James Alison, an English priest and a one-time Dominican, alleges he received a phone call from Pope Francis on Sunday, July 2, 2017, that rescinded the suspension of his priestly faculties. Alison was suspended from active ministry in the late 1990s, having been forbidden to preach, teach, hear confession or say Mass.
Alison relates the telephone exchange as follows:
Him: "Soy el Papa Francisco." ("This is Pope Francis.")
Me: "¿en serio?" ("Are you serious?")
Him: "No, en broma hijo." ("No, just joking, son.")
Pope #Francis to James Alison: "I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the Spirit of Jesus. And I give you the power of the keys. Do you understand?" https://t.co/YYs6R51EKI #Catholic #Gay #LGBT pic.twitter.com/qsF5mBkvQW— James Alison Theology (@JamesAlison11) September 27, 2019
"But it was he," Alison mused. "The Argentinian accent, but more the fact that he knew the content of my letter" and "was clearly referring to it as he spoke."
The "letter" refers to the one hand-delivered to Pope Francis in May 2017 by a bishop friendly to Alison's cause that appealed for his priestly faculties to be restored.
When the Pope referred to it, it "clinched for me that this was no prank played by a cruel friend," Alison said.
In speaking with Church Militant, George Neumayr, a best-selling author of The Political Pope: How Pope Francis Is Delighting the Liberal Left and Abandoning Conservatives, pointed out that, if Alison's allegation is true, Francis is making a political statement, not a theological one, in restoring Alison's status as a priest — despite references to the "Spirit of Jesus" and the use of quasi-religious language.
The Pope's restoration of Alison's priestly faculties were confirmed in these words: "I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the Spirit of Jesus."
The Pope added: "And I give you the power of the keys. Do you understand? I give you the power of the keys."
The theologian said he appealed to Francis to reactivate his ministry "as part of opening up wider ministerial possibilities in the Church for LGBT people to speak, preach, evangelise, in the first person, no longer bound by the dreaded 'they' of clerical dishonesty."
Neumayr expounded, "It is an act, pure and simple, that subverts and undermines the teachings of traditional Catholicism regarding homosexuality and politicizes what is substantively a sacred act."
The sacred act to which Neumayr refers is Francis' giving to Alison "the power of the keys." Calling this act "appalling and shocking," Neumayr explained that "the power of the keys" is reserved for the successor of St. Peter.
The best-selling author pointed to the Gospel of Matthew (16:18–19) when Christ said to Peter: "And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church ... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven."
As to what Francis meant when he said, "I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the Spirit of Jesus," Neumayr said, "It could mean almost anything" and is "confusing."
The author said, for Francis, often "the meeting is the message," meaning that the words themselves may not be as significant as the fact that a meeting with someone took place at all.
"Look to what Francis does, not what he says," Neumayr says, "for clues."
In his theological writing, Alison talks about "dimensions of the systemic structural trap that is the clerical closet."
Such dimensions include:
He has also described the issue of gay men in the priesthood an "elephant in the sacristy."
A prominent liberal Catholic journalist *finally* acknowledges the elephant in the sacristy: the gay priest problem, in connection with the abuse scandal. But he says the REAL problem is "homophobia". That takes, um, balls: https://t.co/o726lvoMi4— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) July 23, 2018
The Pope "clearly treated me as a priest," Alison reasoned, "with universal jurisdiction to hear Confessions."
Alison explained further: "Pope Francis has talked about this being a change of epoch rather than an epoch of change. What is going to be the shape of ministry in the Church that is being birthed? What is the form and style of teaching? These are, thank heaven, up in the air in ways I could never have imagined."
So, what is known?
Alison claims Pope Francis phoned him over two years ago and that the Pope gave him carte blanche to "walk with deep interior freedom."
He supposedly received "the power of the keys of St. Peter," the first pope. Critics see this alleged move as the Left's efforts to politicize the Vatican, hoping faithful Catholics see this "before the Catholic Church as we know it is destroyed."