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I have steered clear of the ongoing arguments over the Pope and his drizzle of comments about people being ‘rigid’; he’s entitled to his views, and I’m entitled to think they are unfortunate and best left not said. It was, you will remember, the rigid Pharisees who were in favour of the Mosaic law allowing divorce, and it was Jesus who rigidly insisted that divorce was not to be allowed; one wonders which ‘rigidity’ the Pope would condemn? 

I daresay those English Catholics who refused to conform to what Henry VIII and Elizabeth demanded of Catholics were on the rigid side, and all that dying for the faith once received was undoubtedly a sign of an unwillingness to make the sort of compromises that the non-rigid find comes naturally. I’m even of the view that there is a patron saint of the rigid – that would be St Athanasius, who kept insisting that the Nicene Creed was not for changing.

We need to be more careful than painting with such broad brush-strokes suggests. The idea that all those who insist on rigidity are justified by the example of St Athanasius is a dangerous one, and one can only wonder how many small-minded men insisting that man was made for the sabbath have called that courageous saint in aid? Mercy and love are the marks of God, and to condemn might be a sign of narrow-mindedness; context matters. This is not to argue for situational ethics, but it is to assert the right of the Church to decide whether an individual sinner is in the wrong. Indeed, I suspect many readers would be much happier if the Pope would make a decision on the issues raised by the dubia. He says he likes an argument, and I am sure we’d all love him to continue it.

There is a type of Catholicism which seems unable to distinguish between the ball and the man – to criticise an individual by insulting him is often done, but frequency does not make something right. Telling loyal subordinates that they are not working for the institution when they know they are is to creates poor atmosphere- so let’s hope the Pope remembers someone asking ‘who am I to judge?’

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