Pope Francis’s comments to the board of the Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosas y Religiosos (CLAR), have gained widespread media attention. The Pope’s remarks were recorded by the participants, and later published in the Chilean newspaper Reflexión y Liberación. The subsequent translation of the remarks into English by the traditionalist blog Rorate Coeli has gained them wide attention. Stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times and other news outlets have followed. The Vatican Press Office has not denied the accuracy of the report, although CLAR has published a statement saying the notes were published without permission.
The “gay lobby”
The greatest “news value” of the Pope’s remarks seems at present to be a comment affirming the existence of a network of corruption within the Vatican. A secret report assembled by three Cardinals under Pope Benedict was alleged at the time of its writing to have contained information about insiders who used information about gay identity and activity as a tool of blackmail, in order to gain influence and political advantage. The sensational, although misleading tag applied to this phenomenon has been the “gay lobby.” (To “lobby” suggests special interest pleading for a specific constituency, rather than extortion.) This was vigorously denied at the time, but in this conversation with Pope Francis, he reportedly acknowledged its existence.
Religious and the CDF
The second most attention-getting comment from the Pope concerns religious and their relationship to the CDF. His encouragement to them to go forward with their mission, in a prophetic manner, despite investigations and even censure from the CDF, is remarkable news, especially in light of the current investigation of the LCWR. What the Pope seems to be saying is that he affirms the religious in their own discernment of what is needed. He advised them to cooperate but not to give up their prophetic witness and mission to the poor.
Pelagians and Gnostics
Of less interest to the secular press, but of great interest to Rorate Coeli and others who are watching the attitude of Pope Francis toward traditionalism, were his comments about two trends: Pelagian and Gnostic. The example he gave of the first was from a Restorationist milieu:
I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…
The second example he gave was from a New-Age-influenced milieu:
The second [concern] is for a Gnostic current. Those Pantheisms… Both are elite currents, but this one is of a more educated elite… I heard of a superior general that prompted the sisters of her congregation to not pray in the morning, but to spiritually bathe in the cosmos, things like that… They concern me because they ignore the incarnation!
[You can read the full transcript here.]
The journalist Andrea Torinelli, writing in Vatican Insider, has pointed out that Pope Benedict also criticized Pelagianism, the “Pelagianism of the pious” as he called it.
Of course, it can easily be pointed out that (A) not all traditionalists are restorationists, (B) not all traditionalists are Pelagian, (C) not all educated elites are Gnostic or Pantheistic, and (C) not all educated religious are in immanent danger of forgetting the incarnation.
So, what is really new here? What is different? The most significant point, it seems to me, is in the framing of the discussion, and it stands in contrast to the themes most associated with Benedict’s pontificate: continuity and restoration.
It is clear that Pope Francis does not want to go back 60 years, to a time before the Council. He does not want to restore practices from a bygone era, or claim continuity with them. Significantly, he has named that era as one which has passed away. This seems so obvious to him that he doesn’t argue it. It is self-evident.