Why did Pope Francis appoint Fr. Timothy Radcliffe?

Vatican Radio announced that Pope Francis has appointed a controversial liberal priest, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. Fr. Radcliffe is widely criticized by conservative Catholics for his views: see One Peter Five blog and CF News.org. He supports Communion for the divorced and remarried, as well as ordination of women to the diaconate.

In my view, Fr. Radcliffe’s remarks on homosexuality reveal an heretical rejection of Church teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. However, Communion for the divorced and remarried is discipline, not doctrine, and so that position is not heretical. Also, the Magisterium has not yet decided whether women can be ordained to the diaconate. So his position on that topic is tenable.

Why would Pope Francis appoint such a priest as consultor to a Vatican Council, despite views that are incompatible with Church teaching? Well, a consultor is not a voting member of the Council. The position is advisory, not authoritative. And Pope Francis has spoken in favor of dialogue with those who disagree with the Church: Evangelii Gaudium (III). So I suggest to you that Pope Francis appointed him so that the Council could listen to dissenting voices and engage in dialogue.

Consider the recent vote for same-sex marriage in Ireland. A nation that is 85% Catholic voted by a large majority in favor of gay marriage. The Church must face this very widespread dissent and give a faithful and insightful reply. The Church can never approve of same-sex marriage, nor of unnatural sexual acts. But the Church must find a way to bring back to the fold Catholics who have been led astray from the truth by sinful secular society.

Again I remind my fellow Catholics that we have not been given the role by Christ to judge every word and deed of every Pope. The trend in modern culture is toward forming an opinion on every issue and evaluating every decision by every leader. But humility teaches us to refrain from rash judgment, and from judging matters beyond our knowledge or competency. Unfortunately, many Catholics today have adopted the secular trend to exalt themselves above every leader, even the Pope, and to judge every word and deed as if their own understanding were the Supreme Teacher instead of the Pope.

Perhaps Pope Francis erred in appointing Fr. Radcliffe. If so, the error is not a doctrinal error, nor does it do grave harm to discipline. The appointment does not imply approval for all of Fr. Radcliffe’s views. But perhaps Pope Francis did not err. For Christ himself debated with his opponents, including the liberal Sadducees, the conservative Pharisees, and the secular Herodians.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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