The Silence of Pope Francis

"It cannot be an accident that … Pope Francis has not yet spoken the words abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage."

Pope Francis greets immigrants as he arrives at the port in Lampedusa

Pope Francis greets immigrants as he arrives at the port in Lampedusa, Italy, July 8. (CNS photo/Tullio Puglia, pool)Veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister offers some analysis worth pondering:

Benedict XVI, in effect, was different. In spite of his meek appearance, he was often very explicit and direct in expressing his judgments and in getting his listeners on the ropes. The earthquake unleashed by his lecture in Regensburg remains the most spectacular effect of this. But there was another important discourse of his that illustrates the case even better.

It was during his third and last voyage in Germany, in September of 2011. In Freiburg, pope Joseph Ratzinger wanted to meet with a representative group of German Catholics “active in the Church and in society.” And to them, as also to the bishops of Germany who were present almost in their entirety, he serenely addressed words of deadly severity, extremely demanding. Entirely focused on the duty of a poor Church, “stripped of worldly wealth,” “detached from the world,” “freed from material and political burdens and privileges,” in order to be able “to dedicate itself better and in a truly Christian way to the whole world.”

So then, that discourse of his met with a chilly reception and was rapidly hushed, in the first place by those to whom the pope had addressed himself. Because precisely at them he had taken aim with precision, asking for a change: at that German Church which he knew very well: wealthy, satisfied, bureaucratized, politicized, but poor in the Gospel.


Pope Francis’s way of speaking is certainly one of his most original traits. It is simple, understandable, communicative. It has the appearance of improvisation, but in reality is carefully studied, as much in the invention of formulas – the “soap bubble” that he used in Lampedusa to represent the egoism of the modern Herods – as in the fundamentals of the Christian faith that he loves most to repeat and are crystallized in a consoling “all is grace,” the grace of God who incessantly forgives although all continue to be sinners.

But in addition to the things that he says are those about which he is deliberately silent. It cannot be an accident that after 120 days of pontificate Pope Francis has not yet spoken the words abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage.

Pope Bergoglio succeeded in dodging them even on the day that he dedicated to “Evangelium Vitae,” the tremendous encyclical published by John Paul II in 1995 at the culmination of his epic battle in defense of life “from conception to natural death.”

Karol Wojtyla and Benedict XVI after him exerted themselves incessantly and in person to combat the epochal challenge represented by the modern ideology of birth and death, as also by the dissolution of the creatural duality between male and female. Not Bergoglio. It seems well-established by now that he has decided to remain silent on these issues that touch upon the political sphere of the entire West, including Latin America, convinced that such statements are not the responsibility of the pope but of the bishops of each nation. He told the Italians in unmistakable words: “The dialogue with political institutions is your affair.”

The risk of this division of labor is high for Francis himself, given the hardly flattering judgment that he has repeatedly demonstrated he has on the average quality of the bishops of the world. But it is a risk that he wants to take. This silence of his is another of the factors that explain the benevolence of secular public opinion in his regard.

Read the entire piece, “A Pope Like None Before. Can He Do It?”, posted today on the Chiesa website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.