Deal W. Hudson
September 4, 2018
When Pope Francis refused to comment on the letter by Archbishop Vigano enumerating his cover-up of ex-Cardinal’s sexual abuse, the public was bemused, if not angered. Now the Holy Father has explained the reason for his refusal — it’s too mystical to talk about.
In his Monday homily at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis pronounced, “the truth is humble, the truth is silence.” At first glance, this is strange comment given the issues at hand — charges he ignored the criminal past of McCarrick and sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI that McCarrick that end his public ministry.
How can the truth be ‘silence’ on these charges? Pope Francis either did, or his didn’t know about McCarrick’s actions.
Yet, Pope Francis goes further, he identifies this claim with the virtue of humility — “truth is humble.” What is he recommending here? Perhaps he believes that anyone possessing truth should never express it publicly? He may have in mind the humility described by St. Thomas Aquinas, which, “Consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one’s superior” (Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. lv.).
However, Pope Francis would be contradicting himself according to St. Thomas — his notion of humility would imply the Pope does not know if Vigano’s charges are true or not. The Pope, however, would not not be going outside of “one’s bounds” in addressing the charges: Pope Francis knows the answers, and he won’t say anything about them. Why? Because, presumably, the truth is humble and silent.
Even more strange is how the Pope concocted his description of truth from Luke 4:16-30. In this passage, Jesus begins his ministry by visiting the Synagogue in Nazareth where he reads a passage from Isaiah and concludes, “This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears, adding, “ Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country.” When the crowd was angered and wanted to throw him out of the city, “he passed through the midst of them and went away.”
The passage does not mention Jesus’s silence, rather Pope Francis infers it and bases his entire commentary on it. In doing so, the Pope is comparing himself to Jesus under attack for his claim that he represents the prophecy of Isaiah. How is that a fair comparison? In the passage from Luke, Jesus had just proclaimed the truth about himself — he did not remain silent, he spoke the truth aloud, and it provoked the anger against him!
Yet, Pope Francis ignores what Jesus said and focusses on his supposed silence after he had spoken to those in the Temple. The Pope, evidently, thinks Jesus was able to pass “through the midst of them” because he remained silent. Didn’t those in the Temple just see him and identify him while he was speaking? “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?”
It doesn’t make any sense to credit a supposed silence for Jesus getting away from the crowd when it was his speaking that aroused the crowd in the first place. Clearly, for Jesus Christ, the truth is NOT found in silence.
So what does Pope Francis really mean? Those familiar with the Catholic traditions of spirituality will know that ‘silence’ has a privileged place. As with the celebrated “silence” of St. Thomas, it denotes that boundary between what the mind can grasp, conceptual, and discuss and the supernatural reality that exceeds its power.
St. Thomas Aquinas stopped working on his Summa Theologiae after telling his longtime secretary Reginald of Piperno, “After what I have seen today I can write no more: for all that I have written is but straw.”
Remaining in silence about what lies beyond the power of the mind, about a vision of the Divine, is revered in the tradition of Christian, and non-Christian, mysticism.
What do the facts about the McCarrick scandal have to do with mysticism, with the silence provoked by an encounter with the supernatural? Pope Francis’s attempt to play a mystical trump card would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.
One can imagine those hearing it on Monday at the Casa Santa Marta: the groupies present would start tearing up, others would scratch there heads, while others would be thinking, “How can he equate an experience of God with the facts about McCarrick’s sexual abuse of young men and boys?”
What’s next? Will all Catholic clergy be given the command – “the truth is silence” – regarding Archbishop Vigano’s letter about Pope Francis?