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The Mystery of Pope Francis Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Thursday, 13 March 2014

Please note: Dr. Royal and Fr. Gerald Murray will discuss the pope’s first anniversary with Raymond Arroyo tonight (8:00 Eastern) on “The World Over Live.” Please check your local listings for the EWTN channel in your area. – Brad Miner
 

Today marks the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. It’s one of the great paradoxes of his papacy that this man, hailed from the first for his simplicity and humility, has generated more puzzlement than any pope in modern memory.

Quite apart from the usual media ineptness, which almost always reads religious questions in crude terms of left and right, in some ways that’s no surprise. Simplicity is never as simple as it looks. In fact, simplicity is so rare that it’s hard to follow for most of us, whose heads typically buzz with half-formed theories and distorting pre-conceptions. And that’s when we’re even trying to pay attention. It takes real work to get to clarity or simplicity – about anything.

I was in St. Peter’s Square last year when Francis stepped out on the balcony. His first words as pope, “Buona sera,” marked him out as strongly as John Paul II’s famous “Be not afraid!” in the same situation. When he bowed and asked the crowd to pray for him – often misreported as asking for “the blessing” of the people – his image in the media, rightly or wrongly, was settled: a humble man, trying to reform the Church, eliminate harsh rules, and welcome the whole world.

Subsequent interviews, of course, have raised questions about just how his whole vision fits together. Whatever the answer to those questions – and they cannot simply be wished away, as some would like – it’s not “simple.”

He’s repeatedly said he’s a “man of the Church” and, of course, believes all that the Church teaches. But we’ve also had the unfortunate static introduced by stray remarks such as: “Who am I to judge?” about gays; last week’s “civil unions” comment; mounting pressure in the Vatican itself, it appears, to change teaching about divorced and remarried people being able to receive Communion. His real positions are more nuanced and different than the wishful thanking of many reporters and dissenters, and attract wide attention because of the pope’s palpable spontaneity and infectious charisma. Still, they’re not always easy to parse out.

Just this week, a clever article appeared comparing the pope’s American and practical bent to the pragmatism of William James and Charles Saunders Pierce, contemporary philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Slavoj Zizek, and other anti-theoretical theorists. I don’t know if that’s the case – no one can. And it’s more than a little odd to invoke these heavyweights to explain Jorge Bergoglio. But if true, it would mean that the pope resembles President Obama when he claims that he’s “not very ideological” and is only interested in “what works.” There’s a lot of complex theory packed into that seemingly simple goal.

For instance, he’s miles beyond movements like the old Liberation Theology with its limping Marxist praxis. Some American conservatives claimed, absurdly, that Francis is a Marxist merely for saying the global economic system must be re-ordered to help the poor and marginalized.

We should give the pope – and Karl Marx – a little more credit than that. Marxism offered itself as “scientific” socialism that would inevitably replace false economic and political systems. An engineer who built a bridge on a “science” that failed so spectacularly would be in jail.

Francis is nobody’s fool and quite aware of all that. Like all modern popes, he knows that he doesn’t know how to get to where he’d like us to be. That’s a job for others – he’s merely pointing the way. Besides, as we see every day, no one is really in charge of the global economy or the international political order. We muddle around trying to respond to economic crises, smooth out regional conflicts, and give some semblance of international law to the world. But the world is fallen, as are we ourselves. Maybe that’s why Francis’ description of the Church as a kind of “field hospital” during a battle made such an impression.

The world likes him to talk about politics and justice – and who, by the way, is against improvements in either realm? Talking about poverty and inclusion, which John Paul II and Benedict XVI did as well (but received little credit for), helps the journalistic narrative that the pope wants to turn away from neuralgic sexual and life issues.

But Francis has also often denounced the throwaway culture that thinks children in the womb are disposable. And he’s even called Pope Paul VI “prophetic” for holding onto the ancient Christian teaching on contraception, not that long ago the common understanding in all Christian churches. You didn’t hear about that? Maybe you should send a letter to the editor. But don’t get your hopes up.

Still, to be frank, it didn’t help when, early in his papacy, Francis spoke of Catholics not always “insisting” and “obsessing” about abortion and similar questions – perhaps a beginner’s stumble. More recently, he’s said to interviewers that he wishes to be careful because his every word is scrutinized and, he fears, sometimes misunderstood.

So, at least for now, we are left with an enigma. We have a remarkable pope, a man who has an uncanny ability to reach out and electrify the whole world with an uncommon touch. John Paul II did the same, though in a more public, less personal way. We also have a pope with a deep appreciation of our moment, and therefore is not reluctant to put his name to Lumen fidei, the brilliant analysis of the state of things, largely written by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, with whom – pace the troublemakers in the media – he has warm relations.

And yet, after this first year, we remain puzzled about how, exactly, all these different parts of him fit together. The workings of the Holy Spirit are often a mystery. And that, for the time being, may be the best answer, while we follow this singular shepherd, to all our queries.  

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (35)Add Comment
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 13, 2014
"Like all modern popes, he knows that he doesn't know how to get to where he'd like us to be." If I am be so bold, I think that every Pope since Peter has known that consecreation of the world to Christ is the only answer. Every scheme for that does not begin with recongizing the Kingship of Son of God is precisely that--a scheme. All other paths, espically those demonic ons that claim to recogniz the Savior as merely an important philosopher, are evil ruses. Men cannot treat their fellows with the dignity due them as creatues of God if they do not recnogize the Son of God as Lord. Too sectarian? Yes, I'd say that too if I were a Freemason or a Marxist. His Holiness is neither, thanks be to God!
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, March 13, 2014
The problem with the Holy Father's confusing, "it's-anyone's-guess-what-he-means" statements is that after awhile faithful Catholics just stop paying attention. That's the real danger.

There used to be a TV commercial many years ago that went something like this: "When EF Hutton speaks, everyone listens." EF Hutton is no longer around for anyone to listen to.
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written by Manfred, March 13, 2014
Thank you for this report, Robert.The one word which describes the Second Vatican Council best is "ambiguity". That is the same word which precisely describes this pope and this pontificate.
An Italian priest who celebrates the Traditional Mass exclusively, wrote under the nom de plume Don Pietro Leone that the proper response to Vatican II was not a hermeneutic of continuity, but rather the hermeneutic of FORGETFULNESS. Ignore it. It was a waste of time! The Church of Sacred Tradition will be what endures.
This pope was the runner up to Ratzinger in 2005 and the winner of the papal office in 2013. He truly represents the ambiguity of Vatican II. He is its pope and he will continue to perpetuate the errors, heterodoxy, heresies and confusion of that Council.
Perhaps, as Christ said: "It would be better if he had never been born."
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written by Jack,CT, March 13, 2014
Dr Royal,
I asked myself if this critique was about 'Me"
How would I feel?

Answer; Not Good/ where is the fear from?

I can restate all you stated the 'Pope' did not say when he said something but for what....Those of us "Moderates" have
found our Pope and deep down we all know it.
Know since when is it acceptable to call a Pope a "Beginner"?

I respect the fact that NOT Any Pope could change what is
at the heart of mother church but,he does set the tone,right?

And of course the conspiracy begins as evidenced by some of the comments above.
Today is a day of celebration to many of us and a day of
"The Editorial",I feel a mistake,a big one.

Thanks for the read Dr Royal-

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written by Augustine Thomas, March 13, 2014
There's no mystery.. The guy is borderline heretic who rambles about nonsense, without any discernible motivation except to glorify himself and his ideological allies.
He is motivation for heretics and apostates and demoralizing for the orthodox.
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written by grump, March 13, 2014
I partly agree with Manfred in that "ambiguity" sums up Francis' reign so far. He has sometimes sent mixed signals rather than the clear messages of the Gospel. Vatican journalist John Allen Jr. calls the pope "celebrity par excellence." A "rock star," we are told, up there with Bruce and Mick. The pope himself shuns such a description. In an interview published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week, he said: “Depicting the pope as a sort of Superman, a star, is offensive to me. Mythologizing and idealizing him, he said, is a kind of “aggression. . . . The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person.”
As one pundit put it, "Of course, the trouble for Francis is that the more humble he appears, the bigger he becomes."




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written by Blake Helgoth, March 13, 2014
Wow, some pretty prideful comments masquerading as humility. This Pope is a man who lives is the presence of the Holy Spirit and His Spouse, Mother Mary. The only reason he is at all confusing is that you are listening / reading to him with an old mind and an old heart instead of a heart and mind renewed and illumined by the Holy Spirit. Essentially, what the Pope is saying is that Christianity is not an ideology but a communion with the Blessed Trinity.
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written by John Bugay, March 13, 2014
I don't know that anybody thinks he's "a remarkable man who has an uncanny ability to reach out and electrify the whole world with an uncommon touch" so much as someone who mis-speaks and gives the impression that he's going to stand behind something like "gay marriage". They would have liked him for that; not because he is remarkable in some other way.
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written by schm0e, March 13, 2014
I guess we all stumble along; and we should perhaps therefore discount our own armchair quarterbacking at least a bit.

Nonetheless, he certainly has our attention, doesn't he?

I can't say Cadinal Dolan's calculated ambiguity leaves me as comfortably ambivalent. He's a professional who can estimate the impact of every carefully chosen word, every nod, every big smile.

When he says "Bravo" to the football player who throws a press conference about his choice of sexual orientation, it seems to defy ambiguity. Regardless of what in the big universe of possible interpretations is the correct one, all the watching world heard was, "Bravo."

I say, "shameful". There is a time when ambiguity is confusion itself.
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written by Dennis Larkin, March 13, 2014
Our Lord Himself scandalized many with his unpredictable actions and teachings. He left many puzzled in His wake.

Either the Holy Spirit guides the Church and the Pope or He does not. I'm betting that He does guide the Church.
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written by william manley, March 13, 2014
Here's what bothers me most about the Pope: there is a disconnect between his biggest and most unambiguous issue, poverty, and his seeming retreat from the bedrock of Catholic teaching, the sanctity of marriage. Does this Pope not realize the direct correlation between poverty and broken homes?
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written by Myshkin, March 13, 2014
Well, I agree with Dr. Royal and disagree with him as well. Pope Francis is a simple guy. He always lived a simple life even as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But simplicity of life for someone in religious life (Jesuit) often revolves around an emotional need to be liked. Ultimately, this Pope wants to be liked, so he says and does things he calculates will make him liked. And look: he's on the cover of Time magazine! It's working!

Of course he feels embarrassed when he's called a rock star. He doesn't want that … just as Marty in Paddy Chayefsky's play or Napoleon Dynamite in Jared Hess's film … he just wants to be liked. Who can blame him?

But we expect more from a Pope. Like emotional maturity. To me this is what Pope Francis lacks, and that lack is the source of all the "who-am-I-to-judge" and other anxious-to-please mis-statements he's made to journalists all over the planet.

As for the "clever article" Dr. Royal refers to, I didn't find it so clever. It never really completes any of the philosophical threads it mentions. How is Bergolio like William James (or stranger, C.S. Peirce)? You'll never know from this thingey-article. and Does the writer really expect us to seriously believe his lumping together of Pope Francis as a "radical realist" along with Slavoj Žižek? Anyone who's done any reading in Žižek knows that as a Lacanian, he scorns realism (for example, read his extended attempt to skewer Chesterton in "The Puppet and the Dwarf"). Anyway the article's author can't even get his voiced domed post alveolar fricative right (the Ž in Žižek's name) so how can we trust him as a knowledgeable interlocutor here?
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written by Paul, March 13, 2014
Who is to judge me? The Pope or an other official of the HRCC, my neighbor, someone else? We are supposed to judge actions not people. My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will judge me as the Bible states. In this world, I'm commanded to love God and love my neighbor. As a Christian, it is my responsibility to study and find out what Jesus Christ meant by these commandments and repent if I fail. It is the responsibility of others (family, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians, "Church" leaders) to bring to my attention if I'm not on track and explain why my actions are wrong. To me the Bible is quite clear as what happens if I refuse this council. I'm to be loved and prayed for but am to be out of fellowship with them until I repent, but I'm not to be judged. Most religions won't do this because it's really about power and money to them. This assumes I'm doing something immoral or have doctrinal objections not anything illegal (some things immoral should be illegal but that's a different post).

Economically speaking, it isn't the governments job to steal money from some of it's citizens and give it to others as a never ending hand out. As a society we are to come together to give our fellow citizens a hand up. People who can contribute should contribute, those who are unable to take care of themselves should be cared for as req'd. I'm supposed to give my neighbor a coat if he doesn't have one and I have two. The government, church or my neighbor isn't supposed to steal my extra coat and keep it or give it to some one else.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 13, 2014
Here is an unambiguous Catholic statement:

“In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

“Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

“…today the country, in this particular situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to bring the light of truth on to the darkness of error, it need this advocate to defend us from being enchanted by many fallacies that are tried at all costs to justify this bill and to confuse and deceive the people of good will.”

Cardinal Bergoglio in 2010

PS: Myshkin - I think you may be misunderstanding the meaning of the word "clever" in Mr. Royal's essay.

In Christus Veritas
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 13, 2014
Amen Paul.
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written by DeGaulle, March 13, 2014
People are clearly insure. The forthcoming attempt by sections of the Church to change doctrine regarding remarriage and the reception of the Eucharist will show where Pope Francis stands, once and for all, because if he responds negatively that will finally end the media 'honeymoon'. I am inclined to suspect he will and am encouraged in this by that quotation provided by Chris. It is particularly heartening to me personally to hear Pope Francis invoking the role of the Devil, a being who has been dangerously ignored for far too long, and which seems to contradict the accusations of his wishing to be 'liked' and thought modern and fashionable. We must all, of course, try to remember to pray that he will do is duty.
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written by Athanasius, March 13, 2014
Let me just say that I think many have misinterpreted Pope Francis' statement, "Who am I to judge?". My understanding is that he was referring specifically to priests who have a same sex attraction but who strive to live chaste lives according to Church teaching. They do not promote homosexuality but accept it as a burden that they must carry. I never interpreted this statement of his as approving of homosexuality, or saying it was not wrong.

Further, it was my understanding that it has been Church teaching all along that it is not sinful to have a same sex attraction, but rather it is sinful to act on it or to promote such acts as a good. I don't see how what Francis said is any different from this.
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written by Jack,CT, March 13, 2014
Adden: So predictable! sunday worshipers ...Monday morning
quarterbacking.

The devil loves nothing more than a devided Church.
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written by Jack,CT, March 13, 2014
@Athan....
Exactly and One effective tool of seeing who
is truly RC is those who do not readily see
this!
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written by Manfred, March 13, 2014
Post Script. Athansius: You are correct in your understanding of the Pope's comment. The problem lies with the fact that Benedict made it very clear that NO man with homosexual attractions could ever be a priest. Review his statements from the 1980s.

The Pope...the Second Vatican Council. Christ was quite clear-Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. This admonition applies as much to Popes and bishops as to Catholics in the pews. IT ALSO APPLIES TO VATICAN COUNCILS.
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written by Myshkin, March 13, 2014
@Chris

Two things, Chris:

1) Yes, after re-reading the appropriate sentence in Dr. Royal's post, I can see where you might read the "clever article" as ironic. I didn't see it that way, and I'm still unsure if Dr. Royal intended it that way. Perhaps he meant it both ways?

In any case the article is anything but informed or intelligent. It seems like something a pretentious undergrad would write …

2) Can you source the Bergolio quote? "in 2010" is a little too vague … I'd like to see it in context if you don't mind …

Thanks!
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written by Presbyter, March 13, 2014
"Fiant dies pauci..et episcopatum eius alter accipiat"
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written by Bruno, March 13, 2014
Puzzling, that's what the Pope is. I say nothing else.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 14, 2014
Myshkin:

1. It's hard to read it any other way, unless one believes that Mr. Royal would consider it a compliment to Francis that he is like the current POTUS.

2. When I searched the internet on this topic some months ago, among two places that linked to it were Creative Minority Report and NC Register. It was from a letter from Cardinal Bergoglio to Carmelites, from July 2010.

3. Please point out the strongest examples of unintelligent and pretentious points in the essay...that is not something that struck me when I read this, but perhaps I missed something?

Manfred:

I think your comparison btw Benedict and Francis may indicate a real difference...I hope it does not...time will tell.

In Christus Veritas


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written by Myshkin, March 14, 2014
@chris

1) in a private email from Dr. Royal he wrote that he intended it both ways. He thought the article worth a mention, but did not think it wise.

2) so you found it somewhere on the internet ... can't provide a source for the quote. Hmm ...

3) At the risk of repeating myself, I'll repeat myself:

"It never really completes any of the philosophical threads it mentions. How is Bergolio like William James (or stranger, C.S. Peirce)? You'll never know from this thingey-article. and Does the writer really expect us to seriously believe his lumping together of Pope Francis as a "radical realist" along with Slavoj Žižek? Anyone who's done any reading in Žižek knows that as a Lacanian, he scorns realism (for example, read his extended attempt to skewer Chesterton in "The Puppet and the Dwarf"). Anyway the article's author can't even get his voiced domed post alveolar fricative right (the Ž in Žižek's name) so how can we trust him as a knowledgeable interlocutor here?"
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written by @FMShyanguya, March 14, 2014
That Jorge Mario Bergoglio was called to be a Bishop (Apostle) is certain, that he was called to be Pope, right now he knows and G_d knows, and maybe the Cardinals who elected him especially the ones versed in Canon Law. What is certain is that the Holy Spirit has allowed it.
A Bishop who it appears was disobedient when Bishop (disregarding Liturgical requirements, ignoring a 2003 CDF document on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions, etc.) and whose approach to preaching the Gospel and the Gospel he preaches is contrary to the approach and Gospel already preached by the Apostles, in good conscience should not have accepted the Petrine ministry when elected.
The approach and Gospel I am getting is ‘take the people to Jesus and he will do the rest’, ‘accompany sinners where they are’, ‘the Church is a [field] hospital for sinners not a museum for saints’, is markedly different from what we heard not so long ago on Ash Wednesday: ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’. His is not even the reverse, ‘here is the Gospel and repent’, his has no repent in it.
Yes, the LORD chose the Apostles and said one of you is the devil.
There was another spirit in the Cenacle and it, not the Holy Spirit, entered Judas.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 14, 2014
Myshkin:

I gave you two "news" sources for the quote - 2 well known web sites on the internet from which I lifted the text. Those web sites have author's names if that is what you meant. Any person can find these this afternoon. I have done so repeatedly in recent weeks.

If you are asking what person gave the quote to the writers of the news article, I don't know the answer to that. But I suppose anyone can check by going to the sites that have the info.

I believe I misunderstood who you were calling unintelligent and pretentious. I thought you were calling Mr. Royal that, but it seems you were referring to the author of the other "clever" essay? If so, then my question doesn't apply.
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written by here at home, March 14, 2014
There are a lot of people worried about who Pope Francis really is, because, I think, for 1) the circumstances under which he was selected, after another Pope abdicated. I just don't know who he is, and then he comes across as not buttoned down enough, and 2) he has described his own self as naïve. Naïve doesn't put me at ease.
If he does allow changes to the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself about divorce to be changed, I would have to conclude that teaching is heresy. That is not too strong of a word, if you can defy Jesus's direct and simple teaching, what Jesus do you preach? Jesus is Merciful, but not at the expense of the Truth. He says go and sin no more. So, this issue is a very big deal, along with the 'gay' marriages or civil unions, if that is taught by him, to be acceptable, then that is heresy also. So he is being tested, and tested definitively. I'm not a canon lawyer, but what else can be concluded? I would not follow a Pope that teaches those things, nor should I or anyone for that matter. Test results are pending. May the Lord Jesus and Our Blessed Mother, and St. Joseph come to our assistance.
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written by @FMShyanguya, March 15, 2014
"I am a son of the church"
The fuller question is: "Are you a loyal son of the church?"
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 15, 2014
Dear Myshkin:

See this source:

NC Register, Edward Pentin Thursday, July 08, 2010 entitled "Cardinal Bergoglio Hits Out at Same-Sex Marriage."
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written by Blake Helgoth, March 15, 2014
Well, at least we are starting to see who is really a follower of Christ and who is only taken with theological / philosophical (and probably political) ideology which they associate with Catholicism. The anger and vitriol that has spewed forth against the Holy Father in places like this have made that clear. What Pope Francis is s calling for is a radical abandonment to the person of Christ and His mission, not an intellectual adherence to set of Doctrines - that naturally follows but s no primary. To put it another way, as Pope Benedict has said - our faith is not in a set of doctrines, but in a person. One gets the sense that this author and others would be content if the did not have Christ but were able to keep their doctrines. Orthodoxy is no an end in itself. Its importance flows from its source, Jesus Christ! There are some who have managed to fall in love with the trapping of the Church we without falling for Christ Himself! That for making it clear which camp many of the readers say stand.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 15, 2014
Blake:

You are going overboard misreading and castigating the author, Mr. Royal, in the same degree that some seem to do to Pope Francis, and in the same fashion that many did with such relish to Pope Benedict.

Indeed, there are some commenters that go overboard in one direction or another. Mr. Royal's essay cannot be read as of one piece with such comments. Others commenters try to be judicious, while expressing some legitimate concerns, which I think in good measure intersects with the ambit of the essay.

Tempered remarks, even tempered criticism, can be Catholic and intelligent, which TCT professes as its operating principle.
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written by Jack,CT, March 15, 2014
AHhh............Division continues'!!...what good did
this do?
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written by @FMShyanguya, March 15, 2014
Dr. Royal: “unfortunate static introduced by stray remarks”
“For a man’s word flow out of what fills his heart.”
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written by @FMShyanguya, March 16, 2014
Saw Pope's retreat conclusion on Romereports. His visage different than when he went it.
On Sandro's Magister - Chiesa (I never went to these sites before), he reports of these contradictory positions taken by the Pope and where he reverses direction.
It occurred to me that what we may be witnessing and experiencing externally what is a tremendous internal battle for the soul of the Pope. I have been praying for him and offered for him my Lenten sacrifices.
On the said site as well, I came across the mediation given to the Cardinal electors. Very informative.

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