‘It is not a sin to criticize the Pope here!’
Pope Francis told Italian prelates this yesterday May 21, 2018, during the Italian Episcopal Conference’s (CEI) 71st General Assembly, which is taking place until May 24 on the theme: “Which Ecclesial Presence in the Current Communicative Context.”
In the address, the Holy Father expressed his primary concerns, and then the doors closed for private discussion.
Expressing the prayer means ‘Make us feel that you are the mother,’ he noted it is recognition that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us as a mother,’
“It is the motherhood of the Church, of the Hierarchical Holy Mother Church, which is gathered here … But that she is a mother. “Hierarchical Holy Mother Church”, as Saint Ignatius [of Loyola] so liked to say.”
The Holy Father prayed that Mary, our Mother, “help us so that the Church may be a mother. And – following the inspiration of the fathers – may our soul also be a mother. The three women: Mary, the Church and our soul. All three mothers. May the Church be Mother, may our soul be a Mother.”
Expressing he wishes the meeting be a time of dialogue and reflection, the Pontiff shared the three things that worry him. He urged them to not hesitate to voice their thoughts frankly, noting: “it is not a sin to criticize the Pope here! It is not a sin, it can be done.”
The first thing that troubles me is the crisis of vocations, he said, noting, with this, “our paternity at stake.”
“Regarding this concern, rather, this haemorrhage of vocations,” he said, “I have spoken to at the Plenary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, explaining that it is the poisoned fruit of the culture of the temporary, of relativism and the dictatorship of money, which distances the young from consecrated life; alongside, certainly, the tragic reduction in births, this “demographic winter”; as well as the scandals and lukewarm witness.”
“How many seminaries, churches and monasteries will be closed in the coming years due to a lack of vocations? God knows. It is sad to see that this land, which has for long centuries been fertile and generous in producing missionaries, nuns, priest full of apostolic zeal, is entering along with the old continent in a vocational sterility without searching for effective remedies. I believe that it searches for them but we are not managing to find them!”
The Pope went on to propose “a more concrete and generous sharing, fidei donum, among Italian dioceses, which would certainly enrich all the dioceses that give and those that receive, strengthening in the hearts of the clergy and the faithful the sensus ecclesiae and the sensus fidei.”
The Pope’s second concern, he said, is evangelical poverty and transparency.
“For me, always – because I learnt as a Jesuit in the constitution – poverty is the “mother” and the “wall” of apostolic life. It is the mother because it gives birth, and it is the wall because it protects. Without poverty there is no apostolic zeal, there is no life of service to others… It is a concern that relates to money and transparency. In reality, one who believes cannot speak of poverty and live like a pharaoh.”
When at times we see these things, the Pope said, it is a counter-witness to speak of poverty and lead a life of luxury; and it is very scandalous to deal with money without transparency or to manage the assets of the Church as if they were personal assets.
“You know the financial scandals that there have been in some dioceses… Please, it makes me very sad to hear that an ecclesiastic has allowed himself to be manipulated, putting himself in situations in which he is out of his depth or worse still, managing the “widow’s loose change” in a dishonest manner.”
We have the duty, the Pope noted, to manage in an exemplary way, through clear and common rules.
The third concern, the Pontiff said, is the reduction and merging of dioceses.
“It is not easy, because, especially in this time… Last year we were about to merge one with another, but they came to me from there and said: “It is tiny, the diocese… Father, why are you doing this? The university has gone, they have closed a school, now there is no mayor, there is a delegate, now you too…”. And we feel this pain and say, “Let the bishop remain, because they are suffering”. But I think that there are dioceses that can be merged.”
He noted that this is a pastoral need, studied and examined several times, even before the Concordat of 1929. Noting we are talking about an historic and current issue, neglected for too long, and also claimed necessary by predecessors including Paul VI, he said: “I believe the time has come to conclude it as soon as possible.”
“Perhaps there are one or two cases that cannot be done now, for what I said earlier – because it is an abandoned territory – but something can be done.”
After sharing this as starting points for reflection, Pope Francis said he left the floor open to them to speak freely and again giving thanks.