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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — A prominent Washington D.C.-area monsignor was compelled to react to Pope Francis’ impromptu remarks made last month in which he warned that Catholic priests should not be “putting our noses into the moral life of other people.”

“Permit me to state my utter bewilderment at such a notion. As a priest, and especially as a confessor and spiritual director, this is my duty!” Msgr. Charles Pope wrote in a lengthy post, published in the National Catholic Register, regarding the Pope’s comments in a question-and-answer session after a conference on the family in Rome in mid-June.

At a general audience after the conference, the Pope was asked about how to balance Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage while welcoming Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

Francis replied that neither “rigorism nor laxity” was the right response. “The Gospel chooses another way: welcoming, accompanying, integrating, discerning, without putting our noses in the ‘moral life’ of other people,” he said.

Msgr. Pope, who has led Bible studies at the White House and Congress in recent years and is pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington, also took exception to the Pope’s characterization of priests who were rigoristic as “animals” who are guilty of “pastoral cruelty” toward parishioners.

“Such a word should never have come out of his mouth, and I would hope for an apology for this offensive characterization, not merely a Vatican ‘clarification,’” he wrote. “I certainly have some differences with brother priests, I would call my differences with dissenting priests significant. But this does not permit me to call them animals, and the Pope, who seems to have done so, has no business doing it either.”

“Admittedly, the recorded comments are hard to follow, but the cleansed Vatican transcript is more in the mode of ‘Let’s pretend this was never said as recorded’ rather than a clear denial — 'The Pope wants to say he not consider priest animals, even though he thinks some are too hard-lined on this matter.'”

He later added, “I pray that never again will we hear reported such a rude and unnecessary remark from this Pope or any Pope. No human person should be called an animal by a pope or anyone, for that matter. Metaphors and similes have their place in human discourse, but to univocally call a fellow human being an animal is out of line.”

Calling himself a simple priest “in the trenches” who is not an expert on Canon law, Msgr. Pope agreed that no pastor should “unnecessarily pry into the private lives of parishioners.”

Using a medical analogy, he argued that pastors need to know their parishioners’ personal issues to help them, just as a doctor treating a patient “with breathing difficulties and chest pains” would ask if he smoked or exercised. “Is a doctor putting his nose into the private life of the patient, or is he seeking necessary information?”

Similarly, a pastor “has the duty to know and assist the faithful in their moral life. Thus, if a baptism form indicates cohabitation, or single motherhood, he has a duty to teach. If, in confession, he finds evidence of sinful drives, or if a couple comes to him who are cohabiting, he must discuss this with them, explain why it is wrong and should stop and set forth the truth that alone sets us free.”

Msgr. Pope argued that “to fail to do so is not kindness, it is malpractice! … This is pastoral care, not snooping.”  

While most priests he knows would never refuse to baptize a single woman’s child, Msgr. Pope said, “Those who do, at times, delay baptism do so for other reasons [than cruelty] , such as little evidence for a well-founded hope that the child will be raised in the faith. There are some prudential judgments to be made and pastors are required to make them.”

Msgr. Pope then considered the reinterpretation or “spin” the Vatican put on the Pope’s comments, saying he had meant that priests were cruelly treating their parishioners like animals by refusing to baptize their children.

“Well, count me as less than relieved by this explanation,” he wrote, adding that it was still “highly disrespectful” to say priests are treating others like animals because they delay giving their children baptism “usually for a number of reasons.”

Msgr. Pope called for an end to  Francis’ “ad hoc, off-the-cuff, impromptu sessions, whether at 30,000 feet or at ground level.” They cause “much harm through confusion,” discourage and mislead the faithful and empower dissenters.

He concluded by saying these were his personal reflections and then offered a prayer.

“But I can assure you, dear reader, that the impact hits priests hard, and I cannot deny a certain weariness and discouragement at this point. I realize that such remarks of the Pope are not doctrinal, but just try and tell that to gleeful dissenters and the morally confused or misled in this world.

“Let us pray for our Holy Father and for the universal Church.”