January 11, 2016

Pope Francis’ Agonizing Dilemma

Pope Francis' coat of arms
The Catholic Herald [UK] has an insightful commentary examining the decisions Pope Francis must make in the year ahead in what promises to be a decisive period of his pontificate. Depending on their outcomes, some of these stand to alter the Church substantially. One in particular, the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, has the potential to defy Tradition and alter the nature of the Magisterium monumentally. Whatever His Holiness concludes, there are agonizing dilemmas to confront where the pitfalls are many.

In "The Pope’s agonizing dilemma", Father Mark Drew considers the Pope's managerial style and his decision making tendencies thus far. Upon his election, expectations were high that Francis would continue in earnest the first meaningful reform of the Roman Curia in decades. As Fr. Drew notes, the Pope’s governing style entails surrounding himself with a small cadre of trusted individuals, thereby bypassing Vatican procedures.

By far the most anticipated decision is the Pope's response to the synodal proceedings on the Church and the family. Fr. Drew elucidates four possible scenarios as pointed out by Vatican observer John Allen:
First, he can postpone the decision, saying that there needs to be more reflection and study on the matter.
Second, he can give a clear yes. All the signs are that this would be the option he personally favours. Yet this course is fraught with difficulties, being potentially the last straw for conservative critics whose resentment is already simmering dangerously and whose open rebellion he must want to avoid. It would, moreover, be an unprecedented break with former teaching which would essentially redefine the nature of the papal Magisterium by making it clear that what has in the past been presented as binding and irreformable teaching is in reality no more than a potentially shifting policy choice.
A clear no, the third possibility, would disappoint and perhaps alienate many, such as Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis has encouraged and whose support in return is important to him.
The fourth and final option is to leave the ambiguity unresolved and, in effect, leave it to local bishops to choose the interpretation which suits them. The huge implications of such regional variation for the unity of the Church hardly need underlining.
Fr. Drew's conclusion reiterates Francis' penchant for soliciting advice from a constellation of close advisors before deciding alone. I encourage you to read the article in full. It is well worth your time.

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