Here are a couple of things we were reminded of during the Christmas season: Jesus was born to a woman who was not married to her Child’s Father, and the Holy Infant was undoubtedly breastfed.
Obviously, this marriage was a special case, but there are an increasing number of children born – through no fault of their own – into circumstances that don’t resemble the classic nuclear family. However, despite advances in technology, breastfeeding remains nature’s favorite way of getting nutrition into a baby.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has taken the opportunity to remind Roman Catholics and the rest of the Christian world about these realities.
And, as it always does, the media is there to misunderstand and misinterpret.
On Nov. 29, the pontiff made a speech in Italian to a group of superiors general from religious orders, which was was later written up in the Italian Jesuit, or Society of Jesus – the religious order in which Pope Francis was ordained – periodical La Civilta Cattolica under the title “Wake Up the World! Conversation with Pope Francis About the Religious Life.”
As is typical of the sex-obsessed MSM, the only thing in the fourteen-page article that sparked attention was part of a section of the three-hour talk in which Francis alluded to a lesbian mother while discussing the challenges of passing on the Catholic faith to children from unwed, divorced, separated, remarried, etc. parents.
He recalled meeting “a very sad little girl who finally confided in her teacher the reason for her state of mind: ‘my mother’s fiancée doesn’t like me.’ The percentage of children studying in schools who have separated parents is very high. The situation in which we live now provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand. How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing? We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”
French news agency AFP put out a story, picked up by Yahoo! News, among others, saying that “Pope Francis has called for a rethink in the way the Catholic Church deals with the children of gay couples and divorced parents.” The same story was also headlined in similar fashion on the Drudge Report.
The story also set off a minor translation issue, since the first English translation had “fiancé” instead of “fiancée” (which may have been a copy-editing correction, for all we know), and AFP had “girlfriend.” According to Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, the original Italian phrase – and the original is not a literal transcript of the speech – had “la fidanzata,” which literally means “fiancée” or may have a colloquial usage as “girlfriend.”
Either way, all the pope was doing was acknowledging reality and asking questions about how the Church can cope with that. The Church’s teaching on traditional marriage is not going to change, but the fact is that many children are not born into traditional marriages, and Francis is not willing to write off these children and consider them beyond the reach of Christ and His Church.
Anyone thinking Francis intended to say something celebratory about these sorts of situations may be ignoring the fact that the example he cited was of an unhappy child. Whether a same-sex union is involved or not, a whole variety of parental irregularities can leave a child in distress, and the challenge of the Church is to find a way to comfort and bring Christ to these children without being portrayed erroneously as approving of the parental situation.
The Vatican pushed back on the media’s notion that this comment signaled some new policy toward unions outside of traditional marriage. Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Jan. 6 that “it is completely self-evident” that the topic was “forced… so much so that in some cases it seems the pope’s remark is being manipulated. To speak of an ‘openness to gay couples’ is paradoxical, because the pope’s comment is completely general in nature and because even the small concrete example made by the pope… alludes to the suffering of children.”
Lombardi continued, saying that “education and the proclamation of faith of course cannot ignore this reality and must be attentive to the welfare of future generations, affectionately accompanying them in their current context, in order not to provoke negative reactions contrary to openness to the faith.”
Apparently a debate on civil unions for same-sex couples popped up in Italy subsequent to Francis’s remarks, and Lombardi emphasized that the pope had “absolutely not expressed himself on the debate which reopened in Italy only a month later.”
“Those who remember,” Lombardi also said, “the positions he expressed earlier in Argentina during similar debates know that they were completely different from what some people are now trying surreptitiously to attribute to him.”
In July 2010, the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio penned a letter to Carmelite nuns in Buenos Aires and expressed his opinion on an attempt in Argentina to redefine marriage to include sames-sex couples, writing, “Let us not be naive: This is not a simple political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God’s plan… It is not just a bill, but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Then, as if through divine providence, a small example of modern realities cropped up on Sunday, Jan. 12.
As part of a Mass to celebrate of the Roman Catholic Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which marks the end of Church’s Christmas observance, Francis, in the tradition of his predecessors, baptized a few dozen babies in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
According to Italian newspapers, one of the 32 children was a little girl named Giulia, whose Italian parents – Ivan Scardia and Nicoletta Franco – were reportedly married in a civil, not Catholic, ceremony. The parents told reporters they had been at a General Audience on Sept. 25 and asked Pope Francis if he would baptize their second child, and he said yes.
This caused a kerfuffle in the media, since it’s not certain that the couple’s marriage has been subsequently blessed by the Church. Either way, there is nothing in Church law that bars baptizing such children, so long as there’s a “founded hope” that the child will be raised in the Catholic religion. Beyond that, it’s up to the parents, their pastor, and God.
Besides, along the lines of not penalizing a child for its parents’ choices or circumstances, Pope Francis, when still Cardinal Bergoglio, had harsh words for priests who refuse to baptize the children of unwed mothers.
In a story from the fall of 2012, Bergoglio spoke of having sympathy for a single mother who had resisted the temptation to have an abortion and given birth, only to find herself “on a pilgrimage, going from parish to parish, trying to find someone to baptize her child.”
The now-Pope Francis accused priests who refused her of “hijacking” the sacrament of Baptism, using the rules as a way to make themselves look more holy, with the likely result of driving “God’s people away from salvation.”
“I say this with sadness,” he continued, “and if it sounds like a complaint or an offensive comment, please forgive me,” but he emphasized that priests should serve the spiritual needs of the faithful, not “the interests of religious power.”
This follows on a phone call last September the pope made to pregnant Anna Romano, who had written him, telling Francis that she had rejected her married boyfriend’s advice to have an abortion.
She said, “The pope told me I was very brave and strong to decide to keep my baby.”
Pope Francis also told her that, if she had difficulty finding a priest to baptize the child, he would do it personally.
Lastly, at the same baptism ceremony, Pope Francis waded into the issue of public breastfeeding, coming out in favor of it when necessary – and this isn’t the first time.
According to the translation of his Italian remarks in the U.K. Telegraph, Francis said, “Today the choir will sing, but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the babies who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry… If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, tranquilly. Because they are the protagonists here.”
While it’s reasonable to assume the 77-year-old pontiff would encourage decorum and modesty in public breastfeeding, he first addressed the question in mid-December.
Responding to a query about world hunger, Francis recalled how many children cry from hunger, and how, at one of his General Audiences, a woman behind the barricades was holding a child “crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her, ‘Madam, I think the child’s hungry.’ ‘Yes, it’s probably time…’ she replied.”
“‘Please give it something to eat!’, I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the pope was passing by. I wish to say the same to humanity; give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone,” said the pope.
By the way, there is a lot of Catholic art devoted to the Maria Lactans, or “Nursing Madonna.”