This slipped through the cracks at Where Peter Is when it happened last week, as things sometimes do, but on January 14, Pope Francis gave an interview on an Italian talk show in which he answered, among other things, questions about Fiducia supplicans and its reception. His answers show a great deal of frustration with the hostile reaction of some local churches and much of the Catholic press. The implacability and fury of this reaction have surprised many, especially given the small pastoral change and nonexistent doctrinal change that Fiducia effects. As CNA writes:
In an appearance on an Italian talk show on Jan. 14, the 87-year-old pope was asked if he “felt alone” after the publication of Fiducia Supplicans (sic) was met with some resistance.
“Sometimes decisions are not accepted,” Pope Francis replied. “But in most cases, when you don’t accept a decision, it’s because you don’t understand.”
Speaking to the Italian program “Che Tempo Che Fa” via video link from his Vatican City residence, the pope said that when someone disagrees with a decision, they should express their concerns in “a fraternal discussion.”
“The danger is when I don’t like something and I set it in my heart, I become a resistance and come to ugly conclusions,” Pope Francis said. “This has happened with this last decision about blessing everyone.”
That Francis thinks the backlash to Fiducia involves people coming to “ugly conclusions” is not shocking. The Pope gave this interview several days before the release of this troubling story about Congolese Cardinal and SECAM President Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, in which Ambongo approvingly quotes Vladimir Putin, wishes “the West” a “happy demise” for “not liking children,” and in general provides an explicitly campist account of the African local churches’ reasons for reacting to Fidicua supplicans the way they did. It’s impossible to know if the arguments and tone that Ambongo uses here are anything like the arguments and tone that he used in conversation with the Pope, but if they are, it’s not hard to see why Francis might have found this exasperating. If people like Ambongo aren’t who the Pope has in mind here, then he probably means the set of politically committed Catholics in the developed world whose reactions to Fiducia we have been refuting all winter.
This isn’t to say that all problems people had with Fiducia are equally bad-faith, dug-in, and obnoxious, but it is good to have clarity on the Pope’s position on this: the document reflects a teaching from which he is not backing down and with whose polarized reception he is not happy.
Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.