In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
– 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Another day, another off-the-record papal conversation. This time, the person in question is a woman by the name of Marie Kane, who was was a victim of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland.
ONE of the two Irish survivors of abuse who met Pope Francis this morning in the Vatican has described the meeting as a “huge vindication” for her.
Marie Kane, who has never spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered at the hands a curate in the archdiocese of Dublin, told the Irish Independent that the meeting with the Pope would help bring her healing.
“It was pretty amazing. There were no time constraints on the meeting and the only others in the room were Marie Collins, who came as a support to me and [Cardinal] Sean O’Malley who acted as translator,” she said.
In all six survivors of abuse, two from Ireland, two from Britain and two from Germany met the Pope individually this morning, the first official meeting the pontiff has held since his election in March 2013. The other Irish survivor was a man. His identity remains unclear at the moment.
According to Marie Kane, the Pope “listened intently” to her and “at times seemed frustrated by what he was hearing” about her experiences. Her case was covered in the Murphy Report into the mishandling of allegations of clerical abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin. Her abuser was taken out of ministry but has not been defrocked.
All of this seems reasonable, even promising.
But then came Miss Kane’s radio interview, in which she recounted her experience, and her meeting with Pope Francis (excerpts transcribed by me):
“I think I’ve been angry my whole life at the Catholic Church. I, you know, I could never sit in a Mass without feeling anger…”
“From meeting all the survivors and listening to their stories, and, they’re all unique stories, but the effects and the damage is the same. And it’s the loss of faith. You know? We all want something to hang onto in these really difficult times. And, you know, I have two children, 18 and 14, and, their faith has been affected. You know? So, I have my own beliefs, I…I’m a good person. I help a lot of people. And, you know, I think, but it has definitely, it there, there’s no replacing what was taken, you know, even for my kids. And these…these are the kids that are coming up now, and the Church will disappear if something doesn’t change.”
“I prayed for change, change in the Church. Um, maybe that’s very naïve of me, I don’t know. But when you’re sitting there and in a very small chapel and the homily was written in English so you could read what he was saying, because [the pope] speaks Spanish, so, it was very moving for me personally, and, yeah, change. That’s…you know, just, do more. Get these guys out of power that shouldn’t be there. That are guilty of coverup. And who covered up in my case as well. And they know who they are, like, you know? So yeah. Change. Change. I’ll never get my faith back. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the church. And actually the pope, I said that to him. And he said, ‘You know you don’t need, you don’t need to be in the Church, you are part of the Church, you don’t physically need to be in it, inside it you know to be part of God’s family like.’ So, little messages like that were really nice, you know. He put thought into what he said to me today. It wasn’t just answers off the cuff. So a very positive experience, for me.”
I was with her, right up until she recounted what the pope said.
“You don’t need…to be in the Church, you are part of the Church, you don’t physically need to be in it, inside it you know to be part of God’s family…”
Let’s all open our Catechisms, shall we? Paragraph 2041-2042 :
2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:
2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.
While one can certainly understand the desire of a clericial abuse victim to avoid Catholic clergy and the Mass, it’s difficult to understand how cutting a person off from the sacramental life would in any way facilitate healing or salvation.
More troubling is the formula the pope is alleged to have used in assessing the situation: “You don’t need to be in the Church” to be “part of the Church.”
Are we ready for the well-trod quote? We are? Good:
The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, and heretics, and schismatics, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire “which was prepared for the devil, and his angels,” (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this Ecclesiastical Body, that only those remaining within this unity can profit from the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and that they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of Christian piety and duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”
(Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441 – Emphasis Mine)
It’s a tough quote. And yes, there’s been some development of doctrine since the 1400s. We believe that there’s something to the “Baptism of Desire” — though nobody who loves souls would ever want to count on that. We need the sacraments for heaven like a man in the desert dying of thirst needs water. Do men in the desert sometimes, against all odds, survive sunstroke and dehydration? Yes. Would you care to take a crack at that experience on the off-chance that you’ll be the outlier?
Yeah. I thought not.
We all need sanctifying grace to get to heaven. Sanctifying grace grows in the soul by means of sacramental reception. So the sacraments are really, as far as anyone knows, completely non-negotiable. If God chooses to work outside their efficacy, how He does that is his prerogative, and frankly, a complete mystery. I sometimes have a hard time believing even with them, I’ll squeak in the door of heaven. I can’t imagine trying to get there without them.
So why would a sovereign pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church tell anyone — anyone — that they don’t need to be in the Church to be saved?
Some are arguing that this is, once again, a woman who is recounting what the pope said from memory, and that it is therefore not trustworthy. One person offered this hypothesis, “Maybe a pissed off woman that was was sexually abused saw an opportunity for payback and took it?” (To this person’s credit, they later admitted it was a stretch.)
But let’s imagine that this was the case. We’d have have to add Miss Kane to the growing list of vengeful “liars” all saying that the pope told them the same thing. Also, they’d have to want to “get back at the pope” by only ticking off the small segment of Catholics who care if the pope says something so…Catholic. Because most Catholics these days, if we’re being honest, would think such a statement was positively fantastic, demonstrative of “mercy”, and even more, a sure sign of progress within the stodgy old Church.
And there really are a solid handful of these folks out there. People we’re supposed to believe are just making things up to make the pope look bad to a small handful of true believers, and awesome to everyone else.
Let’s have a look at the statements from those who have said what Pope Francis has told them:
1. “When he speaks about evangelization, the idea is to evangelize Christians or Catholics,”to reach “higher dimensions of faith” and a deepened commitment to social justice, Skorka said. “This is the idea of evangelization that Bergoglio is stressing — not to evangelize Jews. This he told me, on several opportunities.”
– Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires and close personal friend of Pope Francis
2. “Bp Venables added that in a conversation with Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, the latter made it clear that he values the place of Anglicans in the Church universal.
‘He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans.’”
– Rt. Rev. Greg Venables, Anglican Bishop of Argentina and close personal friend of Pope Francis
3. “And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: ‘Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.’
It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.’ ”
– Eugenio Scalfari, Atheist founder of La Repubblica (and grantee of three papal interviews despite his habit of reporting quotes without taking notes)
4. “At lunch I asked Pope Francis what his heart was for evangelism. He smiled, knowing what was behind my question and comment was, ‘I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community. There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.’ ” (Of course Evangelicals do evangelize Catholics and Catholics do the same to us. However, that discussion we will raise another day.)
– Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance
And finally, though not specifically related to membership in the Church, this anecdote, which relates to following her most fundamental teachings:
5. Pope Francis called an Argentine woman married to a divorced man and reportedly told her that she could receive the sacrament of Communion, according to the woman’s husband, in an apparent contradiction of Catholic law.
Julio Sabetta, from San Lorenzo in the Pope’s home country, said his wife, Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona, spoke with Francis on Monday.
Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona wrote to the pontiff in September to ask for clarification on the Communion issue, according to her husband, who said his divorced status had prevented her from receiving the sacrament.
“She spoke with the Pope, and he said she was absolved of all sins and she could go and get the Holy Communion because she was not doing anything wrong,” Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario, a CNN affiliate.
A Vatican spokesman confirmed the telephone call but would not comment on the conversation’s content.
Let’s not forget that one of the pope’s closest advisors, whose theology the pope has said he greatly admires, is Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has (in)famously said:
“The only thing I wish to say is that the document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.
This touches the problem of mission towards Jews, a painful question with regard to forced conversion in the past. Dominus Iesus, as other official documents, raised this question again saying that dialogue is a part of evangelisation.This stirred Jewish suspicion. But this is a language problem, since the term evangelisation, in official Church documents, cannot be understood in the same way it is commonly interpreted in everyday’s speech. In strict theological language, evangelisation is a very complex and overall term, and reality. It implies presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and catechesis, dialogue and social work . . . which do not have the goal of increasing the number of Catholics. Thus evangelisation, if understood in its proper and theological meaning, does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever.”
In light of the above, I propose five very serious questions for your consideration:
- Why should this pattern of indirectly attributed quotes, all of a piece, not be taken as a serious indication that Pope Francis sincerely believes that membership in the Church and the following of her precepts is not necessary for salvation?
- Why should we feel compelled to believe that in every case where we hear that Pope Francis has told a person something along these lines — each report entirely consistent with the last — that the person making the claim is a liar with some personal agenda, and they should neither be believed nor trusted?
- What would it possibly gain anyone to tell lies which, while they throw the pope’s orthodoxy into question, do nothing but endear him to the secular world, the leaders of non-Catholic religions, and the majority of Catholics who no longer profess all of the Church’s teachings?
- Why, if these attributions are in fact scandalously erroneous misrepresentations of the Pope’s thought, and spread as they have been by the global media, is no effort made by the Vatican to correct or refute them, or to exhort Catholics to accept and profess the Church’s true teaching on these matters?
- If what has been said truly represents the mind of Pope Francis, how can this be reconciled with the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, as defined by Pope Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam and held as an indisputable and infallible teaching of the Church until the latter half of the 20th century?
I think the answers to these questions, taken together, provide a rather obvious conclusion. Don’t you?
There is simply not a shred of evidence that Pope Francis wants to disabuse people of the notion that he both believes and said these things. And if that is so, what a heartbreaking situation we find ourselves in.
We shouldn’t be surprised that what St. Paul prophesied in 2 Timothy is, in fact, coming to pass. But if you’re like me, it’s more than a little surprising to see it coming from the Vicar of Christ.
We need to batten down the hatches and dig in for a long haul. This isn’t going away, and talking about the latest shocking thing the pope has done is reaching a point of diminishing returns. We need to keep our eyes on the goal of eternal salvation, and focus on building a foundation that will withstand where this is all taking us.
In the next few days, I plan to announce a project I’m working on that is aimed at helping us to do just that. Your prayers for the success of this endeavor would be appreciated.
UPDATE – 7/19/2014 @ 5:48PM: Friend of the blog Codgitator submits another quote for our reference in the comments.
“I’m not expecting any of you to join the Catholic Church. Please understand that’s not what this is about. What we are talking about is a unified position to go before the world and say we are proclaiming Christ as the only hope of salvation.”
The quote is taken from this video. I’ve set it to play at the relevant timestamp:
The video is from John and Carol Arnott, who are (according to their website) “the Founding Pastors and Presidents of Catch The Fire (formerly known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) and overseers of the Partners in Harvest Network of Churches. ”
UPDATE 2 – 7/20/2014 @ 8:55AM: My thanks to one of my priestly readers, who kindly pointed out my error in attributing authorship of 2 Timothy to St. John instead of St. Paul. It was the result of some incautious Googling, and the fact that I’m an absolutely terrible exegete. Something in the back of my mind told me to go back and check that before posting, but I completely forgot. It’s nice to have readers who help you correct your silly mistakes instead of exploiting them. The post has been corrected to reflect the correct author.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.