Twenty Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time

September 19, 2015 Column Father De Celles

WELCOME TO AMERICA, HOLY FATHER! This week Pope Francis will visit the U.S. for the first time. I’m sure you all join me in joyfully welcoming him, and in praying that his visit is fruitful and safe.

Pope Francis is very popular with Americans. Sadly, part of this popularity results from the twisted coverage the media gives him when they try to make him out as a pope who doesn’t care much about Church doctrines, especially about sexual morality. Of course, they take His Holiness’s sayings out of context, and ignore whatever he says to specifically uphold all the traditional teachings. Then they misrepresent his more positive, if often imprecise, language, and twist his public persona into something that has nothing to do with reality.

They also try to infer that he is more doctrinally liberal because he is more politically liberal than his predecessors. It seems fair to say that our Holy Father is more politically liberal than his two immediate predecessors, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. But recall that those two popes came from countries that had struggled for decades under totalitarian Fascist and Communist governments and experienced liberation at the hands of Americans. Francis, on the other hand, comes from Argentina and Latin America which were affected very differently by World War II and the Cold War, and had a very different economic experience than the U.S. and Europe. These and many other differences in life experiences have given him a very different perspective from his predecessors (and most Americans), which in turn influences some of his policies and statements today.

Sadly, this has  led many political conservatives, especially in America, to feel confused, and even angry. For a conservative Catholic American, this often troubles their consciences—after all, conservatism tends to lead them to feel that they should always be obedient to the Pope and accept whatever he says.

But in the spirit of Pope Francis, who calls his priests to show mercy to all the faithful, I feel compelled to ease the consciences of all by clarifying that sometimes good and faithful Catholics can disagree with the Pope.

Of course, we cannot dissent from what he teaches on faith and morals, when he does so with the clear intention that we accept his teaching as definitive or binding. However, Catholics are not bound to agree with what the Pope says, even on faith and morals, when he is not intending to speak with authority—e.g., most of his off the cuff remarks or interviews. We are also free to disagree with his prudential judgments—even those involving faith and morals. A prudential judgment is a personal choice made after faithfully applying Catholic moral decisions to very subjective situations in our lives, e.g., when John Paul opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was his best judgment about the moral situation, but not binding on others.

Moreover, we can always disagree with the Pope when he is not speaking on matters of faith and morals. For example, the Church claims no teaching authority when it comes to science, whether physical, political, social or economic. So Catholics can legitimately disagree with the Pope when makes a judgment about capitalism, global warming, or immigration policy, and do so without sinning or being disloyal.

Two notes of clarification. First, the Church has authority to teach when faith and morals intersect with practical science. For example, while political or social scientists may disagree on the solution to immigration problems, the Church can teach us both that immigration laws must respect the dignity of all immigrants and that such laws can morally restrict immigration.

Second, even as we are free to disagree with the Pope, we still have the duty to give respectful and thoughtful consideration to what he has said, and to show him respect even when we disagree.

Finally, I write all this not to excuse dissent or anger in any way, but to encourage faithful respect for His Holiness, and to relieve confusion among those who might innocently disagree with him. I sincerely hope and pray these words may strengthen your loyalty to and love for our Holy Father. God bless Pope Francis, and all his faithful children in America!


Parish Picnic Last Sunday. The Lord must love us very much, as he gave us an absolutely beautiful day for our parish picnic last Sunday. It was great to see so many of you there, especially all the kids enjoying the ponies, the moon bounce, and all the good food. Thanks to all who made this such a success. At the risk of leaving someone out let me thank all the folks who worked so hard, particularly the Knights of Columbus, especially Phil Bettwy, and  Kirsti Tyson and Paul DeRosa.


Welcome Back, Choir. It’s wonderful to have the choir back at the 8:45 Mass—thanks to all choir members for all you do to add beauty to our liturgies. Over the summer we lost a few important members who moved away from the area. I understand we picked up a couple of new members, but we still need more voices. Remember, you don’t have to be a virtuoso to join—Elisabeth Turco (our choir director) can do wonders bringing various gifts together to give glory to God. Also, children are also welcome in the choir (subject to child-protection rules). Contact Elisabeth at


Voter Registration. This coming November 3rd Virginians will have the chance to vote for their state senators and delegates, as well as local officials, including members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board. These so called “off-year elections”  often draw very few voters. This is terrible. When we stay at home on election day we forfeit not only our own self-government, but also our right to complain about bad government.

We saw the effect of this last May when hundreds of Fairfax residents, including many of our own parishioners, were openly mocked by their elected School Board officials at a public meeting to discuss the new transgender policy. They were counting on these parents and taxpayers not showing up on election day to put them out of office. We must now prove them wrong.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2240) teaches that it is “morally obligatory …to exercise the right to vote…” But you can’t vote if you aren’t registered to vote.          So, to help you in this regard, this weekend we will have folks manning a table in the narthex with forms and instructions to register to vote in Fairfax County. (NOTE: If you are eligible to vote but haven’t done so in a while, or if you moved recently, you may not be registered to vote here in Fairfax; better to register just to be safe, or you can check your status online at:

Also, Absentee Ballot Application Forms are available—for you or your kids away in college! Any questions, please contact Mychele Brickner at


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles