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"The mass media are trying to create a spirit of Pope Francis, just as they created a spirit of Vatican II."
Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis., during a February 2012 visit to the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

The Wisconsin State Journal interviewed Bishop Robert Morlino at the end of February about the approaching one year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. A couple of excerpts:

Morlino: What I most admire about him -- and it's really God's gift to him -- is his presence to people. It's not very possible to be present to 40,000 to 70,000 people at a Wednesday audience. Those audiences have grown in size incredibly since he became pope. It's not that he trained with PR people. Yet he can relate to that number of people. Pope John Paul was incredible in this regard. Francis is, you know, every bit as good. And that's a gift we need, because, as he's always said, he's interested in people at the peripheries. ...

State Journal: In December, you gave an interview to the website Real Clear Religion in which you suggested Pope Francis has actually helped make you a stronger culture warrior.

Morlino: Yes, Oh, yeah.

State Journal: Can you explain a little more how that is?

Morlino: Well, in order to meet Christ, we have to stand up for the whole Christ. Standing up for the whole Christ -- How do you do that? What are the aspects of Christ and of his work that need work in that vicinity or this region? That's the judgment the bishop has to make. So I have to see kind of which aspects of the truth of Christ need work here, and when I see that, I kind of end up right back where I was. I have to speak up forcibly about these issues. But I have never failed to teach also about God's mercy. Never. It's one of my major themes. It always has been. But God's mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and we have to think that through and work that out. It is unfortunate that some people, especially in your profession, have taken the occasion to widely misinterpret Francis, particularly with that statement, "Who am I to judge?" I have had to explain away what the mass media have said about that far more times than I'd like to count.

State Journal: In a recent Catholic Herald column, you said that comment has been "outrageously misinterpreted." Tell us how.

Morlino: When Francis was telling us about that, he was talking about a particular bishop whom he had just given a job in the Vatican, and it was found out that in South America where this bishop had been, he had been charged with certain misconduct. So the question came to Francis, "How could you bring him in?" And Francis said, "The man has admitted he did wrong, he is sorry, and he has changed his life through the grace of Jesus Christ. Who am I to judge him now?" That is hardly a statement that somehow justifies homosexual behavior. This is another thing: When he says, "What do you want from me, I am the son of the church?" From an Argentinean background, that's a very strong statement. In the United States of America, that's a very generic statement that could mean anything, because Nancy Pelosi thinks she's a loyal daughter of the church, so she doesn't know what church is and she doesn't know what loyal is. This man knows what loyalty to the church is, he was surrounded by it, there was a strong cultural Catholicism in Argentina which we lost in the United States long ago. So that statement has to be taken very seriously, and it's kind of passed over. The pope made another statement at Mass this last week. I'm sure it was some kind of a slip on his part, because again, he's worried about bringing people closer to Christ. He's not watching every word, and you can't do that when you're trying to connect with people. He was talking about how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, that he gives us gifts, that he's present in his gifts. And he was giving all kinds of examples of how the Holy Spirit works through the gifts of each one of us every day and he does this for everyone. So he said the Holy Spirit is a real worker, the Holy Spirit is a hard worker, and then he said, "Not like trade union workers." I didn't see that in the press anywhere, that he said that. But he says, "Who am I to judge?" and it's all over the world. The mass media are trying to create a spirit of Pope Francis, just as they created a spirit of Vatican II. Many Catholics fell for that the first time. I hope they won't fall for that again.

Well, I'd say that ship, alas, has pretty much sailed. The dominant media narrative has been set in semi-solid stone, and anything that Francis says or does contrary to said narrative will be ignored. Depend on it. Many people are now comfortable with the narrative—it allows them to categorize and catalog the Holy Father (isn't that what Americans do well?)—and won't go any deeper. But thank goodness for bishops such as Bp. Morlino, who is doing what he can to clarify and set the record straight.

This is also excellent:

State Journal: Would you say your approach is primarily pastoral?

Morlino: Yes, because what is pastoral has to be true. In other words, pastoral is loving. It includes love, and loving always includes respecting. If you don't respect people enough to tell them the truth, well then you couldn't be pastoral. There can't be anything pastoral that does not include inviting people to see the truth. To pretend the truth is not there or to water it down, that really couldn't be pastoral. That honestly is a kind of appeasement. It might make the person feel better right now, but it really does not help in terms of a person's salvation. We don't use the terminology very often -- and I think it's too bad -- we don't talk about saving souls for Christ. We don't describe ourselves as doing that. We have all sorts of other ways of describing ourselves. If I withhold the truth, I'm actually endangering souls, not saving souls, and endangering souls could never be pastoral.

Exactly right: the notion that "pastoral" is somehow unconcerned with truth is nonsensical, but incredibly widespread. Anyhow, read the entire interivew on the Wisconsin State Journal website.

 
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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