Pope Francis: We Imitate Jesus by ‘Keeping Silence’

Pope Francis prays during the Way of the Cross torchlight procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday on April 3, 2015 in Rome. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE …
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty

Pope Francis praised Jesus’ silence during his passion as “impressive” Sunday, having compared his own silence to that of Jesus in the past.

“In moments of darkness and great tribulation, we need to keep silent, to find the courage not to speak, as long as our silence is meek and not full of anger,” Francis said in his Palm Sunday homily at the Vatican.

“The meekness of silence will make us appear even weaker, more humble,” he said. “Then the devil will take courage and come out into the open. We need to resist him in silence, ‘holding our position,’ but with the same attitude as Jesus.”

The pope himself has maintained a seven-month silence before accusations from a former papal nuncio to the United States that the pontiff was fully aware of the serial sex abuse of Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and yet rehabilitated him and gave him a position of influence in the Vatican.

The former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, said that he had personally informed Francis of McCarrick’s crimes shortly after the pope’s election in 2013. Asked by a journalist whether this were true, Francis declined to confirm or deny the report, adding that he would not say a “single word” about it.

Not long after, several bishops came forward calling for a full investigation into the allegations, which extend to a number of prominent prelates along with the pope. The bishops maintained that the accusations satisfy the criteria of “credible allegations” and therefore merit a thorough inquiry.

A number of bishops also criticized the pope’s “no comment” media strategy, noting that only the pope can confirm or deny certain specific charges. Leaving the investigation to the media, as the pope has explicitly done, is an “inadequate” response and risks muddling rather than clarifying the issue.

In a later message, Archbishop Viganò wrote  that the Vatican’s “conspiracy of silence” over the McCarrick case, and particularly the pope’s role in it, “has wrought and continues to wreak great harm in the Church — harm to so many innocent souls, to young priestly vocations, to the faithful at large.”

For his part, a member of the pope’s own Jesuit order, Father James Schall, said that people of good will are “puzzled by the pope’s refusal to answer what seem to be quite legitimate and straightforward questions.”

“Common sense would normally suggest that, if someone is not guilty, he would be anxious to state why, to clear the record, as it were. The pope’s silence, fairly or unfairly, suggests to most people of good will that something was covered up, something is not quite right,” Schall wrote.

These people are not scandal-mongers or enemies of the Church, Schall argued. They are fair-minded men and women of good will who simply want to know what is going on. They want to know “the facts.”

Another Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Fessio, Editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press, said last September that Francis needs to “be a man” and answer allegations that he seriously mishandled McCarrick’s case. The leader of a Catholic women’s forum also said she was frustrated with the pope’s “lack of action” and unwillingness to say what he knew when.

“The pope’s silence is deafening,” she said.

Others have suggested that the pope’s refusal to answer legitimate questions seems to contradict his frequent calls for dialogue and “transparency.”

At that time, however, the pope defended his silence by saying that he was acting like Jesus on Good Friday.

Bishops who are accused should remain silent like Jesus on Good Friday when the crowds called out for his crucifixion, the pope said in a morning homily last September.

When people insulted Jesus on Good Friday and shouted, “Crucify him,” the pope said, “he remained silent because he had compassion for those people deceived by the powerful.”

“He was silent. He prayed,” Francis said.

Without naming names, the pope compared Archbishop Viganò to Satan, the “Great Accuser,” after the release of his 11-page report.

In these times “it seems that the Great Accuser has been unleashed and has it in for the bishops,” the pope said.

“It is true, we are all sinners, we bishops,” he said, but the Great Accuser “seeks to unveil sins so that they may be seen, to scandalize the people.”

In Sunday’s homily, the pope continued in this vein, saying that the way of Jesus is silence before accusations.

Jesus “knows that true triumph involves making room for God and that the only way to do that is by stripping oneself, by self-emptying. To remain silent, to pray, to accept humiliation,” Francis said in his homily.

“Festive acclamations and brutal torture; the silence of Jesus throughout his Passion is profoundly impressive,” he said.

“As we wait for the Lord to come and calm the storm, by our silent witness in prayer we give ourselves and others ‘an accounting for the hope that is within us,’” he said.

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