June 9, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The stunning introduction to today’s official Vatican Radio report on Pope Francis’ morning homily reads: “Pope Francis warned on Thursday against an excessive rigidity, saying those within the Church who tell us ‘it’s this or nothing’ are heretics and not Catholics. His remarks came during the morning Mass on Thursday celebrated at the Santa Marta residence.”
The specific section of the homily referred to in the opening is as follows:
This (is the) healthy realism of the Catholic Church: the Church never teaches us ‘or this or that.’ That is not Catholic. The Church says to us: ‘this and that.’ ‘Strive for perfectionism: reconcile with your brother. Do not insult him. Love him. And if there is a problem, at the very least settle your differences so that war doesn’t break out.’ This (is) the healthy realism of Catholicism. It is not Catholic (to say) ‘or this or nothing:’ This is not Catholic, this is heretical.
Jesus always knows how to accompany us, he gives us the ideal, he accompanies us towards the ideal, He frees us from the chains of the laws' rigidity and tells us: ‘But do that up to the point that you are capable.’ And he understands us very well. He is our Lord and this is what he teaches us.
Interpreting what Pope Francis is saying in a precise way has always been difficult. However, there has been a consistent theme in his remarks against what he refers to as ‘rigid’ Catholics who hold steadfastly to the ideals proposed by Christ and to absolutes. “Fundamentalism is a sickness that we find in all religions,” said the Pope in November while flying home from Africa. “Among Catholics there are many, not a few, many, who believe to hold the absolute truth,” he added. “They go ahead by harming others with slander and defamation, and they do great harm… And it must be combated.”
In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis criticized the Church for often proposing, “a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage.” He added that conscience can “recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”
An accusation of rigidity or heresy by Pope Francis against those who would insist on the ideal of Christ’s teaching such as marriage, would fall heavily on Francis’ own predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II, whom Pope Francis himself declared a saint. In the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul taught: “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church's teaching is essentially only an 'ideal' which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a 'balancing of the goods in question'.”
The same condemnation of heresy against “this or nothing” Catholics would seem to target the author of God or Nothing, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who Pope Francis appointed to head the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In God or Nothing, Cardinal Sarah forcefully rejected the notion of watering down the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage with pastoral leniency. “The idea of putting magisterial teaching in a beautiful display case while separating it from pastoral practice, which then could evolve along with circumstances, fashions, and passions, is a sort of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology,” he wrote.
Cardinal Sarah also issued a warning to prelates who would seek to alter doctrine by altering the practice of the Church regarding marriage. “Men who devise and elaborate strategies to kill God, to destroy the centuries-old doctrine and teaching of the Church, will themselves be swallowed up, carried off by their own earthly victory into the eternal fires of Gehenna,” he said.
Pope Francis says that Christ “tells us: ‘But do that up to the point that you are capable.’” The Bible however, records our Lord’s words differently in the Gospel of Matthew concluding the 5th chapter where He teaches the hard truths about divorce and adultery. “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect,” said Jesus.