Cardinals meeting consultative Pope
8 Comments Brian Lucas | 30 September 2013 A consultative group of cardinals will meet with Pope Francis on 1 October. There is eagerness among the world's press for access to the meeting and clear expectations of radical shifts in church policy. Fr Thomas Rosica, from Canadian Salt and Light Television, and a splendid collaborator with the Vatican Press Office, hosed them down: 'It would be unwise to make large investments of funds and personnel to cover an event which is first and foremost a series of private meetings between cardinals and the Pope.' Some clues about how Francis might approach such a unique consultation can be found in his interview with Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ for a group of international Jesuit magazines. The parts dealing with moral issues were widely reported by the world's press. For those who have taken the trouble to read the whole 12,000 words, there are some other surprising comments. Some have particular relevance, perhaps, to an incoming Australian Government with some of the cabinet well versed in Jesuit thinking and spirituality. The spirituality of the Jesuit founder, St Ignatius of Loyola, speaks of discernment, finding one's way through life according to what one understands to be God's will. Francis admits his style of government as a Jesuit Provincial at the beginning 'had many faults'. He did not always do the necessary consultation and was perceived as authoritarian. Just as Australians are watching how a new federal government consults and discerns, so Catholics world-wide will wonder how the Pope's Jesuit formation will influence this consultation with the cardinals. According to Pope Francis, 'uncertainty is in every true discernment'. Things are not always as they first appear. Wide and generous consultation with those most knowledgeable, usually those most affected, is essential. He rejects the approach of those who suggest that one should not consult too much — decide by yourself. Rather, it is through discussion that one arrives at the best decisions. The story is sometimes told among those involved in corporate governance of the board that was wrestling with a difficult problem. One member suggested bringing in an expert. Another was resistant until he knew what the expert would say. Those in positions of power need to give permission to their advisers to tell the truth. The worst thing you can do when consulting is to listen only to voices that please. The worst thing one can do when asked to give an opinion is to tell others what you think they want to hear. We trust that the cardinals will be able to say what they believe with humility and honesty. The fact that some have already engaged in a wide consultation among their constituencies is a positive sign. For Francis, discernment about issues that one faces, and problems to be solved, requires firsthand experience: 'When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighbourhood and quite another thing to go there, live there, and understand the problem from the inside and study it.' His advice to those who exercise power, and so presumably to himself, is to be humble and leave room for doubt. 'If one has all the answers to all the questions — that is proof that God is not with him'. The discerning leader will slow things down, be patient, gather the data, listen carefully to those who have something to say before making decisions. This is the exercise of authority and is not authoritarian. Francis admits that humans, in search of themselves, make mistakes. 'The Church has experienced times of brilliance, like that of Thomas Aquinas, but the Church has lived also times of decline in its ability to think.' He warns against confusing the genius of Aquinas with the age of decadent Thomist commentaries. 'Unfortunately, I studied philosophy from textbooks that came from decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism,' he says. Francis is opening up a new way of doing business within the Church and appears open to the possibility of a less centralised bureaucracy. He does not like the denunciations for unorthodoxy being sent to Rome and wants these issues handled locally. In a sentence accidentally omitted from the America magazine translation he says, 'It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the Church.' He has defended himself against those within the Catholic Church obsessed with particular moral issues and insisting he speak more about them. He says explicitly, 'I have never been a right-winger'. This is not to say that moral truth is changeable at whim. Wrong is still wrong even when everyone is wrong. Predictably, some ecclesiastical voices were quick to explain that the Pope's interview was not meant to change Catholic teaching. Moral teaching is about what is good. Knowing what can and cannot change, with respect to particular actions, in particular historical circumstances, and in the light of new knowledge and understanding, is a real exercise in discerning the good here and now. For some Catholics infallibility is confused with omniscience. Francis gives a good explanation of why it is important to consult the faithful: The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the 'thinking with the church' of which St Ignatius speaks. The group of cardinals has a unique opportunity and a serious responsibility helping Francis understand what the people of God are thinking and expecting.