I’ve mentioned this to people when they take objection to some of Pope Francis’s off-the-cuff remarks: like every pope, he is a product of a particular time and place and culture. When he speaks, he’s often referencing attitudes some of us don’t recognize. But they are attitudes (and in some instances, approaches to the sacraments) that, nonetheless, comprise nearly half the Catholics in the world.
Now the Rev. Matthew Schneider fleshes that out in the pages of Crux:
Several times, Pope Francis has said things that have really shocked a number of North American Catholics. Yet if we put the comments in the context of Catholicism in other countries, often we’ll be shocked by the situation in those countries, not by the pope. Pope Francis is Argentinian and, save a few years study in Europe, he’s spent his entire life in the Latin American Church. In many respects, the Church in Latin America is in a very different position from the North American Church, both internally and with respect to regional cultural perspectives. I spent three years studying in Rome in a college where the majority of the religious brothers were from Latin America, and I began to realize how different some of our cultural and ecclesial assumptions are. …[One] difference is how in the U.S. and Canada we struggle to form people’s consciences so they don’t receive Communion if they’ve committed mortal sin, while in Latin America the opposite problem is true: People believe they need to go to confession each time they go to Communion, even if they’ve committed no mortal sins. A recent example comes to mind where several American commentators I’d generally trust could not understand Pope Francis’ comment about priests denying baptism to unwed mothers. They wrote lines like, “I’ve never known a priest who would deny a child baptism just based on that.” I believe them, as I have never met a priest like that in the U.S. either. Yet, speaking to those from Latin America, this seems to be an all-too-common practice in certain areas. Unfortunately, priests there take Canon 868, requiring “a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion,” and make an assumption this can only happen in married couples. …One of the things we have to accept with the Latin American pope is that when he talks about the situation of the Church worldwide, the church in Latin America will loom large. This isn’t necessarily inappropriate, as 41 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, while Europe – home of every other pope in the last 1000+ years – has 24 percent, and the U.S. and Canada have only 7 percent. If we get an American pope, he would have an obvious tendency to emphasize the situation of the Church in the United States and we would see little reason to apologize for this. Likewise, we shouldn’t see any problem with a pope from Latin America emphasizing the difficulties of the Church there. It should be even less surprising when Francis’ home comprises almost half of all Catholics in the world.