The US Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre has been in Rome, and today Vatican News posted an interview with him about being named a cardinal, what it is like to serve as the pope’s representative in the United States, and his thoughts on the upcoming synod.


Some key excerpts, taken from the Vatican News transcript:

Q — Will you continue to serve as a Nuncio?

A — It is, and I see it as, a continuation of my mission. As far as I can understand, I will continue as a Cardinal, but as a Nuncio. So my job will continue.

Q — Pope Francis recently mentioned the risk of polarization within the Church in the United States. How do you believe that this can be mitigated? Is this polarization a broader issue in America as a whole?

A — the problem is that instead of considering the reality, we escape from the reality, and we take refuge in ideas, and these ideas, became ideologies. If you remain at the level of the idea of the ideology, necessarily, the person who does not share your idea, becomes your enemy. And so, you have to resolve the problem of your relationship with your enemy, which is impossible.

The polarization comes from there. There is a danger and we can observe it. This polarization, which is overwhelming at times, you see that in the political debate. We have and we will have, in the next year or so, it reproduced at times at all levels of the society, even in the Church. So, the Church is supposed to be inside the society, a place where we can dialogue, and in doing so, help the society to resolve its problem.

The Catholic Church has always been in the last 50 years remarkable in the fight against abortion, for example, and the pro-life groups and so forth. There has also been the huge generosity of the American Catholics to help the poor, and offer solidarity with the world. It’s amazing how the Catholic Church is helping the poor all over the place. It’s beautiful. I’m very happy to be the Nuncio in the United States for that reason.

But at times we take this viewpoint, which is a good one, a value, but we put it as an absolute. For example, you say I am pro-life. If you are not pro-life, you become an enemy. We forget that to be pro-life is also to help the people concretely, not just to defend an idea, not to embrace a political party which is pro-life, but also to be on the ground, an actor to defend the values, because we are not just in favour of a few values. We are disciples of Jesus and the disciples are a witness and are committed to helping people. In doing so, we will be pro-life.

So, the polarization in the Church is a danger because it can kill also the Church, and it puts the Church very far away from what it should be. Even if people don’t share your idea, they are not your enemy. And this is the reason why the Holy Father invites, has created and launched this idea of synodality, to walk together through the method of dialogue, listening, discernment, and also listening to the Holy Spirit.

So, we are together. The logic of being together is that even in a family, you need to talk to the other in order to find a common ground, but also not to forget the concreteness of the reality.

Q — Synodality. How is it being perceived in the United States?

A — We may be victim of this polarization which has been created inside the Church and which many groups, try to feed to and frighten the people. I’m amazed to listen to so many people who are just rejecting the idea of synodality, of the Synod, not knowing what it is all about and thinking that the Pope is has been elected Pope just to destroy the Church and to destroy the beauty of the Church. The Holy Father is not. And he has said that many times. On the contrary, he calls precisely a Synod on synodality.

It’s a moment when a number of Bishops representing the Bishops of the world, the laypeople at all levels of the Church, will consider, examine what has been done already at all levels of the Church, in order to evangelize better the people. This is the reason why. They are not meeting to invent a new Church or to create new structures. No, [they are meeting] just to examine what has been tried to evangelize better at the grassroots, and to see this works, or that is not working, and we will see. But the method will be listening, examining, discerning and listening to the Holy Spirit. This is what the Pope has repeated over and over and over. But some people don’t want to listen to that.

Please do read (or listen to) it all.

I think it has become clear, in the weeks leading up to October’s synodal assembly, that Pope Francis has finally begun to turn his attention towards the opposition movement based in the US and has decided to address it, head-on. First, he ordered the apostolic visitation of his most outspoken critic in the US episcopate, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, in June. A few days later, Pope Francis replaced Cardinal Raymond Burke as the patron of the Order of Malta with Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ. The US-born Burke was named Cardinal Patron of the Order of Malta in 2014, after being relieved of his duties as head of the Apostolic Signatura, but had his responsibilities with the order effectively stripped in 2017 after an unsuccessful attempt to resist papal authority over the order. In a 2019 interview, he told Ross Douthat, “It’s clear that the pope doesn’t want me in any leadership position, that he doesn’t see me as the kind of person he wants to be giving any strong direction to things.” And now, at 75, Burke has been retired from a position that he has not been permitted to exercise for 6 years, to be replaced by an 80-year-old.

In July, Pope Francis hand-selected the US bishops he appointed as Cardinals —  Blase Cupich of Chicago; Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC; Robert McElroy of San Diego; and Joseph Tobin of Newark — as well as the Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin, to the October assembly. The delegation selected by the US bishops themselves — including Archbishop Timothy Broglio and Bishops Robert Barron and Kevin Rhoades — is not seen as reflective of Pope Francis’s vision of a synodal Church.

August brought the transcript of the pope’s dialogue with the Portuguese Jesuits, in which he discussed the opposition to his papacy found in the US. Finally, his comments on the airplane about the US Church, both before and after his visit to Mongolia, signaled that he doesn’t intend to ignore the US problem any longer.

One final thing that I only noticed today as I was catching up on my reading, was this sentence in an August 28 article by America’s Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell: America has learned that Pope Francis knows which cardinals, bishops, clergy and prominent laity are openly critical of his leadership of the Catholic Church.”

I think things will continue to get interesting.


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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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