(A slightly edited version of this was published in The Scottish Catholic Observer on September 27, 2013.)
Who could deny that the episcopal ordination and installation of the second most important out of the two metropolitan archbishops in a wee Protestant, European country with a statistically almost insignificant Catholic population — Saint Andrews and Edinburgh circa 116,000 Catholics, Glasgow circa 225,000 Catholics; total population of Scotland in excess of 5,000,000 — is wholly insignificant in the greater scheme of Catholic things?
Well, me actually.
Two days before Mgr Leo Cushley formally took up his responsibilities, an interview given by his former most important boss gave rise to an excess of joy among those who hate the Catholic Church — from the New York Times to the Pink News via CNN and the National Catholic Reporter; I can’t tell you about The Tablet, I never read it now that it has ceased to be a Catholic magazine, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Our new Holiness, Pope Francis, they have proclaimed, has declared that homosexuality, abortion, artificial insemination, embryonic stem cell research, divorce and remarriage, marriage of priests — they haven’t, at least not yet, included marriage of priests to each other — ordination of women and anything and everything else you care to add, no matter how apparently absurd never mind outrageous, is now OK. That which had been taught by Pope Benedict XVI and his 264 predecessors and the man to whom they owe their lineage’s and teachings’ very existence, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, the Christ, are oot the windae.
Halelujah. Or not, as the case may be.
For those of us now upset, confused, fearful and full of doubt in face of this apparent massive, papal U-turn it would seem prudent that we yet again follow Para Handy’s sage advice: Let us pause and consider.
Is it at all likely that this could be true?
Fortunately, all we need do is turn to Archbishop Leo’s words as the Mass of Episcopal Consecration drew to its close on Saturday. Because he worked so closely with Pope Francis, Mgr Leo had been granted the unusual privilege for a newly appointed bishop or archbishop to be called in for a chat with His Holiness. He recalled: “One of the things he communicated then and in the coming days — Mgr Leo routinely saw him in the course of his normal duties (HMcL) — was the idea that I should be merciful in my ministry here.
“Merciful. This has already become a key word in his pontificate, and it’s an idea that comes to him from the Gospels but filtered through his thinking about a quotation that he likes from the Venerable Bede, the famous English historian. The Pope told me to look up the Office of Readings for the day and to find his motto, the words “miserando atque eligendo”, where Christ mercifully looks upon Matthew and chooses him.
“But he explained that being merciful doesn’t mean being soft. It means being gentle but also firm at the same time. This is what the Pope asked me to be for all of you. It is also Pope Francis’s proposal for the way we priests ought to be with each other: firmly resolved to be merciful, to forgive, to be humble, to re-build, to dialogue.
“The Holy Father proposed this in his own gentle and fraternal way, but also with the strength of loving conviction and experience.”
It is worth, I think, pointing out that Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires was loath to grant interviews with the Press. It may well be either he knew of, or, had learned from those who knew of, the fact that in February of 1959, Good Pope John released for publication part of the text of a speech that Pope Pius XI had intended to deliver to his cardinals twenty years earlier, on 11 February 1939, the day after he died. It read in part:
“You know how badly the Pope’s words are treated. People read our allocutions or addresses — not only in Italy — in order to falsify their meaning, sometimes inventing altogether and attributing to us the most utter nonsense and absurdities. Recent and past history are so perverted in a certain press that it is said that there is no persecution in Germany, and this denial is accompanied by false and calumnious allegations of mixing in politics, just as Nero’s persecution used the charge of setting fire to Rome.
“Take care, dearest brothers in Christ, and never forget that there are observers and tale-bearers (call them “spies” and you will be nearer the truth) who will listen to you in order to denounce you, having understood nothing of the matter in hand or got it all wrong. They have in their favour – one must remember how Our Lord thought of His executioners – only the good sovereign excuse of ignorance.”
This, according to some controversial, interview granted by Pope Francis was conducted by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica on behalf of several Jesuit journals from across the world. As always, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was paying his debts. As Pope, canonically he is no longer “SJ” but at heart he is.
And that word “canonically” and that word “heart” lead us directly to the pastoral, evangelical impulse behind Papa Bergoglio’s advice to Archbishop Leo (as revealed at his consecration/induction) and to the Catholic Church more generally (as revealed in his interview).
One of the great teachers of Canon Law in the Twentieth Century at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome was Servant of God Fr Felice Maria Cappello SJ, Confessor and Canonist. Professor at the Greg 1920-1959, he daily heard the confessions of brother Jesuits, secular priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals as well as of the laity of all walks of life at the nearby Church of Saint Ignatius until shortly before his death on March 25, 1962.
Dr Edward Peters, a lay American canon lawyer, has asked the followers of his Blog to invoke Fr Cappello’s intercession for the recovery of his son, Thomas Peters, who was recently very seriously injured in a swimming accident. He makes note of the good confessor’s advice to the student priests whom he taught: “Principles are principles, and they remain firm and are always to be defended. But all consciences are not the same. In applying principles to consciences, we must do it with great prudence, much common sense, and much goodness. In your opinions and decisions never be severe. The Lord does not want that. Be always just, but never severe. Give the solution that offers the soul some room in which to breathe.”
Never be severe, always be merciful! Exactly what Pope Francis has said to Archbishop Leo and to his brother bishops and fellow priests is, then, really nothing new. Indeed, William Shakespeare said it long ago in The Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene1):
The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven
Upon the place beneath
It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that receives.