A few days ago, the Supreme Pontiff, edgily on the cusp of social media, posted this Tweet:
Don’t read the comments on Twitter, though, unless you have the desire to understand how skeptical and cynical people are in response to such a statement from the ultimate authority of the Catholic Church. Seems that many people feel that Christ’s followers have historically been much more adept at “exclusivity” than the Pope is interested in acknowledging or promoting. (Comment tweets in response to those skeptical commenters ironically seem to support the perception… and the war between progressive and conservative factions rolls on and on…)
But one wonders if this papal tweet is somehow a precursor to a much larger social teaching moment… Everyone is anxiously awaiting the release and publication of Pope Françis’s expected encyclical in response to the Bishops’ Synodal Conference on Marriage and the Family. In some progressive Catholics’ view, the pope was unsatisfied—or even disappointed—with the final report submitted as the official statement of the bishops at the conclusion of their synodal gathering.
The tweet above certainly holds to the same tone and timbre as Françis’s final synodal homily in which he rebuked the bishops and the curia for their doctrinal immobility and idolization of traditional, exclusionary doctrinal mandates. In Françis’s own definition: “a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit)…“
On the flip side, are conservatives who grasp onto Françis’s perplexingly contradictory statements and utilization of phrases such as “ideological colonization”—a term thought by many as “an appeal to developing countries not to follow the lead of nations where gay unions are already legal.”
Some news affiliates and opinion writers had conjectured that the encyclical document might have been released on March 19th—the feast of St. Joseph—because one of Joseph’s patron affiliations is over that of “the family.” Obviously, that did not happen. It has also been projected that the pope’s new encyclical would be released prior to Easter. With one week to go, and no “murmurs” to that effect, one has to wonder when, exactly, we’ll have the opportunity to learn from Pope Françis’s teaching.
Upon this theme, writer and editor Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter had these wise words to say in an article that exposed the futility of ignoring change in the world and through history:
“Change and continuity are constant in the life of the Church and any hermeneutic that fails to grasp this is a faulty hermeneutic, and not the hermeneutic proper to the Church which is, as Pope Benedict said, a hermeneutic of reform, containing elements of both continuity and discontinuity. Those who hyperventilate that the pope has gone too far, or that he has not gone far enough, should all be sent to the library to collect some tomes on the history of the Church.”
We’re awaiting the next step in the staircase of our Catholic history. Stay tuned…