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Pope Francis next to a statue of Martin Luther placed in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. October, 2016.

KABUL, Afghanistan, December 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis may have begun a new phase in his pontificate: doctrinal change, a priest and former philosophy professor has written. 

Italian Fr. Giovanni Scalese, the local Ordinary for Afghanistan, wrote a post titled Fase B (Phase B) on his blog “Antiquo robore,” arguing that Pope Francis laid out his new plan for doctrinal evolution in the Church in a recent speech.

The October 11 speech to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, in which Pope Francis presented his views on the death penalty, has a “programmatic” character, Scalese said. It represents a “turning point.” By concentrating on the details of Francis’s speeches, Scalese argued, some might miss the bigger picture of what the Pope is doing. 

In his speech, the Pope challenged previous Catholic teaching by calling the death penalty “contrary to the Gospel.” He said he would like the Catechism of the Catholic Church to change according to a “new understanding of Christian truth,” saying that only a “partial vision can think of ‘the deposit of faith’ as something static.”

For Scalese, the bigger picture of the Pope’s October 11 speech is “Phase B” of the Pope’s plan to change Church doctrine. 

According to Scalese, “Phase A” was the “pastoral conversion” Pope Francis mentions in Evangelii gaudium, which others have called “a paradigm shift” and Scalese himself calls a “pastoral revolution. “Phase A,” which describes Francis’ papacy until his October 11 speech, involved the privileging of pastoral care over doctrine. 

“The most significant event of this phase, without a doubt, was the publication of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia,” Scalese wrote. The exhortation has been interpreted by numerous bishops and Cardinals around the world as allowing civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics who are living in adultery to receive Holy Communion, even though such a practice contradicts previous Catholic teaching. 

“Phase B” will move from a de-emphasis on doctrine to a demand that doctrine evolve with the times, the priest said. 

“One gets the impression that the October 11 speech marked a transition to a new phase in which, while re-affirming that doctrine doesn’t change, one emphasizes the need for doctrine to progress,” Scalese wrote. “Until now this has never been said; until now one prefered not to speak of doctrine … and to concentrate on pastoral care. But now discourse on doctrine has been taken up again, to say that it must evolve to respond to the challenges of changing times.” 

Scalese said he doesn’t know if this shift was planned from the start as a “precise strategy” or if it became necessary because of the impossibility of continuing to ignore the implications of pastoral care that is at odds with doctrine.

“If doctrine says ‘A’ and pastoral care says ‘B’, it’s obvious that something is wrong,” Scalese wrote. 

“Therefore either the pastoral practice is changed or the doctrine is changed,” he added.

Seeing that in Francis’ papacy pastoral care now has precedence over doctrine, “it is quite understandable that one thinks of revising doctrine,” stated Scalaese. 

The Barnabite priest said that there is an authentic form of “development of doctrine in the Church,” that is “possible, legitimate, and even necessary.” He doubted Pope Francis was moving forward with such an authentic development.

Scalese observed that when presenting his speech, Francis brought up two crucial points about the doctrine of the Church: 1. that the deposit of faith must be kept intact and 2. that it must be made intelligible to people of our times and express “its implicit potentialities.” Scalese thinks that Francis was “exclusively” concerned with the second point, however, and that this overemphasis “gives rise to the suspicion that an ‘update’ to the previous magisterium is being prepared.” 

There is already a “research group” having another look at Humanae vitae, Scalese observed. “Now it would seem that we want to proceed also with a revision of the Catechism.” 

He suggested that Pope Francis’s remarks about the death penalty are a “pretext” and that after changing what the Catechism says about that, the pontiff might make other changes requested by “a few groups (e.g. about homosexuality).” 

Scalese raised suspicion of the plan to publish a new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with commentary. “Is it really necessary to comment on a catechism?” he asked. “Is it not already clear enough? Or do you want … a ‘reinterpretation’? Perhaps there is a need to ‘reread’ the Catechism in the light of Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia?”