus? With the world's bishops and Cardinals? 

Have we been admitted to the intimate secrets of his private prayer life? Do we feel how the Holy Spirit may be inwardly prompting him?

Do we have his decades of experience as a priest, bishop and Prince of the Church? Are we acquainted with his personal strengths and weaknesses?

In short, are we in any position at all to justly evaluate the merits of his prudential judgments as Pope? Is a footsoldier on duty in a remote corner of a complicated military operation in a position to evaluate his General's strategic decisions?

We can say how we experience them affecting us, though, even there, I think we should be slow and provisional about it, since our perspective on its real effects, even on us, over the long term, is extremely limited.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Sep 27, 2013 2:54am

I don't see any inconsistency at all between the Pope's interview and what he said about making a mess.  On the contrary, I've referred to exactly that quote elsewhere in proposing that the Pope may have been very deliberate in discomfiting us with that interview.

When he urged the youth to make messes in their parishes and not worry about causing annoyance, he wasn't endorsing all mess-making, or obnoxious behavior, was he? Rather, he was urging us not to be too constrained by convention and expectation. 

The Church, he seemed to mean, is too complacent and set in its ways.

I think this goes for us conservatives. Many of us have gotten used to living as if being faithful Catholics means voting pro-life, knowing and assenting to the teachings of the Church, receiving the Sacraments regularly, and so on. I think the Pope wants to rattle that cage. He wants to bring us to a new level of engagement with the new evangelization.

I don't for one second think he means to change or downplay the dogma of our Faith.

Nor do I think personalism (understood rightly) leads to relativism. Devra's post above is good on this point.

Patrick Dunn

#12, Sep 27, 2013 9:13am


I think there are conflicting ideas here, or a transfer of one idea onto a different context on a different level. 

In the original post, you tell the story of the cousin who had come out as gay and your dilemma of not approving of an obviously immoral choice. Conclusion: it was none of your business. This then seems to be transferred onto Pope Francis and people’s reactions to him. And you accurately point out that critics are not condemning him as if he made an obviously immoral decision.  They are disagreeing with his judgment in prudential matters. 

This is confusing, for the principle of MYOB ought obviously to apply to prudential decisions of others, and while it remains true that we can never judge the culpability of another in overtly immoral acts or decisions, it also remains true that those acts are immoral and we run the risk of being indifferent or sinning by omission when we remain silent. So, MYOB is not so obvious—if ever permissible—in overtly (and gravely!) immoral matters.  If that were not true, then what do we make of the words of Christ, or of the Prophets, or Paul that are in this vein?

Patrick Dunn

#13, Sep 27, 2013 9:13am

If the reply is “they had a special call,” while true, we also as baptized lay faithful, have a special call.  There is a prophetic and priestly dimension even in our own lives and I think we ought to beware that our sensitivity to another’s interior terrain does not become “I am not my brother’s keeper” or that we are lulled into a sleepy spectatorship of another’s absolute right to their own freedom which also entails our own failure to witness.  One does have absolute freedom over one’s terrain but my absolute freedom over my own moral terrain may well impel me, in good conscience, to witness, to speak the truth, especially in an era where that truth is largely hated and dismissed.

If we do not make this distinction, we could give way to a creeping relativism.

Patrick Dunn

#14, Sep 27, 2013 9:14am

Further, if we apply MYOB as the central moral imperative and allow the personalist insight that you mention to trump all, valid as it is, then even, it seems to me, your very point in this article could be a contradiction, for in arguing against publicly schooling the Pope about how to be Pope you are schooling others on how to react to the Pope. But everyone has the dignity of that "interior terrain" "handed over to us" by God, where we're in charge. And so if that is the bottom line, then I don’t see why that could not be used, always and everywhere, as grounds for never saying anything at all, or for responding to everyone who ever says anything ‘critical’ as if they are speaking out of turn, butting in, etc.

I’d like to give an illustration too of some further confusion at work: the Pope’s remarks to make a mess are, in my judgment, ambiguous and vague; fluid perhaps.  If they require some kind of interpretation, then, again, are we in a place of butting in all of a sudden or are we genuinely trying to understand. And if we are confused, is that our own fault necessarily?

Patrick Dunn

#15, Sep 27, 2013 9:15am

Expressions like making a mess can, it seems, to be taken to mean almost anything. A person decides to take some cause on and, in their defense, they play the Pope Francis told us to make a mess card. For instance:

Sam Roeble

#16, Sep 27, 2013 9:22am

A helpful quote from BXI (mirroring Francis' interview but with different media spin--since BXI was considered 'conservative'):

“I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. ” – Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI – Thursday, 9 November 2006

Sam Roeble

#17, Sep 27, 2013 9:27am

I agree with the proposal that BXI and Francis want to bring to the fore the Kerygma.  And, that there is a hierarchy of truths to Catholicism

Patrick Dunn

#18, Sep 27, 2013 9:54am

Of interest perhaps, and related to what you some of your responders on Facebook had to say:

This is also quite good and consoling to see:

And, wow:

Margaret O'Hagan

#19, Sep 27, 2013 11:18am

There is a hierarchy of issues to indeed all mankind - and when we're in a position to offer advice it may sound 'obsessive' - for example - to warn others against voting for a pro-choice political party - and this is where I am afraid Pope Francis may have muddied the waters.   

Patrick Dunn

#20, Sep 27, 2013 2:29pm


You may enjoy, then, "The fig leaf of orthodoxy" part of this blog post.

Margaret O'Hagan

#21, Sep 27, 2013 6:30pm

Yes I have, Patrick, thank you, it's very good.  What I'm hoping for, is a groundswell from the laity.   Let's start with the truth and beauty of Humanae Vitae.....     

Margaret O'Hagan

#22, Sep 27, 2013 7:03pm

Let's face it ... all one has to do is state that you agree with the Church's teachings on women priests and everyone would know what side of the fence you're on.... without ever having to state one's views on abortion, contraception or homosexuality.  

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Sep 28, 2013 1:11am

Patrick, your challenges are good ones. 

In the original post, you tell the story of the cousin who had come out as gay and your dilemma of not approving of an obviously immoral choice. Conclusion: it was none of your business. 

Right. But why? Not becasue it's never okay to name sin sin, but because I had no "call" to speak to him about it. He hadn't asked my opinion. We're not close. He doesn't share his inner life with me. I don't share my inner life with him. I had never spoken to him about the love and mercy of God, for instance.

With the invitation to his "wedding," though, came a call to respond. It was an occasion to do two things:

1. Express my affection and gratitude for his having invited me, and promise my prayers.

2. Express my true reason for declining to go to the ceremony: my deep conviction that marriage can only take place between a man and woman.

He wrote back to say how touched he had been by my note.

Result: new depth of affection and trust, instead of further alienation between us, at the very moment I shared my moral concern.

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Sep 28, 2013 1:32am

Patrick Dunn, Sep. 27 at 9:13am

This is confusing, for the principle of MYOB ought obviously to apply to prudential decisions of others...and we run the risk of being indifferent or sinning by omission when we remain silent. So, MYOB is not so obvious—if ever permissible—in overtly (and gravely!) immoral matters.

I understand the confusion. And yet, I was deliberate in choosing the example I did, exactly because I wanted to emphasize the role of subjectivity in the issue. The answer can't be found in the "object", so that all we need to do is follow a rule: in matters of grave sin, we should speak up, while in prudential matters, we shouldn't.

That would be too objectivistic. (And opposing an excessive objectivism is a key part of my objective—both generally at the PP and in this particular post.)

The question at issue (when it comes to the moral life of others) is really, "When should I speak? What  should I say? What is my call in this situation?"

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Sep 28, 2013 1:42am

Patrick Dunn, Sep. 27 at 9:14am

Further, if we apply MYOB as the central moral imperative and allow the personalist insight that you mention to trump all, valid as it is, then even, it seems to me, your very point in this article could be a contradiction, for in arguing against publicly schooling the Pope about how to be Pope you are schooling others on how to react to the Pope. 

When Jesus said "first remove the log in your own eye" was He making that the central moral imperative above all others, or was He laying down a key truth for us to ponder and apply?

About the other point: What, would you say, is the difference between moral instruction and moralizing?

From the fact that moralizing is bad, does it follow that we should never speak about moral matters? Was Jesus moralizing when he said, "first remove the log in your own eye"? Or when he said to the Pharisees, "you white-washed sepulchers"?

I propose that we can only draw the distinction rightly with, again, a "turn toward subjectivity." Or, in this case, by considering the difference between subjectivity and objectivity.

Katie van Schaijik

#26, Sep 28, 2013 2:10am

In writing this post, I am sharing my observations in light of my training and my vocation to bring the insights of personalism to bear on the "passing scene".

I am, futhermore, speaking about "a thing", viz. the problem of moralizing, and the bad habit many of us (self included) have of busying ourselves with other people's moral lives rather than concentrating our energies on our own. I'm not telling anyone in particular what he or she should do. That's for them to decide.

Consider the great difference between, say, a recovered anorexic giving a talk about her experience—its beginning with sexual abuse and a hatred of her body, and her recovery through the patient, loving care of her mother—and the accusation: "You're too thin! You have to eat more!"

I don't say the latter thing is never called for. I only say they are two very different things, likely to evoke very different responses in a young girl in the grip of demon. And, speaking very generally, we ought to do more of the former and avoid the latter, except in cases where we have a clear call.

"I'm worried about you" is better than, "You should eat more."

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Sep 28, 2013 4:48am

Samwise, thanks for that great B XVI quote!

Patrick Dunn

#28, Sep 30, 2013 11:44am


I’ve been thinking about this a bit more...

I agree that the role of subjectivity can’t be overlooked; that we should not be too or solely objectivistic.  It is a sign of authentic progress, I think, that the Church speaks today (and has for some time) with greater nuance and with a sense of the importance of subjectivity.  I do not think it has always been this way.  I think the Church is maturing in this, just as we mature as individuals in realizing and living more on that level of our own lives, in our personal relationships with God, and in our relating to other people.

I think that, like many of His other teachings, removing the log in our own eye before the speck in another’s is a key truth but not the only one.  It can be taken, wrongly, (much like some take “do not judge”) as a silencing of all other truths, as if one could never say anything whatsoever because one never actually completely removes that log from one’s own eye.  That was my fear with the appeal to MYOB.

Patrick Dunn

#29, Sep 30, 2013 11:45am

The Pope in the interview spoke about the importance of discernment and I think that is really the key in avoiding moralizing while not avoiding the need to offer moral instruction or witness to the moral truths of Christianity. 

For a long time now, I think a main, if not the main, struggle in the Church has been how to integrate the authentic shift towards subjectivity without compromising the moral or dogmatic truths.  This is the essence of the New Evangelization and, I am sure, what Pope Francis was trying to get at in the interview.

While many Catholics, like myself, found the interview lacking or troublesome in some areas (and I think they are not wrong in stating that, nor are they trying to be the Pope or are necessarily failing in fidelity to their Holy Father), it has been interesting to see how the interview has served as a sort of diagnostic for the sensibilities of the Faithful—their reactions, whatever they may be, reveal their understanding (or lack thereof) of the importance of the personalistic insights. 

Patrick Dunn

#30, Sep 30, 2013 11:45am

Many faithful Catholics are responding, it seems to me, in such a way that they do appear to be of a moralistic consciousness where the relationship between those seemingly fragmented doctrines of the Faith and the personal relationship with Christ is vague at best, sometimes even strained. 

We Catholics ought to be alarmed about that—it shows how we need to mature—just as we should have been alarmed for years now by the number of Faithful who became Evangelicals in search of something ‘more’. 

Patrick Dunn

#31, Sep 30, 2013 11:45am

I also think that we Catholics continually feed the dragon of factionalism within the Church that we try to slay with our apologetics otherwise when we insist on using labels like right or left wing, liberal or conservative, traditionalist and so on.  This, even implicitly, tends to support the idea that such are truly options within the Church—the very fault that underlies spurious ‘Church is a big tent’ thinking (or that kind of thinking if applied spuriously!).  We are either orthodox, faithful to all that God has called us to be faithful to—at least by the assent of our wills and hearts and minds, if not perfectly in our living it out—or we are not.  Some Catholics seem dismayed that the Pope said he is not a right-winger and this again I think is more of a deeper program with their own conceptions than with anything that he said.  He was right to say, even if only as a matter of speaking, that he is a faithful son of the Church. 

Katie van Schaijik

#32, Sep 30, 2013 1:20pm

Great reflections, Patrick!

Marie Meaney

#33, Oct 8, 2013 3:31am

Sorry for chiming in so late - I only read this post and the interesting comments now!

I know exactly what you are reacting to, Katie, when people are criticizing the Pope's decisions - be they to give an interview or do anything else. What I find so jarring in these cases is often the tone of self-righteous anger and "I know it all"- attitude. I'm wondering though if one can never question a prudential decision (if that is what you are saying, Katie). I agree with you that we don't have all the data that the Pope has (actually, very few), but there are some instances where the footmen can question their general's decision, for example in World War I, when the soldiers were being sent to their deaths by the millions and saw many of their comrades dying an unnecessary death in the trenches, just to conquer a few miles of land which they kept losing and winning back day after day.

Marie Meaney

#34, Oct 8, 2013 3:31am

Now, I actually don't have a problem with the Pope giving interviews (so my point was only an academic one), but I do have a problem with some of its content which might be due to its off-the-cuff manner though I am not even sure about that. I understand that he wants to give the whole picture and not just focus on certain teachings of the Church. But is it really true that people know its teachings, as he says, and that it is therefore unnecessary to be repeating them? We all know the value-blindness which creeps in - and which Hildebrand described so well - when we make certain life-choices. I am sure we all know many people who are in some ways not living according to the teachings of the Church, and yet somehow think that this is O.K. and that the doctrine has changed.

Since my husband is working professionally in prolife, we know well the difference it makes when bishops and priests speak out against the culture of death, and what an up-hill-battle it is when they don’t. Hence I understand the discouragement of some prolifers as a reaction to the interview.

Marie Meaney

#35, Oct 8, 2013 3:32am

Now, Pope Francis may still surprise us with some strong statements on the issue (and he did make a great statement to the Catholic Medical Association the day after the interview appeared), but his statements in the interview did take the wind out of the sails of many. Yes, we all need to look at ourselves and acknowledge our sins and weaknesses, and the danger for pro-lifers, as for others, is just as great to become self-righteous and moralizing. At the same time, if one looks at the development within the prolife movement (going from calling women “murderers” who abort their children, to developing a very extensive crisis-pregnancy-center movement trying to help women in all ways), a lot has happened and I can understand – to repeat myself – the discouragement of some who are already battling in the frontlines and getting very little support from the clergy. Perhaps these are the footmen who can at least partially judge the wisdom of some of the Pope’s statements, since they get to feel the brunt of his decisions – just like the soldiers in WWI could.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#36, Oct 8, 2013 2:45pm

"I understand that he wants to give the whole picture and not just focus on certain teachings of the Church. But is it really true that people know its teachings, as he says, and that it is therefore unnecessary to be repeating them? We all know the value-blindness which creeps in - and which Hildebrand described so well - when we make certain life-choices. I am sure we all know many people who are in some ways not living according to the teachings of the Church, and yet somehow think that this is O.K. and that the doctrine has changed."

 I've honestly never met anyone that didn't know that the Church opposes abortion, contraception, sex outside marriage, and 'gay marriage'. In some cases, that's all they do know about the Church (that, and whatever they picked up from watching the Exorcist). I know Catholics who think that the Church is wrong or lacks compassion on these issues, or that it is sure to change and 'progress' in time. By and large, it's *understanding* of the heart of the Church and the reasons for these teachings that we seem to have completely failed to communicate.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#37, Oct 8, 2013 2:53pm

I think that failure of understanding is something we can't remedy by bishop's letter, papal proclamation, press release, or political lobby--partly because those we need to reach don't pay attention to those sources (unless the media reports on it, in which case they aren't going to get any context or accuracy anyhow), and partly because they have no basis for trusting and desiring further teaching unless they are already desirous of communion with the Church. 

My intuition is that this is what Francis is attempting to address, and this is why he has emphasized to us the need to ground our doctrines in the central mysteries of our faith, and in lovingly meeting others where they are. This is the sphere of motivation; the things that move individuals to seek for more. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#38, Oct 8, 2013 3:13pm

I have to say that I've witnessed what I would call an 'obsession' with abortion. My Facebook friends are, for the most part, wonderful, sincere people, who I know to be personally generous and kind. But everytime a tragic incident makes national or international news, I see 'pro-life' memes comparing the scope of the tragedy with the numbers of children killed by abortion. Every time, whether it's a school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the movie theater's become a predictable response, and I think it does rise to the level of obsession. I know that the thought process is, "If this is horrible, how much more horrible is the plague of abortion? People should see how inconsistent they are." But the action amounts to *using* present tragedy--and people's real sense of human connection and concern for the victims--as a rhetorical object, and it distracts from the truly pro-life (and Christian) response of suffering-with those who suffer. This kind of willingness to make use of any strategy and any rhetorical 'hook' for a cause - even a good and noble cause - really hinders the kind of relationship that is the basis for Trust...which is the foundation of Faith.

Katie van Schaijik

#39, Oct 8, 2013 4:16pm

Marie Meaney,

...I'm wondering though if one can never question a prudential decision (if that is what you are saying, Katie). 

Marie, I certainly wouldn't want to say one can never question a prudential decision.  It's not questioning I take issue with (at least not all questioning), but more particularly pronouncing.  E.g. "The Pope should not give any more interviews to journalists."  "The Pope doesn't know what he's talking about when he says people already know the teaching of the Church."  "The Pope is wrong not to live in the papal apartments and not to wear the red shoes; he should quit with the 'look how humble I am' routine"...

I see nothing very wrong with saying, "I don't understand the Pope's approach," or "As someone who's very active in the pro-life movement, that remark of the Pope's is distressing," or even, "Is it prudent to give such encouragement to the anti-life forces?"

On the other hand, I'm liking better those who are listening very closely, trying to open their ears in new ways, presuming that it's much more likely that the Pope knows what's best for the Church as a whole right now than I do.

Katie van Schaijik

#40, Oct 9, 2013 2:23am

Here's an example of the kind of commentary I'm talking about.  

A different focus is great, but he needs to be consistent about it. If he's going to speak "to the people" through interviews, he needs to speak "to the people." For every "vague" or "controversial" statement he's made, I could pull up an anecdote or quotation from one of the Saints that would make the point in a far better way and be more readily understood.

I have to say that I think this kind of comment confirms exactly the justice of the Pope's concern. There is evidently a gigantic attitude problem among those who think of themselves as faithful Catholics.

Marie Meaney

#41, Oct 9, 2013 5:12am

Thanks for all your comments!

"I've honestly never met anyone that didn't know that the Church opposes abortion, contraception, sex outside marriage, and 'gay marriage'."

I guess we have different cultural experiences, Kate. I've been raised and lived in Europe for most of my life. Many of the people I know who are divorced and remarried, or use contraception or have premarital sex etc, think the Church's position on those issues has changed. For years I've heard sermons in German churches by priests saying that premarital sex is O.K. (I am not kidding), that people don't need to go to confession, and many other opinions undermining various teachings of the Church. Many German and Austrian bishops signed an official declaration after Humanae Vitae came out, toning down its message, even saying that it was up to the individual’s conscience to decide whether to use contraception or not. Cardinal Schoenborn therefore spoke in 2008 of these declarations as a "sin of the European episcopate". I have seen people argue with faithful priests, telling them that the Church had changed its teachings, and the priests having a hard time convincing them otherwise.

Marie Meaney

#42, Oct 9, 2013 5:13am

The confusion here is great, and I’m glad to hear that it is less so in the US (which jells in part with my experience over there, at least in Front Royal).

Now, if one dug deeper, many people with these life-choices might admit that the Church’s teaching hasn’t changed and that they know it. What it probably comes down to is that since there is such confusion and wishful thinking among many people and even among the clergy to say it is O.K., they’ve simply decided do it anyway and believe that doctrine will change some day (I also know lots of people who are convinced doctrine will change, just like the “next” Pope is always the one who will bring about that change).

Marie Meaney

#43, Oct 9, 2013 5:15am

Now, I agree with you and also completely with Pope Francis that hitting them over the head with the Church’s teachings on these issues is not helpful – quite the contrary; that they have to be drawn in again by Christ’s love for them, as it should be expressed by the Church in its clergy and faithful, in order to be willing then to make some changes in their lives which will be extremely painful and difficult. Past popes, like JPII and Pope Benedict, have done so very well, it seems to me – so whatever Pope Francis is doing, it’s not like his predecessors were doing a bad job (whatever the liberal press is trying to make us believe). Did they emphasize the moral teachings of the Church too much? I don’t think so. Does Pope Francis say too little? I don’t know, but somehow I don’t believe that it would be counter-productive if he had also emphasized or at least re-iterated the Church’s teachings on some of these issues in his interview.

Marie Meaney

#44, Oct 9, 2013 5:15am

I see what you mean, Kate, about the “obsession” of some of your FB-friends, and that is a problem. Again, this is not a problem one comes across frequently here in Europe :)

And yes, Katie, I agree with you that these “pronouncements” on the Holy Father are problematic, and they really get under my skin (they were also very wide-spread under JPII as well, and I couldn’t stand them).

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#45, Oct 9, 2013 9:07am

From his comments, it sounds like Francis is, at least partly, reacting to pressure he is experiencing from some quarters to be emphatic and aggressive on these issues...and honestly, there were plenty of people who complained that JPII and Benedict didn't do or say enough about these things, too! I remember how much disappoinment there was that Benedict didn't, in practice, turn out to be the 'Rottweiler' that both the press *and* a significant number of 'conservative' Catholics thought he would be. JPII, of course, saw a lot of criticism for his ecumenical efforts. So, I don't really see any interruption in continuity between recent Popes; there is merely a difference in experience and in personality and gifts. 

One thing that inspires me about Francis, even as it dismays many, is that he lives JPII's oft repeated injunction to 'be not afraid!'  There is something so wonderfully bold about these interviews and this commitment to personal encounter with others. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#46, Oct 9, 2013 9:11am

I will admit though, that it has all made me appreciate more how much of a gift to JPII's episcopate his theatrical background was. ;-) 

Katie van Schaijik

#47, Oct 10, 2013 4:40am

Here's another thought.  One column I read by a priest about Pope Francis used the analogy of "tacking" to describe the way the Church navigates toward perfection in the seas of time.  I think this is exactly right.

My experience and reading gives me the distinct impression that the traditionalist and arch-traditionalist wings of the Church were greatly emboldened by Benedict's papacy. It's as if it made them think that finally the Church was coming around to their way of seeing things, as it always should have. 

These ones in particular are shocked and dismayed that Pope Francis is evidently reversing course. 

Really, though, what it seems to me he's doing is tacking "left", lest the bark of Peter hit the shoals on the right.

The reaction to him on the right is proving how needed this course correction was.

Katie van Schaijik

#48, Oct 10, 2013 4:41am

Marie, I've spent enough time in Europe to have run often into exactly what you describe: Catholics who more or less take it for granted that if the Church hasn't "officially" changed her teaching, she's on her way, or else she's on her way to oblivion. In any case, if I personally don't have a problem with contraception, then I'll use it regardless.

But, doesn't it seem to be so that they aren't really so much confused about what the Church teaches as indifferent to what the Church teaches.

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