The latest supposed controversy from the Vatican is Pope Francis’s Tuesday interview with atheist la Repubblica founder Eugenio Scalfari. In the interview, the Holy Father eschewed proselytism and even seemingly argued for moral relativism:
Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.
Our own George Neumayr lashed out at both these comments and the “mystical spirituality” of Francis:
This is the Catholic Church, circa 2013, under the hope-and-change pontificate of Francis — the one Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and Jane Fonda have been waiting for. They had long pined for an enlightened pope and now they have found him in a Latin American Jesuit so loose, so cool, so “spiritual”(celebrities always like a dash of “mysticism” in their liberalism) that he doesn’t fret over such fuddy-duddy anxieties as the killing of the elderly and the corruption of children (last week he reminded us that we shouldn’t see our culture as depraved) but rather their isolation and joblessness.
He also took issue with the pope saying that “there is no Catholic God.”
At first, I cringed when I read the comments. While I understand what Francis was attempting to describe in the first quote, he is prone to sloppy articulation of deeply philosophical principles.
Such statements violate Robert Royal’s “ethics of rhetoric,” his most egregious violations as a pastoral teacher. As Rector writes:
We are…close to what may become a Spirit of Bergoglio, another period of confusion based…in the unbalanced emotions to which certain, casual expressions of his have given rise.
Yet these violations are relatively mild, as they take the form of words rather than substantial actions. Francis clearly stresses the importance of following one’s individual conscience, something that many do not comprehend in this modern age.
Catholics on both sides of the political aisles should recognize that the human conscience provides one of the few methods of perceiving the “divine law.” However, the pope must articulate these principles of following “good and evil” for general consumption. The Catholic Catechism explains conscience as a “judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform.” As an act of reason, “man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right” (CC, 1778).
After reading that, Francis’s statements do not sound as “revolutionary” as Scalfari claims them to be. The danger I perceive is that many do not judge their acts in the light of reason; for, of course, not all conscious decisions are correct. Everyone must subject their choices to an open-minded public and self-criticism, which rarely happens.
Many are not “sufficiently present to [themselves] in order to hear and follow the voice of [their] conscience.” That is why the pope’s words are dangerous; many need structure to make the right decision, but individuals instead tend to only follow their own “autonomous” paths.
After reading the entire interview, I understand that Francis is trying to return the Church to a poor, missionary position. Following our interior consciences can lead us to God and his divine law. However, as a teacher, he needs to chart the way responsibly with both his words and actions.