And here’s what the Pope didn’t say

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 15, 2017

During his latest in-flight press conference, on his return flight from Portugal, Pope Francis made important statements on several hot topics: Medjugorje, sexual abuse, his meeting with President Trump, the prospects for regularization of the Society of St. Pius X. Those comments have deservedly commanded top billing in news coverage of the interview. So you might have missed the Pope’s response to another hot-button issue.

As the question-and-answer session was coming to a close, a Portuguese journalist was given the opportunity for a final question. He asked the Holy Father to comment on the fact that in Portugal, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, the political trend is favorable to recognition of same-sex marriage, acceptance of abortion, and now perhaps even euthanasia. Here is the Pope’s reply:

I think it’s a political problem. And that also the Catholic conscience isn’t a catholic one of total belonging to the Church and that behind that there isn’t a nuanced catechesis, a human catechesis. That is, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an example of what is a serious and nuanced thing. I think that there is a lack of formation and also of culture. Because it’s curious, in some other regions, I think of the south of Italy, some in Latin America, they are very Catholic but they are anti-clerical and ‘priest-eaters’, that … there is a phenomenon that exists. It concerns me. That’s why I tell priests, you will have read it, to flee from clericalism because clericalism distances people. May they flee from clericalism and I add: it’s a plague in the Church. But here there is a work also of catechesis, of raising awareness, of dialogue, also of human values.

So, given an opportunity to comment on the collapse of Catholic moral principles in a Catholic society—it could easily be described as a softball question—the Pope said... What?

Read that answer again, and tell me what the Pope thinks of Catholics who, in public life, betray Catholic principles. Good luck.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: djcastel7241 - May. 17, 2017 2:16 PM ET USA

    The question is why strong Catholic devotion doesn't always translate into following Church moral teaching. The Pope focuses on the poor: many in southern Italy are devout, with beliefs that educated Catholics are ashamed of, yet many of these are mangiapreti, showing deep moral disdain for priests. Since they don’t trust priests, they only get a distorted catechesis from popular culture. This social problem may not exist in the US, but the question was about Portugal, so the answer is on point.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - May. 17, 2017 1:57 PM ET USA

    Francis' comments are more coherent by subtracting his clericalism sentences. What's left says social-moral dysfunctions like support for same-sex unions, abortion&euthanasia result from dysfunctions in the political sphere, in formation of conscience by proper&complete catechesis (with which clericalism interferes) , & in culture. As well, there's a lack of understanding of what a human being is&how that being expresses Natural Law. But I admit that on first reading, I too thought WHAAA-AAT?!

  • Posted by: Retired01 - May. 17, 2017 12:48 PM ET USA

    First, I do not find his answer very clear, which is not surprising. Moreover, he appears to blame the problems mostly on clericalism. Thus, we could hypothesize that he may believe that if Catholics in public life betray Catholic principles, it is mostly the fault of the clergy, with little fault of their own. I wonder what his answer would had been regarding a political trend in unfavorable to belief in climate change. I hypothesize that his answer would be very clear.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 16, 2017 2:11 AM ET USA

    Perhaps Pope Francis was really tired and didn't hear the question at all but decided to "say something" anyway? But he, or his representative, would need to clarify it afterwards.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - May. 15, 2017 4:40 PM ET USA

    I'm so glad to see your reaction. I read it twice in complete bemusement and thought it was me---before I read your comment.

  • Posted by: shrink - May. 15, 2017 4:09 PM ET USA

    Psychiatrist would describe this as non-linear thinking. It is not a compliment.

  • Posted by: iprayiam5731 - May. 15, 2017 1:38 PM ET USA

    I got this: "People aren't properly catechized, they haven't been taught how to understand the teachings of the Church and Catechism as part of the reality of life, and it's mostly because priests are too clerical."

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 15, 2017 12:01 PM ET USA

    Still looking...still looking...still looking...

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 15, 2017 12:01 PM ET USA

    The Angel said: "Penance, Penance, Penance!" Wouldn't have been so wordy.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - May. 15, 2017 11:57 AM ET USA

    Gibberish. But he made sure to blame all the usual suspects. He could just as easily have said, Make sure your seatbacks are in the upright position and your tray tables are stowed and locked. Prepare for landing. Nobody pays any attention to that either.

  • Posted by: ALC - May. 15, 2017 11:46 AM ET USA

    He must come from the Hillary Clinton school of how to deflect a question and never answer it. However, if it's a question of catechesis, then he should be spending more time on teaching and correcting errors instead of contributing to them by vague and confusing answers and documents like LA. His main job is teaching/correcting/leading, not confusion, answers with a wink or allowing others to say what he really means, i.e. Maltese Bishops.