Pope Francis describes the meaning of “Catholic” as including diversity, and specifically does not equate with uniformity.
If the Catholic right has already been surprised by our new pope, following remarks during his in – flight press conference in July, confused by his long September interview with Jesuit magazines, in a state of panic at the thought of the planned extraordinary synod on the family, how will they respond to this?
As part of the catechesis in a general audience, Wednesday October 9th, Pope Francis flatly contradicted a central tenet dearly held by what I think of as rabidly orthotoxic Catholics – those who are convinced that the deposit of faith is precisely defined (in terms exactly matching their own understanding, especially of all matters sexual), that all true Catholics are required to believe and follow absolutely every detail of this deposit as specified in the Catechism,and presented by the Vatican, and that failing to follow these rules, endangers one’s hopes of eternal salvation – and that questioning their validity counts as heresy. For that reason, they believe, it is their solemn religious obligation to correct and rebuke those who differ in their opinions from their own, deeming such rebukes an act of mercy, saving their miserable souls from damnation.
This view of course, ignores the facts, that embedded in the Catechism itself, and in numerous Vatican documents, are numerous references that contradict this narrow view. There is explicit recognition of the importance of conscience, not all elements of teaching are of the same level of importance, and not all require the same degree of assent. A close reading of the Catechism, furthermore, exposes elements that are self – contradictory (especially on matters of human sexuality). In effect, it is impossible for every Catholic to follow meticulously every line of the Catechism, every detail of every Vatican decree, or for every Catholic to interpret and apply these in the same way, as orthotoxic Catholics expect.
So what will they make of the pope’s very clear statement that their expected uniformity, of practice and belief, is simply NOT a mark of Catholicism, after all? Instead, in describing three meanings of the term “Catholic”, he gave the third as inclusive of diversity. Elaborating, he used the image of a symphony orchestra, in which different notes and tone colours of the many different instruments combine in glorious harmony. The challenge for the right is acute: for them it is an article of faith that the pope, guided by God, must be right – so what are they to make of papal pronouncements that contradict their cetnral conviction that Catholicism requires absolute conformity? Or that their own desire to impose uniformity “erodes the gifts of the Holy Spirit”?
It is not clear from the Vatican Information Service report exactly what characteristics he was referring to, but it is likely that he was thinking in terms of practice and belief, rather than demographics – where many measures of diversity are self-evident. LGBT Catholics however, can reasonably take these words to heart as including sexual, gender and family diversity – and certainly, applicable to diversity of interpretation, on Catholic sexual theology.
Here’s the VIS report, in full:
The Holy Father dedicated the catechesis of today’s general audience to catholicism and the concept of being Catholic. He explained three fundamental meanings of the idea, based on the Greek “kath’olon”, “totality”, and how these can be applied to the Church.Firstly, “the Church is Catholic”, he said, “because she is the space, the house in which the faith in its entirety is announced, in which the salvation brought by Christ is offered to all”. … In the Church, every one of us finds what is necessary to believe, to live as Christians, to became holy, to walk this path in every place and in every age”.“The Church is Catholic”, he continued, explaining the second meaning, “because she is universal, she spreads through every part of the world and proclaims the Gospel to every man and every woman. The Church is not an elite group, she does not concern only the few. … The Church is not closed, she is sent to all of humanity. She is the only Church present even in the seemingly least significant parts of humanity”.With regard to the third meaning of Catholicism, the Pope reiterated how “the Church is Catholic because she is the ‘House of harmony’ where unity and diversity know how to come together to create richness”. The Holy Father compared this to the image of the symphony, which means harmony and accord, in which different instruments play together. Each one retains its own inimitable timbre and the characteristics of its sound, guided by a director who ensures that the instruments all play together in harmony, but that the timbre of each instrument is not cancelled; on the contrary, the special quality of each one finds its highest expression. The Church, he said, “is like a great orchestra. We are not all the same, and we should not all be the same”, he emphasised. “Each person offers what God has given him”.The Pope concluded by asking the 60,000 pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square to live this harmony and to accept diversity, without seeking uniformity. “The life of the Church is variety”, he said, “and when we seek to make it uniform, we erode the gifts of the Holy Spirit. … Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may render us ever more ‘Catholic’!”
- Pope Francis Reflects on the Catholicity of the Universal Church (blackpoolparish.wordpress.com)
- VATICAN – Pope: The Church is “catholic” because it announces faith in its “entirety”, all over the world; proclaiming the Gospel to all and is “harmony” between unity and diversity (asianews.it)
- “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” Panics the Catholic Right. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Catholic reformers worldwide push for decision-making voice in their Church (queeringthechurch.com)