In past generations, communication was limited. Society was largely agrarian and the modes of communication and the technology to deliver such to people outside one’s immediate circle was limited. It wasn’t non-existent, nor was it undesirable. Quite the contrary. Human beings are social animals and all have a desire to communicate and need to communicate.
In modern times, it was the industrial revolution of the 19th century and the change in ways one obtains his daily bread that probably provided the most dramatic of lifestyle changes from the formerly agrarian society. Predictably, with those technological and lifestyle changes came the rise of the modern means of communication. These modern means of communication put people in contact with one another with a rapidity and connectivity like never before. With the recent advent of the internet and real-time social media, information is exchanged so rapidly as to be instantaneous; and it gives a pace to life that is both frenetic and mind-boggling.
I thought of all of these difficult issues in light of recent statements by Pope Francis on the size of families and marriage. In his off-the-cuff conversational manner, the Pope has not infrequently caused confusion. Couple this with the instant (and often conflicting) commentary by church officials, various Cardinals on their Twitter accounts, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry who has a blog and you have a situation where it is very hard to get to the truth of things. (I realize that I am currently writing on a blog!) When one does try to get to the truth of the matter, it becomes very frustrating. What has become clear–whether intended or not–is that within the current Pontificate, there are a variety of agendas jockeying for prominence in the Church.
Where once one could look to Rome for a definitive and well-reasoned answer on a particular issue of the day, we now see more confusion emanating from the Eternal City itself and from some bishops of the Church. Most troubling to this author are the seeming retreats from clear statements of doctrine and discipline in an effort to heed Pope Francis’s call to go “to the margins;” resulting in, at best, ill-advised comments to the media and, at worst, outright calls for changing that which is (by its nature) unchangeable.
We must be clear that there has been no unorthodox doctrinal statement that has come out of this pontificate. In fact, the only statements of Pope Francis that require religiosum obsequium are the canonizations of saints, the Encyclical Lumen Fidei, and arguably several other Apostolic Letters that touch doctrinal considerations and moral conclusions. However, there have been an abundance of “out-loud discussions” of a variety of pastoral initiatives that cannot help but give the impression of the dilution of doctrine. With this impression of the dilution of doctrine comes also the disheartening of the faithful who are doing their best to live by the discipline of the Church. What are the faithful to do when the unfortunate speculations and statements of these “out-loud discussions” come from the highest echelons of the Church and which are reported by a media that has not been known for anything close to an authentic religiosum obsequium?
In one sense, the faithful can do nothing. The pope and the bishops will say what they want to say; they will analogize the way they wish and their words will be reported–spun or unspun, seen or unseen. But, the faithful can do one thing–they can remain faithful. We have the Catechism and the Scripture; we have the timeless teaching of the Church. We should test all in light of the whole tradition of the Church–all of the Councils, all of the Pontificates, all of the holy and approved doctors. The Church has been wise in the past to censor theologians or church officials for such “out-loud discussions” that, in themselves, are not bad (among learned and theologically sophisticated theologians or bishops), but may give scandal or dishearten the faithful. This has been an especial problem since the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps now is the time for a return to the prudent and just censorship policies of past pontificates, “lest the little ones be lost.” Certainly this is a time for self-censorship and discretion by the Successors of the Apostles.
There is virtue in not publishing one’s every thought.
This article, Out-Loud Discussions is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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