At the end of January, Pope Francis delivered an important address to participants in a meeting of the National Catechetical Office of the Italian Bishops conference. It warrants attention from all the local churches because it shows, I think, why the opposition to Francis is rooted in the desire to put the Vatican II toothpaste back into a pre-conciliar tube.
In the address, the pope presented an understanding of catechesis that is so far from the dry appeals to chapter and verse that tend to characterise a certain kind of apologetical, conservative Christianity. “Thanks to the narration of catechesis, Sacred Scripture becomes the ‘environment’ in which we feel part of the same salvation history, encountering the first witnesses of faith,” Francis said. “Catechesis is taking others by the hand and accompanying them in this history. It inspires up a journey, in which each person finds his or her own rhythm, because Christian life does not even out or standardise, but rather enhances the uniqueness of each child of God.”
Contrast that approach with this essay by then Archbishop, later Cardinal, Raymond Burke regarding Canon 915 and denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, posted at the EWTN online library. He writes that “the question regarding the objective state of Catholic politicians who knowingly and willingly hold opinions contrary to the natural moral law would hardly seem to change from place to place.”
In Burke’s world, it is easy to tell the sheep from the goats, there is no grey, no ambiguity, and no sense of the mysterious workings of grace that, sometimes, take a lifetime to come to fruition. Who needs pastors? Just distribute the catechism, which is apparently self-explanatory. Burke is not a Protestant preaching “Scripture alone,” but a Catholic preaching “Catechism alone.” Francis could not be more different.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.