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The Depths of Love

June 23, 2019 (934 words)

To a large and vocal contingent of conservative American Catholics it remains “open season” on Pope Francis. In their eyes his transgressions are ongoing, and continue to mount.

Against this unfortunate backdrop of seething contempt, on June 10 (Pentecost Monday) a group of concerned citizens, notably led by the estimable Raymond Cardinal Burke, issued the latest attempt at what continues to be described as respectful, fraternal correction:

Declaration of the Truths Relating to Some of the Most Common Errors
in the Life of the Church of Our Time

The eight-page document, released in several languages, contains forty statements of “clarification,” including reminders that Hell exists and homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

The group felt the need to issue a public declaration at this time so as to remedy the “almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation endangering the spiritual health and eternal salvation of souls in the Church today.”

combating confusion that has arisen or intensified during this papacy…

It has been noted that some of the forty truths elucidated in this new document implicitly reference statements made by Pope Francis, while others relate to points of confusion that have arisen or intensified during the current pontificate.

What to make of this latest salvo in the Francis Wars? By all accounts Cardinal Burke our de facto American Pope – is a good man, with the best of intentions. And Lord knows like any other older gentleman he needs an activity to occupy his time in retirement.

The good Cardinal’s specialty now seems to be making appearances and giving interviews in which he descants and yet again descants upon the supreme theme of doctrinal integrity.

And I say more power to him. Everything he has on his mind these days is right and just. However, the context in which Cardinal Burke’s running commentary gets reported to the faithful is a bit too conventionally partisan, a bit too “Fox News railing at the liberal Democrats” for my taste.

giving the impression our confusion is a new development…

I also find it curious how the Cardinal’s remarks give the distinct impression he thinks our confusion is a new development, and the direct result of what is viewed by conservative Catholics as the current papacy’s equivocations and obfuscations.

There is certainly no denying Francis is bringing a decidedly “pastoral” approach to proclaiming certain aspects of the Gospel, and that his approach has been found sorely lacking in some quarters. But on the whole, our confusion when it comes to doctrinal integrity is long-standing.

In this country it traces back at least a half-century or more, when we Americans were first inundated by a tsunami of prosperity, which capsized our once sturdy-if-modest seafaring vessels, and left many of us washed up on the shore of tantalizing earthly delights. Our belief and practice hasn’t been the same since.

So to Cardinal Burke and his fellow defenders of the faith, I say: please continue to shed all the clarifying light you have to offer, and by all means help us re-adjust our priorities away from the things of this world.

we need not agree with every word choice…

That is all we can ask of any Pope, or bishop, or parish priest. We shouldn’t need to be in complete agreement with their word choice every time they speak. Or with the way any of them may choose to frame a given argument. All we need be convinced of is that their underlying intention is sound.

On a recent trip to Guatemala sponsored by Cross Catholic Outreach, the small party of Americans I was traveling with included a parish priest from the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. During the course of our week together this priest, Father Albert Ranallo, said Mass for us on three separate occasions.

In one of his homilies Father referenced words he attributed to Pope Francis: “to understand the depths of love, one must experience suffering.”

This had particular resonance for us, as we spent our short time visiting indigenous people in both rural and urban settings, all of whom struggle to maintain the bare necessities of life.

It’s one thing to watch reports of destitute populations on TV, or read about them on the internet. Having such folks standing right in front of you, sharing their stories (through an interpreter), in vivid first-hand accounts, is an altogether different experience.

It makes one realize our pre-occupations here in the United States are for the most part quite petty, and that we are a pampered people.

considering the possibility we may not be the target audience…

It also causes one to reflect on the fact that Pope Francis, perhaps in a way not witnessed before, is addressing some of his most poignant remarks directly to the world’s unfortunates.

And that we fortunate ones, who should be focusing our attention on making amends and reparations for our many shortcomings and misdeeds, would do well to pause before passing judgement.

We might want to consider that we in the privileged First World are simply not his top priority – as shocking as that may be to our princely sensibilities.

It also wouldn’t hurt if we could develop an appreciation for what this Pope is trying to do in speaking to the Majority World of second-class citizens.

And maybe find it in our hearts to allow him the elbow room to hone in on True North in his unprecedented attempts at preaching and teaching to the ones we have the luxury of never having to think about.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
June 23, 2019

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