Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
When it comes to Papal interviews, for the past 16 months, I have mostly adopted a hands off approach. There are many reasons for this, but the most recent Papal interview has me reassessing my reasons. To understand why, I must explain why I made the decision to refrain from comment on most Papal statements to media and other informal and semi-informal statements.
First, Pope Francis is the Pope. While I readily admit that I have found many of his statements perplexing, he is the Pope and deserves my respect and certain leeway in modes of expression, what I think of as Kentucky windage.
Kentucky windage are those small adjustments a sharp shooter makes, to the left or the right, to adjust for the way the wind blows. A sharpshooter cannot just aim directly dead-center no matter the conditions and expect to hit the target. Sometimes those little adjustments are needed in sharp shooting and in preaching. The Pope deserved the benefit of any doubt necessary to make the adjustments he deemed necessary in order to his the target. Of course, the benefit of the doubt ceases to be operative when the target is constantly missed. I think that is a reasonable topic for debate, even if I do not intend to debate it here.
However, the primary reason I decided to adopt a hands off approach about the Pope's common way of teaching through informal media interviews, published conversations, and daily homilies is that some people convinced me that such statements did not constitute his personal magisterium.
They convinced me that so many of the perplexing statements that are continually used by the media to advance their anti-Catholic agenda are just his natural communication style. They reminded me that he comes from a different culture and this is just his way. They encouraged me to look past the words that he used to what he was trying to do, that he does not intend for these things to be regarded as his personal magisterium, but his personal and day to day individualized outreach to the disaffected.
In the past, they told me, Popes made all kinds of non-magisterial informal communications, the difference is that they were not published around the world in the blink of an eye as they are today. I admit to thinking that such reasoning calls for greater circumspection, not less. Yet, they assured me that to parse each individual phrase as if it is part of his personal magisterium is to miss the point. I accepted this premise and for the most part I have refrained from commenting on these informal communications since.
As a result, I admit, that I have rested somewhat easier.
So it is that I took great note of some comments by the Pope in his latest interview with La Nacion.
Q As a Pope you are different because you speak with utmost clarity, you are completely straightforward, you don´t use euphemisms and don´t beat about the bush, the course of your papacy is extremely clear. Why do you think some sectors are disoriented, why do they say the ship is without a rudder, especially after the latest extraordinary synod of bishops on the challenges posed by the family?
A Those expressions strike me as odd. I am not aware of anybody using them. The media quote them. However, until I can ask the people involved "have you said this?" I will have brotherly doubts. In general people don´t read about what is going on. Somebody did say to me once, "Of course, of course. Insight is so good for us but we need clearer things". And I answered, "Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out, it´s very clear. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear".
This interview makes clear that Pope Francis does intend that his statements and homilies are to be considered part of his personal magisterium. He also insists that this teaching is very clear.
Since the Pope does intend such informal and semi-informal communications to be part of his personal magisterium while simultaneously asserting the clarity of this body of teaching, it is necessary for me to re-evaluate my approach. With proper respect for the papacy and even accounting for a fair amount of Kentucky windage, I think it reasonable, necessary, and proper to evaluate such comments in light of clarity and continuity.