Catholics are abuzz with the suggestion that the Holy Father approved in some manner contraceptive use in the context of South America’s Zika virus crisis during his in-flight press conference on the trip back to Rome. As you might imagine, the interpretations of his less-than-clear statements have broken down on predictable fault lines. Likewise, there has been much discussion of his statements about Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall. And the interpretations of these statements have broken down on predictable fault lines. (For our part, we recommend that traditionally minded Catholics take a minute and read Pius XII’s Exsul Familia and La solennità della Pentecoste before posting or retweeting pictures of the Vatican’s walls.) But this press conference is interesting for other reasons.
Catholic News Service has prepared and released a full-text English version of the Pope’s airplane interview. In that interview there were several exchanges that touch, we think, upon the bigger question—the Holy Father’s forthcoming post-Synodal exhortation. The first exchange, with American reporter Anne Thompson, gives some tentative papal confirmation to the suggestion that the Holy Father’s post-Synodal exhortation will be handed down before Easter. (We had heard March 19, which is the feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is also Saturday before Palm Sunday in the Ordinary Form this year.) The entire exchange is very interesting and worth reading carefully:
Anne Thompson, NBC (USA): Some wonder how a Church that claims to be merciful, how can the Church forgive a murderer easier than someone who has divorced and remarried?
Pope Francis: I like this question! On the family, two synods have spoken. The Pope has spoken on this all year in the Wednesday Catechisms. The question is true, you posed it very well. In the post-synod document that will be published, perhaps before Easter – it picks up on everything the synod – in one of the chapters, because it has many – it spoke about the conflicts, wounded families and the pastoral (care) of wounded families. It is one of the concerns. As another is the preparation for marriage. Imagine, to become a priest there are eight years of study and preparation, and then if after a while you can’t do it, you can ask for a dispensation, you leave, and everything is OK. On the other hand, to make a sacrament (marriage), which is for your whole life, three to four conferences…Preparation for marriage is very important. It’s very, very important because I believe it is something that in the Church, in common pastoral ministry, at least in my country, in South America, the Church has not valued much.
Another interesting thing from the meeting with families in Tuxtla. There was a couple, married again in second union integrated in the pastoral ministry of the Church. The key phrase used by the synod, which I’ll take up again, is ‘integrate’ in the life of the Church the wounded families, remarried families, etcetera. But of this one mustn’t forget the children in the middle. They are the first victims, both in the wounds, and in the conditions of poverty, of work, etcetera.
Thompson: Does that mean they can receive Communion?
Pope Francis: This is the last thing. Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. And those two were happy. They used a very beautiful expression: we don’t receive Eucharistic communion, but we receive communion when we visit hospitals and in this and this and this. Their integration is that. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but it’s a path, a road.
(Some emphasis supplied and text omitted.)
The second exchange was with Italian reporter Franca Giansoldati and dealt most directly with Italy’s upcoming parliamentary vote on same-sex unions:
Franca Giansoldati, Il Messaggero (Italy): Holiness, good evening. I return back to the topic of the law that is being voted on in the Italian parliament. It is a law that in some ways is about other countries, because other countries have laws about unions among people of the same sex. There is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith from 2003 that dedicates a lot of attention to this, and even more, dedicates a chapter to the position of Catholic parliamentarians in parliament before this question. It says expressly that Catholic parliamentarians must not vote for these laws. Considering that there is much confusion on this, I wanted to ask, first of all, is this document of 2003 still in effect? And what is the position a Catholic parliamentarian must take? And then another thing, after Moscow, Cairo. Is there another thawing out on the horizon? I’m referring to the audience that you wish for with the Pope and the Sunnis, let’s call them that way, the Imam of Al Azhar.
Pope Francis: For this, Msgr. Ayuso went to Cairo last week to meet the second to the Imam and to greet the Imam. Msgr. Ayuso, secretary to Cardinal Tauran of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. I want to meet him. I know that he would like it. We are looking for the way, always through Cardinal Tauran because it is the path, but we will achieve it.
About the other, I do not remember that 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith well but every Catholic parliamentarian must vote according their well-formed conscience. I would say just this. I believe it is sufficient because – I say well-formed because it is not the conscience of ‘what seems to me.’ I remember when matrimony for persons of the same sex was voted on in Buenos Aires and the votes were tied. And at the end, one said to advise the other: ‘But is it clear to you? No, me neither, but we’re going to lose like this. But if we don’t go there won’t be a quorum.’ The other said: ‘If we have a quorum we will give the vote to Kirchner.’ And, the other said: ‘I prefer to give it to Kirchner and not Bergoglio.’ And they went ahead. This is not a well formed conscience.
On people of the same sex, I repeat what I said on the trip to Rio di Janeiro. It’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
(Emphasis supplied.) The question of conscience—and what constitutes a well-formed conscience—has been bubbling around the edges of the Synod debate, particularly through the statements of Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich. We find it interesting to see the Holy Father drawing a clear line through the concept that a well-formed conscience is the conscience of “what seems to me.” While this is not necessarily related to the question of the Synod and his exhortation, it seems to us that it is a window into how the Holy Father approaches these issues.