Paul Vallely writes: It was conservatives in the church who were first most disconcerted. They bemoaned the “lamentable fuzziness” in his extemporaneity. One called him “the blabbermouth pope”. The conservative moral philosopher Germain Grisez – a man immensely respectful of popes in the past – accused Francis of talking in public as he might “unburden himself with friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine”. The arch-traditionalist Cardinal Raymond Burke, whom Francis sacked last year as the Vatican’s top judge, has accused him of causing confusion among the faithful.
More recently liberals got a dose of the same medicine when Pope Francis defended the official Catholic ban on contraception. He called Pope Paul VI who upheld it, in Humanae Vitae, a prophetic genius. In the Philippines in January Francis departed from his official text to repeat that. But then, on the plane home, he glossed that with a series of statements which went off in all directions like a theological firecracker.
Catholics should not breed “like rabbits” but should exercise “responsible parenthood”. Population experts said that three was the ideal size for a family, he told airborne reporters, and announced that he had “rebuked” a woman who had “irresponsibly” had eight children by caesarean section. Again aides had to put out a statement afterwards saying Francis thought big families were “a gift from God”; after the Italian association of large families complained to the Vatican.
What did all that mean? Was the pope trying to say something to please everyone and pleasing no one in the process? Was he thinking, to quote Pope John XXIII, “I have to be pope both for those with their foot on the accelerator and those with their foot on the brake”? One thing was clear in all the contradiction. This was a perspective from the pastoral south rather than the philosophical north. What particularly irked the Argentinian pope was what he called neo-Malthusian assumptions by rich nations that the way to eliminate poverty was to eliminate poor people. [Continue reading…]