For the normally reserved Vatican to use excitable words is rare, but it had no qualms about describing Pope Francis’ first major papal visit last week to Rio de Janeiro as “triumphant.” One Vatican official close to the Pope told Newsmax he thought the trip “nothing short of fantastic.”
At a prayer vigil last Saturday, a vast crowd of three million pilgrims flocked to the beach at Copacabana — nicknamed ‘Popacabana’ — a venue ironically better known for parties and hedonism rather than a place of worship.
Such great participation was largely expected (Francis is, after all, the first-ever Latin-American Pope to set foot in Latin America), but it gave him an enormous platform in which to rouse the faithful into being better Catholics.
He called on priests to “be creative, be audacious,” to take to the streets and spread the Gospel to “break down evil and violence . . . intolerance and hatred.” He urged greater simplicity and less intellectualism so all people can understand the Church’s message, and he invited the faithful to take that message to the fringes of society — guidance he has given many times since becoming Pope.
And as the week progressed, he became more open and less apprehensive about speaking to the media. On the plane to Rio, he had said he didn’t like interviews and had only ever given a handful of interviews to the press before his election.
But his candid, spontaneous, and unscripted 80-minute press conference on the plane returning to Rome was unprecedented. Even the great papal communicator of the media age, Blessed John Paul II, was never quite so open and frank with journalists, while Francis’ own advisers who had originally recommended he hold such a press conference were surprised at the way in which he opened himself up to scrutiny. Before he’d left Brazilian soil, he had also given an exclusive interview to Brazilian television.
But with innovation comes risk, and the Pope’s comments to reporters on homosexuality were largely misinterpreted or caused confusion. His call for compassion for homosexuals was fully in line with Church teaching, but by saying he did not judge gay people, he was referring to orientation, not those who are practicing homosexuals. That nuance was lost by many news outlets, especially those with an agenda.
“[The Pope] is not saying homosexual acts are not a sin and he obviously isn’t changing Church doctrine, but he is making a change of emphasis,” one Vatican official close to the Pope told Newsmax on condition of anonymity. “The problem is the headlines,” he added, “and confusion over the meaning of the word gay. Does it mean simply orientation, or practice?”
Vito Mancuso, professor of theological history at the University of Padua, told the Adnkronos news agency that the Pope’s words “don’t represent a Copernican revolution, nor a subversion.” But he said they “do have an innovative dimension in the style in which they were delivered, and in the general desire for clarity and renewal that the Pope is proposing — a fundamental trait of this early period of his pontificate.”
But the Pope also caused some confusion by including a call to “forgive and forget” past transgressions when asked about a prelate, whom he recently appointed to oversee those in charge of the Vatican Bank, and who is alleged to have been embroiled in a homosexual scandal over 10 years ago. This led to accusations that Pope Francis was departing from a 2005 Vatican instruction that stated priests with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies should not be ordained.
The Vatican official said the problem is also with terminology, particularly over the words “deep-seated.” But again, he stressed the Pope “isn’t reaching out to them [practicing homosexuals] in the same way. He will confess them, but tell them to sin no more. He’s not saying [homosexual acts] are not a sin.”
Now Pope Francis faces challenges back home. There appears to be growing resistance among some hidden groups to his efforts to reform the Vatican Bank and his push for “transparency and honesty” which he sees as essential to the institution. Meanwhile, traditionalist Catholics, who have long had their doubts about him, had those uncertainties heightened this week after it was learned that he recently clamped down on a Franciscan order for celebrating Mass in the Old Rite. One traditionalist blogger said the move “means war.”
A further challenge is the Pope’s reform of the Roman Curia, the various departments of the Vatican, which have been criticized for poor management. Last year’s VatiLeaks scandal also drew attention to the need for change which many believe will be radical. One inside source believes the restructuring, which will probably take place after a commission of cardinals meets in October, would be “traumatic.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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