Many of our Relevant Radio® listeners have noticed that Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ, host of St. Joseph’s Workshop, has been out of the studio for the past month, as he attended a general chapter in Rome with his fellow Oblates of St. Joseph.
On his first day back on the air, Fr. Matthew recapped his trip for listeners – including an audience he had with Pope Francis just last week. After a summer of scandals, what would you say to the Holy Father? Father Matthew shared his experience and what he said to Pope Francis during his audience.
“This private audience with Pope Francis was set up months ago. Because we knew that this meeting of the Oblates was going to happen. We had been planning this for years, actually. And so, when we knew we were going to be together we wanted to see if we could get some time with Pope Francis.
So this was set up before the McCarrick scandal broke, before the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report came out, and certainly before what Vigano published had come out.
Pope Francis returned back to Rome from the World Meeting of Families, and we had a meeting with him on August 31st. I was posting on social media before I saw him, just thinking what a strange time to meet with the pope. Surreal was the best word I could think of. It just felt so strange, so different.
I kept thinking to myself, as I was walking to the Vatican, what I was going to say to Pope Francis. Now, there were going to be about 40 of us meeting with him, so it wasn’t a one-on-one meeting. That’s probably pretty rare.
While I was on my way to the Vatican, in response to me sharing that I was going to have this private audience with the pope, I had a lot of people, both publicly and privately, reach out to me and say, ‘Tell him to resign. Tell him to give us the truth. Tell him to tell us what is going on.’
A lot of people wanted me to use this moment for activism – to be up front and maybe even confrontational with Pope Francis. Maybe just to use the opportunity that I had and people didn’t mean it as confrontational. But I just kept coming back to the point that that is not why I was there.
If you know me, you know how much respect I have for the Vicar of Christ on earth. You know how important it is to me, how grateful I am to Jesus that He has left to His Church a vicar on earth. And even if that particular person, in some hypothetical world, was a terrible sinner, not being the person they should be, I would still give due reverence to the office and to the person.
I knew that’s what I needed to do, but I also knew that I couldn’t whitewash the fact that this was going through my mind. But I also knew that I was going to have 4 or 5 seconds with him, and I had no idea what I was going to say.
As I’m walking up I had a lot of thoughts going through my head, a lot of things, and thinking, ‘How should I approach this? What should I say?’ And I got up to him, a saw him and I said, ‘Holy Father, I’m from the United States.’
And before I could even continue I saw his face fall. I saw a pained expression. That’s all I could interpret it as. He looked saddened, maybe, and I could understand how the mention of the United States could bring him some sorrow.
And all he said to me at that moment (we were speaking in Spanish) was, ‘Pray for me, if you will.’ And I said, ‘I will, and I do pray for you every day.’ And then I was ushered away.
That’s what we have to do, I guess. And in that moment that’s probably what I needed to express, and maybe what God was prompting me to say. That we need to pray for our Holy Father. We need to pray for our Church.
There is a whole lot more we need to do besides that. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we don’t need to call our Church leaders to some accountability. But I was just realizing how easy it is, for me even, in my pain and struggling and being upset at what is going on in the Church, it is easy to pull out the pitchforks and want to enact justice as quickly as possible. When, in fact, we need to allow justice to happen on God’s time and to do our best to make sure that it is authentic and true justice that happens.”
Listen to the full reflection below: