Pope Francis: I avoid reading heresy accusations “for the sake of my mental health”
ROME, February 16, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has acknowledged accusations of heresy and what he calls “doctrinal resistance” within the Church, but has said he chooses to ignore it to protect his mental health.
“There is doctrinal resistance,” the Pope told a group of his fellow Jesuits at a meeting on Jan. 16, but “for the sake of mental health I do not read the websites of this so-called ‘resistance.’”
“I know who they are, I am familiar with the groups, but I do not read them, simply for my mental health. If there is something very serious, they inform me so that I know about it,” he said.
Pope Francis’ comments came in a private meeting with 90 Jesuits in Santiago de Chile, during his recent apostolic visit to South America. Their conversation was transcribed by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolicà, and was published in Italian with the Pope’s approval on their online site on Thursday morning.
During the question and answer exchange in Chile, a Jesuit from the Argentine-Uruguayan province asked the Holy Father what “resistance” he has encountered during this pontificate, and how he is handling it.
In response, the Pope said it is important to consider if there is a “grain of truth” in the push-back he receives, and that sometimes what at first glance seems to be “resistance” is actually “a reaction arising from a misunderstanding, from the fact that there are some things one needs to repeat and explain better.”
“But when I realize that there is real resistance, of course it displeases me,” he said. “Some people tell me that resistance is normal when someone wants to make changes. The famous ‘we’ve always done it this way’ reigns everywhere, it is a great temptation that we have all faced,” he added.
“I cannot deny that there is resistance. I see it and I am aware of it,” he told his fellow Jesuits.
Pope Francis continued: “There is doctrinal resistance, which you all know better than I do. For the sake of mental health I do not read the websites of this so-called “resistance.”
“I know who they are, I am familiar with the groups, but I do not read them, simply for my mental health. If there is something very serious, they inform me so that I know about it. You all know them … It is a displeasure, but we must move ahead. Historians say that it takes a century before a Council puts down roots. We are halfway there,” he said.
The Pope added: “When I perceive resistance, I try to dialogue, when dialogue is possible.”
“But some resistance comes from people who believe they possess the true doctrine and accuse you of being a heretic,” he said. “When I do not find spiritual goodness in these people, because of what they say or write, I simply pray for them. It pains me, but I do not dwell on this feeling for the sake of mental hygiene.”
Last September, a group of 62 clergy and lay scholars took the rare step of presenting Pope Francis with a “Filial Correction,” charging him with permitting the spread of seven heresies, at least by omission, about marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments.
The filial correction, in the form of a 25-page letter, was delivered to the Pope at his Santa Marta residence on August 11, 2017. No similar action has taken place within the Catholic Church since the Middle Ages, when Pope John XXII was admonished for errors which he later recanted on his deathbed.
Expressing “profound grief” and “filial devotion,” the group of clergy and lay scholars “respectfully insist[ed]” that Pope Francis condemn the heresies that, in their view, he has directly or indirectly upheld, and that he teach the truth of the Catholic faith in its integrity.
The initiative provoked admiration and consternation among Catholics and drew considerable attention in secular media outlets — including the AP, BBC, CNN, Fox News, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, and Daily Mail.
The number of signatories quickly grew to 250 scholars, some from prominent institutions around the world. Pope Francis has issued no response.
Dubia or “doctrinal opposition”?
One year earlier, on Sept. 19, 2016, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, along with Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and recently deceased Cardinals Joachim Meisner and Carlo Caffarra, sent five questions, called dubia (Latin for “doubts”) to Pope Francis and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The cardinals said the aim of the dubia was to clarify “contrasting interpretations” of Paragraphs 300-305 in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, which are its most controversial passages relating to admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments, the indissolubility of marriage, and the proper role of conscience.
They made the initiative public on Nov. 14, 2016, when it became clear the Holy Father would not respond. Many defenders of Pope Francis interpreted the dubia as a kind of opposition to him.
One of the four, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, said in an interview following their public release that the Church is “suffering from a tremendous confusion on at least these five points,” that have to do with “irreformable moral principles.”
As cardinals, we “judged it our responsibility to request a clarification with regard to these questions, in order to put an end to this spread of confusion that is actually leading people into error,” he said.
Burke also stated that the four cardinals wrote the letter “with the greatest sense of our responsibility as bishops and cardinals,” but also “with the greatest respect for the Petrine Office, because if the Petrine Office does not uphold these fundamental principles of doctrine and discipline, then, practically speaking, division has entered into the Church, which is contrary to our very nature.”
Less than three months before his death, Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the founding president of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, wrote a second letter to the Holy Father on behalf of the four cardinals, requesting a private audience to discuss their deep concerns over the publication of Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis did not respond to the request.
Here below we offer our readers a LifeSite translation of the key exchange containing the Pope’s comments during his Jan. 16 conversation with his fellow Jesuits.
A Jesuit of the Argentine-Uruguayan province asked: What resistance have you encountered during your pontificate, and how have you handled it? Have you discerned?
When faced with difficulty, I never call it “resistance,” because that would mean giving up discerning, which is what I want to do instead. It’s easy to say that there is resistance and not realize that in the push-back there can also be a grain of truth. And so I let myself be helped by the push-back. Often I will ask someone: “What do you think of this?” This also helps me to put many things into perspective which at first sight seem to be resistance, but in reality are a reaction arising from a misunderstanding, from the fact that there are some things one needs to repeat and explain better… It may be a defect of mine that sometimes I consider some things obvious, or I make a logical leap without explaining the process well, because I am convinced that the other person has immediately grasped my reasoning. I realize that, if I go back and explain it better, at that point the other person says, “Oh, yes, I agree ….” In short, it is very helpful to examine thoroughly the meaning of the push-back.
When, instead, I realize that there is real resistance, of course it displeases me. Some people tell me that resistance is normal when someone wants to make changes. The famous “we’ve always done it this way” reigns everywhere, it is a great temptation that we have all faced. For example, we all lived through post-Vatican II. The opposition after Vatican II, which is still present, has this aim: to relativize, to water down the Council. I am even sorrier when someone enlists in a resistance campaign. And unfortunately I see this too. You asked me about resistance, and so I cannot deny that there is resistance. I see it and I am aware of it.
There is doctrinal resistance, which you all know better than I do. For for the sake of mental health I do not read the websites of this so-called “resistance.” I know who they are, I am familiar with the groups, but I do not read them, simply for my mental health. If there is something very serious, they inform me so that I know about it. You are all aware of them … It is a displeasure, but we must move ahead. Historians say that it takes a century before a Council puts down roots. We are halfway there.
Sometimes we ask ourselves: but has that man, that woman, read the Council? And there are people who haven’t read the Council. And if they have read it, they haven’t understood it. After 50 years! We studied philosophy before the Council, but we had the advantage of studying theology after it. We experienced the change in perspective, and there were already the Council documents.
When I perceive resistance, I try to dialogue, when dialogue is possible. But some opposition comes from people who believe they possess the true doctrine and accuse you of being a heretic. When I do not find spiritual goodness in these people, because of what they say or write, I simply pray for them. It pains me, but I do not dwell on this feeling for the sake of mental hygiene.
Another Jesuit asked Pope Francis: Holy Father, you have been a man of reform. In what reforms, besides that of the Curia and the Church, can we as Jesuits best support you?
I believe that one of the things the Church needs most today, and this is very clear in the perspectives and pastoral objectives of Amoris Laetitia, is discernment. We are accustomed to “you can or you can’t.” The moral [approach] used in Amoris Laetitia is the most classic Thomistic moral teaching, that of St. Thomas, not of the decadent Thomism like the one some have studied. In my formation, I also received a way of thinking that was “up to this point you can, up to this point you cannot.” I don’t know if you remember [here the Pope looks at one of those present] the Colombian Jesuit who came to teach us moral at the Collegio Massimo. When it came to speaking about the sixth commandment, someone dared to ask the question: “Can engaged couples kiss?” If they could kiss! Do you all understand? And he said, “Yes, they can! There’s no problem! They just need to put a handkerchief between them.” This is a forma mentis of doing theology in general. A forma mentis based on limits. And we are bearing the consequences.
If you have a look at the panorama of the reactions aroused by Amoris Laetitia, you will see that the strongest criticisms made against the Exhortation are on the eighth chapter: can someone who is divorced [and remarried] receive Communion or not?” And yet Amoris Laetitia goes in a completely different direction. It does not enter into these distinctions and poses the problem of discernment, which was already at the foundation of classical, great, true Thomist moral theology. And so the contribution I would like from the Society is to help the Church grow in discernment. Today the Church needs to grow in discernment. And the Lord has given us as a family this grace to discern. I do not know if you are aware of it, but it is something that I have already said at other meetings like this with Jesuits: at the end of the generalate of Fr. Ledóchowski, the climax of the Society’s spirituality was the Epitome. In it, what you had to do was all regulated, in a huge mix between the Formula of the Institute, the Constitutions and the rules. There were even the rules for the cook. And it was all mixed, without hierarchy. Fr. Ledóchowski was a close friend of the Abbot General of the Benedictines, and once when he went to visit him, he brought him the writing. A short time later, the abbot looked for him and said: “Father General, you have killed the Society of Jesus with this.” And he was right, because the Epitome removed any capacity for discernment.
Then came the war. Fr. Janssens had to lead the Company in the post-war period, and he did it well, as best he could, because it was not easy. And then came the grace of the generalate of Fr. Arrupe. Pedro Arrupe with the Ignatian Spirituality Center, the magazine Christus and the impulse given to the Spiritual Exercises renewed this family grace which is discernment. He went beyond the Epitome, he returned to the lesson of his fathers, to Favre, to Ignatius. In this, the role of the Christus magazine at that time must be acknowledged. And then also the role of Fr. Luis González with his Spirituality Center: he went around for the whole Society to give Spiritual Exercises. They were opening their doors, reviving this aspect that today we see has grown considerably in the Company. I would tell you, remembering this family story, that there was a time when we had lost — or I do not know if we had lost it, let us say that we did not use very much — the sense of discernment. Today, give it — let us give it! — to the Church, which needs it so much.