Yes, No, I Don’t Know, You Figure It Out. The Fluid Magisterium of Pope Francis

Yes, No, I Don’t Know, You Figure It Out. The Fluid Magisterium of Pope Francis

He never says all that he has in mind, he just leaves it to guesswork. He allows everything to be brought up again for discussion. Thus everything becomes a matter of opinion, in a Church where everyone does what he wants

by Sandro Magister

ROME, May 13, 2016 – How the magisterium of Pope Francis works was explained a few days ago by one of his pupils, Archbishop Bruno Forte. He recounted that during the synod on the family, for which he was special secretary, the pope said to him:

“If we talk explicitly about communion for the divorced and remarried, you have no idea what a mess these guys will make for us. So let’s not talk about it directly, you get the premises in place and then I will draw the conclusions.”

And so, thanks to this “wise” advice – Forte continued – matters came to “fruition” and the papal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” arrived. In which the reformers have found what they wanted.

Forte’s is not a confidence snatched by betrayal. He said it from the stage of the theater in the city of Vasto, of which he is archbishop, in front of a packed crowd. “Typical of a Jesuit,” he commented afterward with a smile.

Because that’s just what Francis does. He never says everything that he has in mind. He just leaves it to guesswork. And he lets the interpretations run, even the most disparate, over what he says and writes.

That this approach should be used in private conversations is understandable. But Jorge Mario Bergoglio exercises it in systematically in public, in his official acts of magisterium, even when everyone is expecting him to add it all up and give a clear and definitive response.

With respect to the magisterium of previous popes, carved in stone, polished word by word, unmistakeble, that of Francis is an epochal transformation.

“Amoris Laetitia” is glaring proof of this. In reading it, the German cardinal and theologian Walter Kasper, who for decades has been the most combative proponent of communion for the divorced and remarried, had no doubts: reformers like him, he declared exultantly, now have “the wind at our backs to resolve such situations in a humane way.”

But another cardinal theologian and fellow countryman, Gerhard Müller, has read the contrary in it. He has said that there is nothing in “Amoris Laetitia” that clearly overturns the magisterium of the perennial Church, which forbids that communion. And Müller is not just anyone, he is the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, the supreme court in the supervision of doctrine.

But anyone who believes that at this point Francis should clearly say where he stands is sure to be disappointed. Because meanwhile the pope has promoted a third cardinal, the Austrian Christoph Schönborn, as his most trusted interpreter of the post-synodal exhortation. A role that Schönborn is playing to perfection, with explanations also in the style of Bergoglio, all to be interpreted anew, on the ambiguous border between doctrine presented as unchanged and pastoral applications that must be new and changing.

No to barred gates, no to revolutions. But the third way conceived by Francis is anything but unyielding. Just the opposite.

By bringing back into discussion what appeared definitive before him, he has opened a process that gives equal citizenship to the most irreconcilable opinions, and therefore also to the most fiery reformers.

The unparalleled example of this inventiveness of Bergoglio’s may have come last February, when he went to visit the Lutheran Church in Rome (see photo).

A Protestant married to a Catholic asked him if she too could receive communion, together with her husband. And he replied to her with such a roundabout yes, no, and I don’t know as to give no understanding, in the end, what conclusion to draw, if not this: “It is a problem to which everyone must respond.”

It was to no use that Cardinal Müller, in the subsequent days, exerted himself to reiterate that the doctrine of the Church on this point had not changed. Because what was certain was that the pope had made it a matter of opinion, he in the first place, with his statements, denials, and contradictions.

They have their work cut out for them, the bishops and cardinals of Africa, or of Eastern Europe, or of the school of Wojtyla and Ratzinger. Cardinal Kasper has understood very well how things stand: “There is freedom for all. In Germany that can be permitted which in Africa is prohibited.”

With Pope Bergoglio a new model of Church is advancing, fluid, multicultural.


This commentary was published in “L’Espresso” no. 20 of 2016 on newsstands as of May 13, on the opinion page entitled “Settimo cielo” entrusted to Sandro Magister.

Here is the index of all the previous commentaries:

> “L’Espresso” in seventh heaven


The episode recounted by Archbishop Bruno Forte was reported by an online newspaper of the city of Vasto, of which he is archbishop:

> “Nessuno si deve sentire escluso dalla Chiesa”

It should come as no surprise that Forte puts the expression “you have no idea what a mess these guys will make for us” into the mouth of Pope Francis.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, the official spokesman of the Holy See, was the first to give the translation “make a mess” for the Spanish incitement “hacer lío” often addressed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the young people he meets. When he converses in Italian, the pope uses such expressions comfortably.


On the “orthodox” exegesis of the post-synodal exhortation attempted by Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, see:

> Reading Exercises. The “Amoris Laetitia” of Cardinal Müller

But by now it is evident that for Francis, Cardinal Müller no longer matters at all. In place of him, for the official presentation of “Amoris Laetitia” on the day of its publication, the pope called the Austrian cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna. And then again he indicated him as the authorized interpreter of the same, during the press conference on the flight back from the island of Lesbos.

To the journalists, Francis presented Schönborn as “a great theologian” who “was secretary of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, and knows Church doctrine well.” Exaggerating, becuase the archbishop of Vienna was never “secretary” of the congregation, but only a member, as appears more correctly in the transcription of the papal press conference published afterward on the Vatican website.

Also viscerally hostile to Müller is Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Argentine archbishop whom Bergoglio has adopted as his own “theologian of reference” and to whom he is mainly indebted for the writing of his major documents:

> E questo sarebbe il teologo di fiducia del papa?


On the visit of Pope Francis to the Lutheran Church in Rome, see:

> Sì, no, non so, fate voi. Le linee guida di Francesco per l’intercomunione con i luterani

And on another spectacular example of his meandering eloquence, concerning the American elections and laws on homosexual unions in Argentina and Italy:

> Il gesuita perfetto. Autoritratto volante di Jorge Mario Bergolio

Get AQ Email Updates

Leave a Reply