Papal Biographer: Interview Was 'Classic Francis'

Thursday, 19 Sep 2013 11:08 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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Papal biographer Dr. Matthew Bunson tells Newsmax that there was no new church doctrine made in Pope Francis’ widely published interview on Thursday but that the Pontiff’s personable style was “classic Francis.”

The senior correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor and author of the new book "Pope Francis," was not surprised by the interview, in which the Pontiff said that the Catholic Church should not allow its bans on gay marriage, abortion and contraception to dominate its teachings.

“There’s nothing new here. He’s not changing church doctrine in any way,” asserted Bunson in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

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“I think he’s helping Catholics to contextualize the wider enterprise evangelization that actually began under Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.”

In a dramatically blunt interview with Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit monthly, Francis also said the Church had locked itself up in "small things, in small-minded rules” and must find a new balance between upholding rules and demonstrating mercy "otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards.”

Having written the first English-language biography of the popular new head of the Catholic Church, Bunson said that some church leaders were probably caught off guard by the interview, which was approved in advance by Francis.

“I think they were probably taken by surprise by the interview,” he acknowledged. “I know that very, very few people in media — certainly even here in the Catholic media — had any sort of heads up that the interview was coming.”

With respect to the “house of cards” comment, Bunson said that the Pope’s message was consistent with his “long ministry” as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and now as head of the Holy See “without falling back on excessively legal responses and lacking the kind of pastoral care so many broken people in the world need to hear today.”

Since being elevated to the Petrine ministry in March 2012, Francis has challenged the Catholic faithful to move out of their comfort zone, according to Bunson.

“I think the content of the interview is classic Francis in the sense that it’s very wide ranging,” Bunson observed. “He is very discursive. He was very open. He’s not really uncomfortable grappling with difficult subjects. But he also has very much a prophetic quality to what he says and does.”

But the author also fears that the “secular media” will misinterpret the Pope’s remarks while picking and choosing specific lines to imply a “theological narrative” that doesn’t necessarily exist.

“In that sense I think the reaction from many in the secular media will be an effort to use that — the false narrative that’s being built — to create a wedge between Francis and some Catholic groups,” he warned. “But also to continue the effort to create a wedge between Francis and Benedict, which is thoroughly invalid — particularly since you can see in this interview a perfect line of continuity in my view between Francis and Benedict.”

Bunson said that anyone who takes the time to read the complete interview will “come away with a pretty clear understanding of what he’s trying to say.”

Bunson was much more surprised by the personal information that the Pope chose to share in the interview.

“From the standpoint of revealing a lot about his own personality. He has some wonderful and very interesting things to say about his sermons, about being the first Jesuit Pope, about Jesuit spirituality,” he explained.

One of the most profound messages Francis gave in the interview may have been how he views the role of the church.

“In the interview he called the church a field hospital. And he talks about the fact that the church has to welcome the gravely wounded and the injured to help them to heal,” according to Bunson. “That I think is one of the really important images coming out of this interview because in a field hospital you have to perform a kind of spiritual triage.

“You have to deal with the broken cases, the seriously wounded and injured. And once you do that through in this case providing God’s love, his mercy, by helping people who are broken and injured and wounded spiritually to have that encounter with Christ, you are then able to move on to helping these same people to understand why the Church believes what she does and there’s your opportunity to discuss the details of doctrine, of things like why the church is opposed to homosexual marriage things like that.”

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Bunson noted that the church has been experiencing a “Francis Effect” of lapsed Catholics returning to their faith.

“Catholics who have been away for a very long time are coming back, but they’re not just coming back to mass,” he observed. “From a Catholic standpoint, they’re doing it right. They’re going to confession and then they’re going to mass. So the renewal of their relationship with the Church is being done very sacramentally and I think that’s one of the things that Francis is trying to get at today too.”

He added that the Pope’s remarks were also consistent with the Second Vatican Council.

“He’s very open and has, I think, a young mind — much the same way that Benedict did,” he said. “But Francis is even more wide ranging I think. And it’s very revealing to his personality.”


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