In an address to bishops in Madagascar, Pope Francis warns his audience not to let the fear of not enough priests justify them being undiscerning in priestly formation and accept men into the priesthood who aren’t striving for holiness. He says, “I appreciate your efforts to ensure the formation of authentic and holy workers for the abundant harvest that awaits us in the field of the Lord.”

Then the pope goes on to warn against a particular attitude that he sees as a problem for priests:

“Furthermore, I would like to emphasize an attitude that I do not like, because it does not come from God: rigidity. Today it is fashionable, I do not know about here, but in other parts of the world it is fashionable, to find rigid people. Young, rigid priests, who want to save with rigidity, perhaps, I don’t know, but they take this attitude of rigidity and sometimes – excuse me – from the museum. They are afraid of everything, they are rigid. Be careful, and know that under any rigidity there are serious problems.”

This made me ask: “What does he mean by ‘rigid’?”

So I looked in Pope Francis’ document on holiness to see if he speaks about rigidity there, and he does.

The pope understands rigidity as an attitude that’s opposed to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

In this document, when talking about discernment of spirits, he says:

“[Discernment] is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil. At other times, the opposite can happen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for a rigid resistance to change. Yet that would be to block the working of the Spirit.”


“The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.”

In other words, the pope doesn’t want bishops, motivated by fear of a lack of priests, to ordain men who are not striving for holiness and willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

And I couldn’t agree more.

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10 Responses

  1. Avatar carn says:

    Whenever i manage to get my mind into a state of more trust into the Pope, i regularly fall into the same trap:

    Read what he says.

    Your attempt to give the term “rigidity” such a meaning that it would avoid the problems with what he said is well intentioned – but helps little.

    I should really try to stick with avoiding encountering Pope Francis words.

    • Paul Fahey Paul Fahey says:

      I wasn’t attempting to give the word “rigidity” any meaning, I was showing what specifically the pope means when he uses that word.

    • Avatar Anne Lastman says:

      Hi Carn, just think. If you stand by a light pole thats buried deep into ground with cement around it, can you move it? Its so firm, straight, rigid that unless you use some mechanical thing eg tractor you cannot you it
      The Holy Father is saying be careful that you are not so rigid that you cannot be moved by something new. Something new does not have to be something bad indeed it can be something so beautiful and wonderful. With each new pope we learn something new
      I remember when St JPII began speaking writing about Theology of the body. The ruckus made. A pope talking openly about sex. Yet he was being prophetic speaking about sacredness of sexuality in the midst of sexuality being abused
      Pope Francis speaks always about God’s Mercy because it is so badly needed in our day.
      The rigidity of some priests and laity removes from God His nature which is Mercy.

      • Avatar carn says:

        “The Holy Father is saying be careful that you are not so rigid that you cannot be moved by something new.”

        Maybe he is trying to say that. But what he says verbatim is:

        “know that under any rigidity there are serious problems.”

        Mind the word “any”. Verbatim this means:

        In absolutely every single case of rigidity of a priest, in absolutely every single case in which some priest is rigid, there are serious problems underneath.

        Absolutely. Every. Last. Single. Case.

        Think of any single action by any priest ever you are aware of and which is rigid; the Pope says that there is/ was a problem with that individual priest.

        The only approach to avoid that statement from being straightforward ridiculous is – as Paul Fahey does try here – by concluding from other Papal statements that “rigidity” is used by the Pope with a certain meaning which avoid this ridiculousness.

        To show how ridiculous the statement is, i’ll give one example of how with my usual use of the term rigid.

        A lay group campaigning since some months campaigning for ordination of women as priest arranges itself 5 minutes prior to scheduled start of mass around the altar; and their spokesperson starts to read some written statement of theirs arguing that not ordaining women is discriminatory and that the teaching of the Church about sexuality should change – e.g. contraception, virginity – and they evoke the Virgin Mary for their cause.

        The priest – already in vestment – asks them to stop and when they do not do, he tries to take the written statement away; when he fails, he declares that mass today is cancelled, because mass should not be about campaigning (which inadvertently it would have been, if mass hat started right after they finished reading their statement).

        That action of the priest is rigid in my understanding of the word; cause he rigidly applies Church teaching and canon law to the situation and concludes – as far as i am aware – correctly that the situation is not suitable for mass to take place and therefore correctly according to a rigid understanding cancelled it.

        With a less rigid understanding, mass would probably have taken place.

        And now the Pope – at least if my understanding of the word “rigid” fits – would have judged this situation due to “any” (any is any;no exceptions; thats the meaning of the word) to mean that there is a serious problem with that priest, cause he was rigid.

        That is downright ridiculous; the problem was with the lay group trying to spread their message at that time and place.

        As i said, if one manages to argue that the Pope means something different with rigidity, this is resolved somewhat.

        But not in one respect:

        How the public and the lay people understand that term. For the lay group Pope Francis words will – as they see the action of the priest as “rigid” – serve as confirmation that the fault is with the priest and not with them.

        (@Paul Fahey: And that is the problem with how you try to resolve the issue of this statement; even if you can argue from some other Papal statements that the Pope actually said by suggesting that rigidity is always and ever a sign of serious problems not something obviously stupid, the public and especially the lay public will understand it as i suggest here – every single last priest ever doing something rigid is a problem or has serious problems; every single last priest ever denying communion; every single last priest affirming Church teaching about contraception; every single last priest who suggest in the confessional that the penitent should not yet go to Holy Communion; in the eyes of many lay people the Pope has condemned every single last one of them as having serious problems)

    • Avatar Cathodeter says:

      If that’s what you mean, attempting to give a favorable interpretation is actually a moral duty.
      2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

      Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

      • Avatar carn says:

        “If that’s what you mean, attempting to give a favorable interpretation is actually a moral duty.”

        Which is why i said that this article is well intentioned. In other words, it is a good deed what Paul Fahey did here (or tried to do here).

        But: this “favorable interpretation” is still one, which erodes my trust in Pope Francis.

        Even if i stick with the most favorable interpretations, his words are still deterring me from trusting Pope Francis. Can you imagine how bleak that can at times be, to look at something, which is a “favorable interpretation” of some words of the Pope and think for yourself “If that is the favorable one, i do not want to see an unfavorable one”?

        “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love.”

        I fully agree with that. If i cannot find a favorable interpretation of what someone said, i try to ask him, to identify what i might be missing (and which keeps me from finding a favorable interpretation).

        With the Pope i of course cannot ask him; i can only sit back and wait and hope, that one day someone asks questions similar to the ones i would ask and look at what the Pope answers.

  2. Avatar petey says:

    “I should really try to stick with avoiding encountering Pope Francis words.”

    yes perhaps that would be best.

  3. Avatar Anthony says:

    Some food for thought

    Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
    heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
    bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
    if one has a grievance against another;
    as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
    And over all these put on love,
    that is, the bond of perfection.
    And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
    the peace into which you were also called in one Body.
    And be thankful.
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
    as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
    singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
    with gratitude in your hearts to God.
    And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
    do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
    giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Col 3: 12-17]

    “I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those
    who will believe in Me through their message, 21that all of them may
    be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be
    in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22I have given
    them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one—23I
    in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the
    world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have
    loved Me.” [John 17: 20-23]

    “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things
    are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” [2 Corinthians

    “Then He told them, “For this reason, every scribe who has been
    discipled in the kingdom of heaven is like a homeowner who brings out
    of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” [Matthew 13: 52]

    “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new
    wine will burst the skins, the wine will spill, and the wineskins will
    be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into new wineskins.
    And no one after drinking old wine wants new, for he says, ‘The old is
    better.’” [Luke 5: 37-39]

    “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts
    is the new creation. …
    What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.
    [Galatlans 6: 16]

    “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
    passed away. Behold, the new has come! All this is from God, who
    reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of
    reconciliation.” [2 Cor 5: 17-18]

    Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins
    will burst, the wine will spill, and the wineskins will be ruined.
    Instead, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are
    preserved.” [Matthew 9: 17]

    “And no one after drinking old wine wants new, for he says, ‘The old
    is better.'” [Luke 5:39]

    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will
    remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel
    36: 26]

    “…and he who does not gather with Me scatters. [Matthew 12:30(b)]

  4. Avatar Jennifer A. Martin says:

    I appreciate your focus on “discernment”, Paul. Most lay Catholics that I have encountered do not know what discernment is or how St. Catherine of Siena brought it to light in her, Dialogue, with Christ whereby He refers to it as “the light in the darkness” and the most precious of “virtues”. I designed and led a discernment program in my parish for six years; six years where everyone, yes, everyone, who came felt “nudged” to come and were led into a somewhat surprising place of actually talking to God. It is sad to see how many Catholics will attend liturgy, sing hymns, and pray about God and His love for us and His mercy for us and His desire to have spirit to Spirit intimate talks with us and yet not really believe that He is truly present. The Church needs to turn to discernment and open wide the doors to all possibilities that may be the will of God. All, including the Pope, have to enter into the possibility that all places are places that can be renewed through the direction of the Holy Spirit. This includes women. I do not know if the Holy Spirit’s desire is to have women in leadership in the Church but I do know that we are the only co-stewards to men of this earth and all that inhabits it so that seems a weighty thing. If women are being called to different roles of leadership within the Church and they might be the balm, then let them come forth and clarify their spiritual calling. If we do, we will possibly enter into a new Upper Room experience and begin to know the Spirit’s desired direction. As a woman and as one who has been given a calling and also special graces to assist that calling I know I am no threat to anyone BUT, woe to me if I do not follow the call of God. St. Paul understood this and so do I. Blessings…

  5. Avatar Toni says:

    Context is everything. Yes?

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