Good people, and a Lutheran view of Pope Francis

From fire to tempest, I have returned from a lovely couple of weeks in Australia. The fires in my native Sydney did take some of the shine of my visit, but the first few days of my visit were spent in Perth, a city unfamiliar to me. My nephew, Christopher, is a seminarian for the diocese of Broome (yes, he is from Sydney but came down with an incurable dose of missionary spirit). So I was fortunate enough to stay with him at his seminary, St Charles’, on the banks of the Swan River. The Rector, Monsignor Kevin Long, was a friendly and gracious host. On my second night the Archbishop of Perth, +Timothy Costello SDB, celebrated Mass, preached well and conferred minor orders on several of the seminarians.

The main seminary building seen from the banks of the Swan River
The main seminary building seen from the banks of the Swan River

Afterwards, there was a festal supper at which I was seated with the fascinating Dr Noel Vose, a friend of the seminary and a most ecumenical Baptist indeed. He was one time the World President of the Baptist Alliance, and has a Baptist seminary named after him. He very kindly gave me a copy of his latest book, Mena: Daughter of Obedience, a biography of Mena Weld, wife of the nineteenth-century Catholic Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Weld, and who spent her last years as a Benedictine nun at the now-defunct monastery of Holme Eden. Now in his 90s, Dr Vose was an engaging conversationalist (so much so I fear I neglected my nephew at the meal!) and appeared very relaxed in the midst of so many papists.

Beside the main seminary building, the statue of Dr Launcelot Goody, first rector and later Archbishop of Perth, looks down on the Swan River
Beside the main seminary building, the statue of Dr Launcelot Goody, first rector and later Archbishop of Perth, looks down on the Swan River

St Charles’ Seminary was quite the eye-opener. It seems an excellent seminary indeed. Everything seems flavoured with Benedictine moderation. The seminarians are a diverse crew of fine men who impressed me immensely. They celebrated the liturgy most worthily, with care of formality but without exceeding the scale of their lovely smallish chapel. They sing the Office too – I felt very much at home. The seminarians live in purpose-built houses, six to a house, each having an ensuite-room, with communal laundry, kitchenette and lounge area. The houses are high-ceilinged and remarkably quiet. The property runs down to the Swan River, which flows through central Perth, and while there is space enough for peace and calm there is something almost of a village-atmosphere about the place. I look forward to a second visit.

At left, the refectory, and to the right the three houses for seminarians
At left, the refectory, and to the right the three houses for seminarians

Christopher, by the by, is to be ordained a deacon at St Charles’ on 3 November, his own bishop, +Christopher Saunders, coming down from Broome (a long way!) to Lay on Hands. Please pray every grace for him on his ordination.

The seminarians sing in the chapel (my nephew among them). Photo courtesy The Record (Perth).
The seminarians sing in the chapel (my nephew among them). Photo courtesy The Record (Perth).

To bigger issues. Some have lauded Pope Francis as a communicator, largely on the basis of his simple, direct style and his accessibility for interviews. However, the number of times there has had to be damage control after some of his more unguarded impromptus  – on such issues as abortion, atheism, homosexuality, evangelization and even prayer –  suggest that communication is not his forte. It has been suggested that his style reflects his Argentine context, which may not transfer too well to the world stage.

Certainly he is causing some confusion among our separated brethren. Lutheran Satire is an American Youtube channel which, as its name suggests, gives the Lutheran take on things by means of satire. They have recently posted a video on Pope Francis which is not too flattering to our Supreme Pontiff. This might be expected from Lutherans, but their satire comes from an unexpected direction. There is a link to it below. Whatever happens, do pray for the Holy Father that he might be given the grace to accommodate to the international stage when teaching the Faith, so that the world might hear the teachings of Christ with clarity, authority and authenticity. It is a mighty post to fill; popes ever need our prayers.

8 thoughts on “Good people, and a Lutheran view of Pope Francis

    1. My giggles were fairly muted. It was rather bitter-sweet to watch. What amazed me was that Lutherans so accurately expressed Catholic teaching, and could see (with sympathy) the problem at issue.



      1. Dear Fr Hugh,

        I agree that many of the comments of Francis have been misleading, but perhaps it says as much about our superficial 30 sec sound-bite culture as it does about his abilities at communication. Yes, he could have said things differently, and yes, he could have clarified, and yes, he could have presented more catechism-esque answers, BUT he didn’t and while I respect your call to pray, I don’t know if our prayers are going to change Francis into whatever image that we would prefer him. For all his shortcomings, our Lord MEANS something when he gives us this man to be our shepherd. Perhaps he is calling all of us to help ‘complete what is lacking’ in the communication style of our Pontiff. You have 888 followers on your blog – that is a large audience. Could you use your intelligence and influence in the service of our Pope? I don’t know for sure, but it might be more fruitful than posting Lutheran satire.

        (OK, so that was a little sarcastic at the end, but I thoroughly respect you and the request is a genuine one)

        God bless


      2. Salve.

        What you say is worth hearing and I will not debate it. However I will clarify my position.

        One of the great mistakes many Catholics make, and I used to be one of them, is to ascribe to a papal conclave an almost infallible, divine character. It is a quasi-heresy held by many that the Holy Spirit chooses each and every pope in a positive and active way, a belief which is at the root of an excessive papocentrism that does no one any good, and feeds Protestant accusations of papolatry. If it were true then there would be no need for the universal Church to pray before every papal election, nor for the Church to offer up Masses for the election of a worthy Successor of Peter. History has more than one example of an unworthy man on the papal throne. Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, is usually held up as prime example, though in the same breath it needs to be noted that he did nothing heretical and in fact pursued a sensible and orthodox doctrinal policy. Therein lies the power of prayer for popes – the Church can work on a pope through prayer so that God can make of him something fruitful for the Church.

        I am not saying Pope Francis is a bad man, not at all. None of the popes of the last 150 years have been anything near bad men. In fact they have been so good that in consequence the faithful have been inclined to identify goodness of life, holiness if you will, with soundness of pontificate. Paul VI was no bad man, but he made some awful decisions in the wake of the Council, and some inspired ones (eg Humanae Vitae). A pope is a pope, and until a pope preaches outright heresy he must be obeyed in good conscience.

        However, I fear Pope Francis is making the cardinal mistake of thinking he is media-savvy when in fact he is very far from it. His Argentine modus loquendi is not suited to the western media with its soundbite approach, as you rightly point out. If Pope Francis is as humble as he is made out to be, and if he is in fact reading much of the social media himself, then he needs to hear that grassroots laity and clergy are finding his interventions unhelpful and counterproductive. It may encourage him to listen a little more to his advisors and stick to his texts, for when he does he can say excellent things.

        In the meantime it seems crucial for Catholics to remember that not everything a pope says is magisterial; not everything he does is inspired or even helpful; that those things a pope does that run contrary to established Catholic teaching – or appear to – can be safely passed over and left to wither in a quiet dark corner of history.

        At the same time it is crucial too for Catholics to pray for him, that he might have the grace of the Spirit in abundance and the grace also to respond to it for his good and ours.

        And the mere fact that not-unfriendly Lutherans can find in a pope so much that confuses and seems inconsistent is something we should worry about. It is a sure sign that the papal message is not effective, or worse.



  1. Let’s make this clear: If Pope Francis keeps this up then he is certainly determining how these doctrines are to be put into practice and understood, one; and two, we would technically be obliged to follow him. I am simply not sure to what extent a Catechism is necessarily infallible on every point. I have read the context in these cases. The Pope meant what he said. He was not under duress. Blaming the media will not work. If the press was that wrong in reporting him, the Pope could easily have directed Vatican officials to hold a press conference that at least could clarify to the *Catholic* media what the pope did and did not say. There was no such press conference. There was no emphatic reiteration of teaching even after for millions of Catholics some of the most basic precepts of the faith they were taught and learned from the Catechism suddenly seemed to have been rearranged – and that’s putting it gently.

    The dog did not bark.

    The best thing to hope for is that in the future the pope’s teaching will indeed clarify. Nothing else could possibly undue the damage done to the pro-family and pro-life movements.


    1. Hello.

      If we pursue any one line of thought and action that might develop from Pope Francis’ determining how doctrines “are to be put into practice”, I am not sure that we would, in fact, always “technically be obliged to follow him”. We are dealing with hypotheticals, but if any pope commanded us to deny a dogma of the Church’s authentic and infallible magisterium, then no one would be obliged to follow him. Indeed, we would be obliged to point out to him his error.

      Whatever is the case, what we do have is something of a PR debacle. This does not help the Church nor its mission to proclaim the Good News in all its fullness to the world. Certainly it would help if the Pope would clarify his words when they are wilfully misrepresented and misused; even better if he would watch what he says in the first place. But if you remember, he told young people earlier this year to go out and “make a noise” (or “make a mess”, depending on which translation you accept”). Maybe he is practising what he preaches!

      On the Catechism, terminology should be clear. The Catechism is not an infallible document. It is an authoritative statement of the Church’s teaching, not least its magisterial and infallible teaching. It is also the resource which most Catholics and potential converts would use, so it is important that our teaching is consistent across the board.

      Let’s pray for Pope Francis.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.