Thursday, March 13, 2014

Francis Unplugged – Report Claims PopeTalk on "Cosmos Bath" Nuns, "Ancien Regime" Trads, "The Handling of Money"... and The Curia's "Gay Lobby"

(Originally published 11 June 2013.)

SVILUPPO – 11.45am ET: Amid requests for comment on the substance of the following, an unnamed Vatican spokesman told CNN that "
The Holy See Press Office has no official comment on the private meeting."

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, however, CLAR said it "profoundly lamented the publication of a text referring to a conversation with Pope Francis." The group said that the summary notes as published were "intended for the personal memory of the participants," seeking to portray the text not as direct quotes of the pontiff's, but merely representing "the general feeling" of his comments.

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Almost three months since his election, while unscripted reflections have become a foundational part of Pope Francis' daily stock-in-trade, the new pontiff's penchant for veering off-text in open company just reached a whole new planet... or so a Latin American report would have us believe.

During an audience last Thursday with the leadership of the religious conference of his home-continent and the Caribbean, the Pope is said to have aired (without apparent prompting) the realities of "a current of corruption" and a "gay lobby" in the Roman Curia, talked his 44th-place standing in the pre-Conclave betting market, chided traditionalists who "account" rosaries and modern-day "gnostics" who'd rather take "a spiritual bath in the cosmos," placed the reform of the church's governing apparatus squarely on the shoulders of the eight cardinal-assistants he's tapped to advise him... and, indeed, encouraged the religious to keep "moving forward" and not get too "bother[ed]" should they face scrutiny from the CDF, the august "Holy Office" which – together with the Institute for the Works of Religion (the IOR, more commonly known as the "Vatican Bank") – was already often reduced to being among Francis' favorite punchlines.

Good Tuesday morning, folks... there's more.

The comments were purportedly made during an hourlong audience the Pope held last Thursday with the Religious Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAR). An unsigned "exclusive, brief synthesis" of the encounter – featuring a series of pull-quotes, but not a full transcript – was apparently provided to and subsequently published on Sunday afternoon by Reflexión y Liberación, a church-focused Chilean website with sympathies toward liberation theology. Perhaps ironically, the piece was first reported in English yesterday by the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli.

While the Holy See has yet to issue a response either confirming or denying the reported text, much of the posted content in Spanish bears a striking echo to numerous statements made by Francis since his March election, as well as reflecting the pontiff's well-honed habit of reiterating points he's already made, with some slight tweaks in each succeeding instance. 

Since the meeting ostensibly took place in Papa Bergoglio's native language, meanwhile, the Vatican's recent justification for not publishing the transcript of Francis' daily homilies – namely, because the liturgies' Italian isn't his mother-tongue – serves to diminish a potential claim that the routinely blunt Pope was somehow misunderstood on either side of the conversation. What's more, adding to the credibility of the report, while the photos of the meeting shown here are the publicly available shots from Vatican photographers – which, in their openly accessible form, always include the watermark of L'Osservatore Romano – the Chilean website ran its piece with an unmarked image of the group, none of which have been posted on the CLAR website, nor any other public source.

Likely to draw the most high-watt interest as the news-cycle goes, though Francis gave no context nor explanation to his words on the existence of a "gay lobby" in the Vatican, it's not hard to draw a line back to the pre-Conclave reports in the Italian press which indicated the presence of actively gay officials in the Curia who were allegedly being "blackmailed" by outside sources. According to some accounts, the incendiary charge was part of the dossier on last year's "Vatileaks" fiasco prepared for the now-retired Pope Benedict by an investigatory commission of three retired cardinals, whose findings the ex-pontiff delivered to his successor following Francis' election. 

However heated they were, requests for a disclosure of the report's contents in the general congregations of the cardinals leading up to the papal election were roundly denied.

Sitting in an informal circle of chairs with the CLAR leadership in his daytime "office" – the  study of the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace – an introduction to the report says that Francis spent an hour in dialogue with the six religious (three men, three women – all, it should be noted, sin veil), engaging "among equals, as in the first communities founded by Jesus... in an atmosphere of trust and simplicity."

As relayed, the first of the Pope's points involved how to deal with CDF – which remains a very live concern in North American church circles in the wake of the congregation's April 2012 order for the reform of the US' Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an effort which (at least, officially) the new Pope is said to have "reaffirmed" following his election.

According to CLAR's readout, Francis said the following....

"Say you err, [or] make a blunder – it happens! Maybe you'll receive a letter from the Congregation for Doctrine [sic], saying that they were told this or that thing.... But don't let it bother you. Explain what you have to explain, but keep going forward.... Open doors, do something where life is calling out [to you].
(Note: all directly-cited quotes are translated as originally rendered, ellipses included; bracketed text is added for purposes of context.)

Per the text, Francis then added a variation of his oft-used phrase that "I prefer a church that messes up for doing something than one that's sick for remaining closed inside itself."

Returning to the Curia thread later on, Francis is quoted as saying that "yes," the planned reform project "is difficult."

"In the Curia there are holy people, truly, there are holy people. But there's also a current of corruption – there's that, too, it's true.... The 'gay lobby' is spoken of, and it's true, that's there... we need to see what we can do.

The reform of the Roman Curia is something that almost all the cardinals sought in the congregations before the Conclave. I sought it myself. [But] I can't do the reform myself, these matters of management.... I'm very disorganized, I've never been good in this. But the cardinals of the commission are going to carry it forward. There's [Oscar] Rodríguez Maradiaga, who carries the baton [as the group's coordinator], there's [the Chilean Francisco Javier] Errázuriz, they're very organized. The one from Munich [Reinhard Marx] is also very organized. They will take it forward.... Pray for me that I make the fewest mistakes possible."

(On a related note, the Pope received Errázuriz – a former secretary of the "Congregation for Religious," one of just two cardinals on Francis' "Star Chamber" with Curial experience – in a private audience the day following the CLAR session. Now the retired archbishop of Santiago – the only retiree among the eight-member council – Errázuriz lives full-time in the Chilean capital, apparently returning to Rome just to meet with the pontiff. Of course, the full body will have its first session in October, ostensibly joining the Pope on his 4 October pilgrimage to Assisi to pray at the tomb of the Poverello whose name Bergoglio adopted as his own.)

As for the Pope's take on the polarized extremes of the modern church, meanwhile – capped by Francis' return to his papacy's central thread to date....

"I'll share two worries of mine. One is a pelagian current that's in the church at this time. There are certain restorationist groups. I know them as I took to receiving them in Buenos Aires. And you feel like you've gone back 60 years! Before the Council... you feel like it's 1940 again... One anecdote, only to illustrate this – not to make you laugh – I took it with respect, but it bothered me; when they [the cardinals] elected me, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they told me; 'Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.' Why they didn't say 'we're praying for you,' let's wonder... but this [thing] of taking account [of prayers]... and these groups return to practices and disciplines I lived – not you, none of you are old – to things that were lived in that moment, but not now, they aren't today....  
The second [worry] is over a gnostic current. These pantheisms... they're both currents of elites, but this one is of a more formed elite. I knew of one superior general who encouraged the sisters of her congregation to not prayer in the morning, but to give themselves a spiritual bath in the cosmos, such things.... These bother me because they lack the Incarnation! And the Son of God who became our flesh, the Word made flesh, and in Latin America we have this flesh being shot from the rooftops! What happens to the poor, in their sorrows, that is our flesh. 

The Gospel is not the ancien regime, nor is it this pantheism. If you look to the outskirts; the indigent... the drug addicts! The trade [trafficking] of persons... That's the Gospel. The poor are the Gospel.... 

There's something else that bothers me, but I don't know how to read it. There are religious congregations, very, very small groups; a few people, [who tend to be] very old.... They don't have vocations, that I know, [whether] the Holy Spirit doesn't want them to continue, maybe they've finished their mission in the church, I don't know.... But there they are, clinging to their buildings, clinging to money.... I don't know why this happens, I don't know how to read it. But I ask you to be worried about these groups... The handling of money... is something that needs to be reflected on.
And when it comes to his new circumstances, Francis spoke of his election....

I didn't lose peace at any moment, you know? And this isn't mine – there was more than enough to preoccupy me, to make me nervous... But I didn't lose peace once. That confirms for me that this is of God.... 

These gestures ... haven't come from me. They never really occurred to me. It's not like I'm working a plan or something, nor that they chose me to do this. I did it because I felt it's what the Lord would want. But these acts aren't mine, there's Something else here... this gives me confidence. 

I came with just clothes, I washed them at night, and suddenly this [happened].... It's not like I had any shot! In the London betting I was in 44th place, you know, [so] whoever bet on me won a lot, of course! This doesn't come from me....

For his closing word, the Pope encouraged the group to "put all your effort into dialogue with the bishops... with the CELAM [the Latin American regional conference] and the national conferences."

Apparently alluding to the prelates, Francis reputedly said that "I know that there are others who have a different idea of communion... but speak, converse with them, you tell them."

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano