ROME – Pope Francis has answered with silence the most recent tempest of scandals concerning sexual abuse and its cover-up facing the Church, but a closer look at his public statements since his return from Ireland offer insight on where the pope stands on the matter.
“With people who lack good will, with people who only look for scandal, who solely seek division, who are just after destruction, even in families: silence and prayers,” Francis said during his homily at Domus Sanctae Martae, where he lives, on Sep. 3.
In his most recent public appearances, the pope used strong words to denounce “hypocrites” and “wild dogs” seeking to generate division and anger while never directly addressing the scandals surrounding high-ranking members of the Church and even Francis himself.
Last month, the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put a magnifying glass on the Church’s disappointing track record on clerical sex abuse and accountability. On Sunday, a searing 11-page statement by former papal ambassador in the United States, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused Francis of knowing about misconduct allegations against McCarrick in 2013 and not acting upon them.
In this perfect storm of media scrutiny and internal Church division, Francis cockily challenged the media to do their job and figure out for themselves whether the accusations by Viganò are believable. “I will not say a single word about this,” the pope told reporters during the airplane presser on the way back from Ireland.
Some of Francis’s statements since then seem to address the scandals – given the heated context – but indicate that Francis has embraced a strategy of silence, prayer and aloofness in return.
No Prophet is Accepted in his Own Hometown
Commenting during his homily on the day’s Gospel (Luke 4, 16-30), where Jesus is cast away from the Synagogue in Nazareth, Francis said the passage “allows us to understand how the father of lies, the accuser, the devil, works to destroy the unity of a family, of a people.”
When Jesus was at the synagogue, he said, he was the object of enthusiasm and curiosity, which then quickly turned to doubt and anger, to which Jesus responded: “But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.”
“They changed,” Francis said, “the seed sowed by the devil began to grow. They got up, cast him away, they entered a pack mentality: they weren’t people, they were a pack of wild dogs who cast him out of the city. They did not reason.”
The pope said that Jesus’ silence even as he was about to be thrown off a cliff “won over that savage pack,” and he was able to simply walk away.
“This teaches us that when there is this attitude, of not wanting to see the truth, there remains silence. The silence that wins, but through the cross. The silence of Jesus,” Francis continued. “Because the truth is tame, the truth is silent, the truth is not loud. It’s not easy, what Jesus did, but there is the dignity of the Christian that is anchored in the strength of God.”
Authenticity and Hypocrisy
During his Sunday Angelus Sep. 2, Francis spoke of the importance of being authentic in obeying God and opposing “all forms of mundane contamination of legalistic formality.”
This time he was commenting on the Gospel according to Mark, where Jesus is challenged by scribes and pharisees for not having his disciples adhere to the law. On that occasion, Francis said, Jesus rebuked them with “strong and clear words,” calling them hypocrites.
“Jesus’ reaction is harsh because the stakes are high: it’s about the truth of the relationship between man and God, of the authenticity of religious life. The hypocrite is a liar, he’s not authentic,” Francis told faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
But not being contaminated by the world, Francis explained, does not mean escaping reality. Instead, he added, the focus should be in helping the poor and disadvantaged.
“It means being vigilant so that our way of thinking and acting is not contaminated by the mundane mentality, that is by vanity, by greed, by arrogance,” the pope said. “A man or woman who lives in vanity, in greed, in arrogance and at the same time believes and pretends to be religious and goes as far as condemning others, is a hypocrite.”
Some listening to this passage, could not help but make the connection with recent events concerning the Church and contextualize them in the current dynamics surrounding the Vatican.
“I don’t know why but today, listening to and reading what Pope Francis said before reciting the Angelus, I thought of Carlo Maria Viganò,” reads a Sep. 2 post in Il Sismografo, a widely read Catholic blog based in Italy.
This might be the symptom of the media’s thirst for information regarding Viganò’s allegations or simply the fact that it’s not unusual for journalists to have a one-track mind when there is a big story in the air, but in some ways the pope’s statements echo the turbulent atmosphere surrounding the Vatican.
“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent,” Francis said at the end of his homily on Monday. “This applies to every part of life: to work, at home, in society, in all of life. Thus, we will be closer imitators of Jesus.”