Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

To judge the Pope's interview, recognize his objective

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 04, 2013

To all those readers who are disturbed by the statements of Pope Francis—and I know there are many—let me suggest a few mental exercises that may lead to a calmer perspective.

First, ask yourself whether Eugenio Scalfari, the Italian atheist who conducted the latest interview, is closer to the Catholic faith now than he was a month ago. If he is closer, then the Pope’s conversation with him served a useful pastoral purpose. Bear in mind that the interview published in La Repubblica was not a magisterial statement. Nor was it even the usual sort of formal interview, in which a public figure (in this case the Pope) is asked a series of questions that enable him to put his ideas on the public record. Notice that the Pope didn’t just answer questions; he also asked some questions of his own. This was a personal conversation: an exchange between the Holy Father and his new friend. What the Pope said was directed toward Eugenio Scalfari, not toward the world at large.

You might question whether it’s wise to put that sort of conversation on the record. Remarks one makes to a friend, sitting side by side, might be interpreted quite differently by people who read a written transcript, and a line of argument that works well for one individual might not be appropriate for a general audience. But even if you think it was imprudent for the Holy Father to put this conversation in print (and I’d agree), you must recognize the nature of the interview in order to read it intelligently. So again: Is Eugenio Scalfari closer to the faith?

Next, ask yourself how previous Pontiffs handled conversations of this sort. The answer, I think, is that we don’t know. Every Pope has private conversations, certainly, but until now those conversations have never found their way into print. Pope Francis is deliberately demystifying the papacy; in a variety of ways he is showing that he is an ordinary man, not a great potentate. If you consider this conduct unbecoming of a Pontiff, consider the words of St. Peter to Cornelius: “Stand up; I too am a man.” [Acts 10:26]

Finally, think about the “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” the Vatican program launched in 2011, at the suggestion of Pope Benedict XVI, to promote dialogue between Christians and non-believers. The Courtyard of the Gentiles has organized high-profile events in several European cities, with noted philosophers, artists, and political leaders as participants. All those meetings, all those press conferences, all those speeches, have not done as much to stimulate an actual dialogue as this one conversation between the Pope and an Italian journalist.

So now let broaden the question that I asked above. Are the world’s non-believers closer to the Catholic faith as a result of the Pope’s unusual approach? If they are, then that progress must be weighed against the discomfort of some Catholic readers.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach five million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Progress toward our April expenses ($19,134 to go):
$35,000.00 $15,866.48
55% 45%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Oct. 06, 2013 8:09 PM ET USA

    "Are the world’s non-believers closer to the Catholic faith as a result of the Pope’s unusual approach?" I would say, no. They are probably closer to believing in the caricature of traditional Christian and Catholic faith that is now so omnipresent in contemporary culture. And those that have fought so hard to bear true witness will find it more difficult to get Christ's and the His Church's actual message out. After all, the Pope has all but said they are wrong. "I have the humility..." indeed.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 06, 2013 12:17 AM ET USA

    "Are those Christians being murdered and tortured for being Christians ( like those in the Kenyan Mall massacre) comforted when they hear the Pope thinks youth unemployment is the worlds greatest problem." I think this is a grossly unfair comment which takes the Popes remark out of context. It would be ridiculous to think that Francis would think that "youth unemployment" would even begin to compare with eternal damnation in Hell, or even the tragic deaths in Kenya.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Oct. 05, 2013 11:48 PM ET USA

    What I find interesting about Pope Francis is that he speaks to Scalfari as to a particular person: he makes it very clear that this dialog is not addressed to some hypothetical group of people such as “all non-believers” or “all Catholics” or “all Christians” etc. With regard to evangelization he seems to suggest that such grouping is not useful: rather he addresses the particular person in front of him, who has his own unique experience.

  • Posted by: mdepietro - Oct. 04, 2013 11:38 PM ET USA

    Of course It is just as easy to ask are the worlds evangelical Christians closer to Catholics or are they puzzled and disturbed? Are those Christians being murdered and tortured for being Christians ( like those in the Kenyan Mall massacre) comforted when they hear the Pope thinks youth unemployment is the worlds greatest problem. Are those working hard to limit abortion in a pro-abortion culture reassured when he says we should not obsess over it. There are risks in this Papal style.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Oct. 04, 2013 6:58 PM ET USA

    I don't think this puts the Scalfari tactics in their true light. The assumption here is of a searcher good faith in conversation with the Pope. Scalfari comes from a long line of Masons. He is a militant secularist advancing his "secularist gospel." The plan is to use Pope Francis' good will against him so that confusion and discord can be sown among the faithful. He could not do this with Benedict which is why he is on record as anti anti Benedict. It is important to know the enemy as he is.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 04, 2013 2:58 PM ET USA

    "Are the world’s non-believers closer to the Catholic faith as a result of the Pope’s unusual approach? If they are, then that progress must be weighed against the discomfort of some Catholic readers..." Discomfort.... discomfort??? What does "discomfort" have to do with evangelization??? Ah yes..., there was "that thing..." The Cruxifiction... JP

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Oct. 04, 2013 1:22 PM ET USA

    I think it helpful to reread the interview. A 2nd or 3rd reading brings out curious details like the pope's offering Scalfari something to drink, the discussion of how they will greet each other, etc. For some reason, Francis wants us to see these things. Perhaps it's his way of saying, "Watch me. I'm not writing an encyclical here, I'm chatting with an acquaintance, a non-Catholic, about the Church. You could try this too maybe. But if you want to make any progress, don't come on gangbusters."

Subscribe for free
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Recent Catholic Commentary

Smaller Church, Bigger Faith, 3: Ecclesiastical Discipline April 17
The Holy Spirit and Evangelization: A Primer April 16
Journey to the Sun: A Strange Biography of Junípero Serra April 16
Russia's demographic recovery + US demographic decline = danger April 16
James Carroll strikes (at the Church) again April 16

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days