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Francis, Football and the Sixth Commandment

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 13, 2017

Yes, Pope Francis actually sent a personal video message to the Super Bowl. What does the Super Bowl have to do with the august office of the Vicar of Christ, divinely appointed helmsman of the sole ark of salvation, charged with the task of teaching, governing and sanctifying a billion souls for their eternal welfare? Don’t ask.

Yet Francis tried to make something spiritual out of the event, which included a massive, over-the-top, neo-pagan halftime spectacle verging on the crowd’s worship of “Lady Gaga” (née Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) as if she were a kind of semi-divinity, a status the foremost American celebrities are generally accorded.

“Great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl,” said Francis in all seriousness, “are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace. By participating in sport we are able to go beyond our own self interest and in a healthy way, we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules.”

Respect the rules! That phrase has explosive implications for the Bergoglian pontificate, which thus far has been all about disparaging “respect for the rules” the Church has laid down in obedience to the instructions of Our Lord. 

Francis established disparagement of “rules” as a theme of his pontificate early on during the infamous interview published in La Civiltà Cattolica and America magazines, wherein he declared: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” What exactly he meant by “small-minded rules” Francis did not say, but then this sort of pregnant ambiguity is likewise thematic to the Bergoglian program.

Again and again — almost without ceasing — Francis has belittled the idea of “rules” in the Church. Only last month he mocked them yet again: “Do I take risks, or do I follow Jesus according to the rules of my insurance company [meaning the Church]?” But the apex of the Bergoglian campaign against rules in the Church is, of course, Amoris Laetitia (AL). An antipathy toward “rules” runs throughout the document, including the declaration (¶ 301) that even someone who knows the “rule” is not necessarily bound to follow it:

“More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values,’ or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.”

AL at least has the merit of having clarified exactly what Francis means by “rule” in one instance: he means the Sixth Commandment.  Indeed, the basic intent of the document, now being realized in diocese after diocese, is to “excuse” compliance in “certain cases” with the “rules” “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery.” As AL, ¶ 302 states: “while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” And then the poisonous conclusion, one paragraph later, that not everyone is obliged to follow the “general rule,” which is reduced to a mere “ideal”:

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking [!] amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

To return to the Super Bowl:  Francis praises football and participating in sporting activities in general because “we are able to go beyond our own self interest and in a healthy way, we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules.”  But when it comes to the rules laid down by God for the sanctity of marriage — negative precepts of the natural law forbidding adultery, always and everywhere — Francis discerns mysterious exceptions based on “the complexity of one’s limits.”

The message Francis should have sent to the Super Bowl — and to the Church and the whole world — could have been the very one he did send if only he had changed a single word: “By participating in marriage we are able to go beyond our own self interest and in a healthy way, we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules.”

So, the Vicar of Christ praises footballers for respecting the rules of football, while he purports to excuse objective public adulterers from the divine rules laid down by God concerning the sanctity and indissolubility of Holy Matrimony. Such is the astonishing situation we are facing with this pontificate. And such is the unparalleled ecclesial crisis of which this pontificate is but the latest and most acute stage.