Over just a few days, a hailstorm of rebukes. Which show the pope’s irritation over the criticisms of “Amoris Laetitia,” these too the fruit, in his judgment, of a legalistic and decadent mentality
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 16, 2016 – In this fourth autumn of his pontificate, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is showing special concern for the seminaries, meaning the formation of new priests.
On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Vatican congregation for the clergy published a new 90-page “Ratio fundamentalis” for seminaries all over the world, which in reality departs very little from the previous instructions issued in 2005, and also repeats as-is the ban on admitting to the seminary and to sacred orders “those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, or support ‘gay culture’”:
> Il dono della vocazione presbiterale
This reconfirmation of the ban raised the predictable protest from those who were expecting from Pope Francis an “openness” in keeping with his famous motto “Who am I to judge?” And the Jesuit Thomas Reese, the former editor of “America,” has been the most adamant in calling for non-discrimination toward gay priests, who according to him are “between 20 and 60 percent” of the entire Catholic clergy:
> Yes, there are lots of good gay priests
But it is difficult to imagine that the reconfirmation of the ban could have escaped the attention of the pope, who has one of his most dutiful lieutenants in none other than Beniamino Stella, prefect of the congregation for the clergy. And then for Bergoglio theory is one thing and practice another, considering the number of homosexual priests in the circle of his closest collaborators and confidants.
More than the publication of the “Ratio,” the true indicator of the reason why the seminaries are so close to the pope’s heart is found in the discourses he recently dedicated to the subject.
First of all it must be kept in mind what Francis said last October 24 in meeting with the Jesuits gathered to elect their new superior general, in the transcription released in “La Civiltà Cattolica” of December 10:
“Discernment, the capacity to discern, is the key element. And I am referring precisely to the lack of discernment in the formation of priests. We are in fact at risk of getting used to ‘black and white’ and to that which is legal. We are fairly closed off, by and large, to discernment. One thing is clear: today in a certain number of seminaries a rigidity has again established itself that is not closely compatible with a discernment of situations. And it is a dangerous thing, because it can lead to a conception of morality that has a casuistic sense. [. . .]
“I and those of my generation – perhaps not the younger, but my generation and some of the next – were brought up in a decadent scholasticism. We studied theology with a manual, and also philosophy. [. . .] It was that decadent scholasticism which provoked the casuistic attitude. And it is curious: the subject ‘Sacrament of penance’ was usually – but not always – taught by professors of sacramental moral theology. The whole field of morality was restricted to ‘permitted’ and ‘not permitted,’ ‘this far yes and this far no.’ [. . .] It was a moral theology very much estranged from discernment. [. . .] I believe that Bernard Häring was the first to begin seeking a new way to revitalize moral theology. Obviously in our days moral theology has made a great deal of progress in its reflections and in its maturity; by now it is not casuistic anymore.”
As can easily be noted, Bergoglio’s polemic against the “rigidity” that he still sees being taught today in the seminaries is interwoven with the much more important and grave controversy that divides the Church today in interpreting and applying “Amoris Laetitia,” on the key question of communion for the divorced and remarried.
It should suffice to look at the terminological resemblance between what the pope said in this conversation with the Jesuits and the telegraphic non-answer that he gave in the November 18 interview with “Avvenire” to the five “dubia” made public by four cardinals regarding none other than the post-synodal exhortation:
“Some still fail to understand, it’s either black or white, even though it is in the flux of life that one must discern.”
In the second place, “discernment” is also a key word of the guidelines for seminaries published on December 8.
Cardinal Stella emphasized this in “L’Osservatore Romano” of that same day, in an interview presenting the “Ratio”:
“Discernment is a gift that pastors must exercise over themselves and, even more, in pastoral areas, to accompany and interpret in depth above all the complex existential situations by which the persons entrusted to us are often marked, burdened, and wounded.”
And to put to rest any doubt that this is the pope’s main concern, Stella continued by citing a remark taken straight from the words Francis spoke to the Jesuits:
“One thing is clear: today in a certain number of seminaries a rigidity has again established itself that is not closely compatible with a discernment of situations.”
But the pope was even more explicit and biting in addressing the seminarians and superiors of the major seminary of Rome, in the homily for the Mass of December 9 in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta:
> Preti autentici
It must be added that the relationship between Francis, who is the bishop of Rome, and his seminary has never been a happy one.
With John Paul II and Benedict XVI the tradition had been established that the pope would go at least once a year to deliver a meditation to the seminarians, on the feast of the Madonna della Fiducia.
But Bergoglio, as soon as he was elected pope, interrupted this tradition and cancelled the visits. Only once has he granted the Roman seminarians a transient greeting, at the end of the ordination as bishop, at Saint John Lateran, of the new auxiliary of the diocese Angelo De Donatis on November 9, 2015. And he made a point of going in to greet them on his own, brusquely leaving outside the door both the cardinal vicar Agostino Vallini, who was accompanying him, and the rector and other superiors who were preparing to do the honors.
Francis has never explained in public the reasons for this aversion of his. Nor did he want to call any attention to the invitation he addressed to the seminarians and superiors of the major Roman seminary – although without the presence of the cardinal vicar and of the auxiliary bishops – to attend Mass with him at Santa Marta last December 9.
In the homily, however, he brought out all of his misgivings concerning the contemporary formation of the clergy, not caring that he was heaping them upon those with the misfortune of being present, who were treated as if they were the guilty ones.
Here are a few passages from it, taken from the official account in “L’Osservatore Romano”:
“In order to make themselves important, the priests take the way of rigidity: so many times, detached from the people, they do not know what human suffering is; they lose what they had learned in their own homes from their father, mother, grandma, grandpa, siblings.” In losing “these things they are rigid, those rigid ones who load upon the people so many things that they themselves do not carry.”
“Rigidity” means “whip in hand with the people of God: this is not permitted, this is not permitted.” And “so many people who draw near seeking a bit of consolation, a bit of understanding, are pushed away with this rigidity.”
But “rigidity cannot be kept up for very long, completely.” Above all “in its essence it is schizoid: you will end up appearing rigid, but on the inside you will be a disaster.”
And “together with rigidity” there is also “worldliness.” Thus “a worldly priest, rigid, is someone who is unsatisfied because he has taken the wrong road.” Precisely “with regard to rigidity and worldliness” Francis wanted to make reference to an episode “that happened some time ago: there came to me an elderly monsignor of the curia, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus, and he told me that he had gone to the Euroclero to buy a couple of shirts, and he saw a young man standing in front of the mirror – he thinks he wasn’t more than twenty-five years old, either a young priest or one who was about to become a priest – in front of the mirror, with a cape, big and wide, with velvet and a silver chain, and he was looking at himself. And then he took the ‘saturno’ [hat], put it on and looked at himself: one who is rigid and worldly.” And “that priest – he is wise, that monsignor, very wise – was able to get over his grief with a bit of healthy humor, and he added: ‘And they say that the Church does not allow the priesthood for women!’” This is how “the trade that the priest practices when he becomes a functionary ends up in ridicule, always.”
Curiously, from the brief video released by the Vatican Television Center it appears that none of the Roman seminarians present at the Mass was wearing the cassock, a “ladies’” garment that Bergoglio doesn’t like:
> Casa Santa Marta, Santa Messa del 9 dicembre 2016
On the other hand, there are cassocks on all of the numerous seminarians from the regional pontifical seminary of Puglia “Pio XI,” whom the pope received on the following day in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, together with their bishops:
> Udienza Pontificio Seminario Regionale Pugliese “Pio XI”, 10 dicembre 2016
For this audience, the papal offices had prepared a written speech, which Francis however did not read, replacing it with one of his off-the-cuff speeches.
A very warm speech, entirely focusing on the positive and without a speck of that acrimony which shone through in the homily with his seminarians of Rome, and capped off with a festive group shot of the seminarians all packed together around the pope (see photo).
Here is the complete transcription of it:
> Grazie tante…
It remains a mystery why there should be this dual treatment, negative with the seminarians of Rome and positive with those of Puglia.
Just as an explanation remains to be given for the dramatic scarcity of vocations to the priesthood that the diocese of Buenos Aires suffered during the fifteen years of Bergoglio’s tenure as archbishop:
> La crisis de vocaciones impacta en la Iglesia