“I pray that there be no schism,” Pope Francis said on Tuesday, in response to a query regarding “strong criticisms” he has faced and the possibility of US Catholics breaking communion, “but I am not afraid.” The Pope made his remark during the in-flight press conference en route to Rome from Mauritius, where he had just concluded a visit that had seen him also in Mozambique and Madagascar.
The Rome bureau chief for the New York Times, Jason Horowitz, asked the question, point blank: “Are you afraid of a schism in the American Church?” It’s not exactly surprising that schism should be on the Pope’s mind. After all, his office is given for the unity of the Church. It is, however, his job to fear schism above everything else, and to do anything except compromise the integrity of the faith in order to avoid it.
It is also true, as Pope Francis noted, that there are always pockets of schism – or something approaching it – in the Church. In that regard, one may fairly wonder whether the Pope does not have one eye on Germany, where a “synodal process” is in the works, which has raised concerns in several quarters, especially regarding its possibly tenuous links to the universal Church and her universal governing apparatus.
Pope Francis’s answer is especially interesting in light of another thing he said to Spanish journalist Cristina Cabreja, a veteran of Spain’s EFE, regarding “the future of communication”.
“I’d need a crystal ball,” to say what the future holds, Pope Francis began his response. “Communication always risks passing from the fact to what is reported,” Pope Francis continued, “and this ruins communication.” He went on to say, “[T]he communicator’s discipline is always to return to the fact, to report the fact, and then to give [his] interpretation,” careful always to distinguish fact from narrative. The thing is, “schism” is part of the narrative. Francis did not bring it up, but to spend so much time on it and say the things he said cannot fail to drive a very specific narrative.
There is a lot of that sort of thing – narrative – going around in Church circles these days, across the spectrum of ecclesiastical opinion. We’re not wanting for tall tales, with precious little in the way of solid reporting to back them up. Those stories could all be accurate – smart money is on “they’re not” – and what has passed for reportage of them would still lead one to conclude that the purveyors of them have been wearing their tinfoil hats too long and too tight.
There’s lots more to say about the response Pope Francis gave, but for now it is worth noting that he has no shortage of really pressing issues on his plate – real scandals like the Zanchetta business, and outstanding promises to report on the McCarrick Affair, not to mention a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon region coming to town next month (keeping it on the rails may or may not be a straightforward bit of work) – and one wonders whether this foray into narrative isn’t a bit distracting?