Darn that Pope
November 11th, 2013
Earlier this year he stuck his nose in the fine running machine of Catholic hierarchy and caused a big stink by suggesting that the Church’s sole purpose actually wasn’t to oppose gay marriage, contraception, and abortion. As if he really didn’t know that these three issues are the single most important concerns to the lay Catholics who go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning terrified that through these evils the population may have shrunk overnight to an unsustainable low.
And now he’s gone off the deep end. His representative to the American Catholic Bishops suggested that Bishops not live lives of opulence and privilege. Come on!! They aren’t called ‘Princes of the Church’ for nothing, you know.
And then (oh the temerity), he said that the church should be pastoral and ministerial rather than dictatorial and dogmatic. (Star-Telegram)
The Vatican ambassador to the U.S., addressing American bishops at their first national meeting since Pope Francis was elected, said Monday they should not “follow a particular ideology” and should make Roman Catholics feel more welcome in church.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano noted the challenges from broader society to Christian teaching. He cautioned that the bishops’ witness to faith would be undermined if they failed to live simply. Francis, in office for eight months, has captured attention for eschewing some of the pomp of the papacy, including his decision to live in the Vatican hotel and his use of an economy car.
“There has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message,” said Vigano, the apostolic nuncio based in Washington.
“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” Vigano said, noting that he visited the pope in June. “He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”
Just who does this guy think he is, anyway?
But don’t be discouraged or lose hope. The American Bishops are well skilled at creative postulation and I’m certain they will find a way to make the statement become an endorsement of their latest extremely important anti-gay campaign and truly necessary ten-digit shoe budget.
Vatican Surveys Parishes on Gays, Divorce, Contraception
November 1st, 2013
In preparation for the Vatican Synod on “Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” called by Pope Francis for next October, the Vatican is asking bishops around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll asking Catholics their opinions on a number of church teachings, including same-sex marriage, contraception and divorce. The independent National Catholic Reporter has the details:
Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:
- How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
- Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”
- How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
- Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”
The documents accompanying the survey reveal a tension within the Church. Since his election just seven months ago, Pope Francis has signaled a willingness to open the church up and change its approach to LGBT Catholics. And on the one hand, this unprecedented survey represents a huge change to the way the Vatican has traditionally done business. On the other hand, some of the documents deploy some of the more traditional cultural-warfare talking points:
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: …relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.
Degrading rhetoric aside — wombs for hire? — the document does illustrate the crisis that the Church faces, particularly in the West and especially among young people:
Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family.
It’s not clear exactly how widespread the questionnaire will be distributed. A letter accompanying the US version of the survey simply asks the bishops “to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local source can be received.” The survey period ends December 31, with reports due to the Vatican by the end of January. A spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops told NCR, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.” Meanwhile, NCR reports that Bishops in England and Wales have posted a survey online. That survey is in essay form rather than multiple choice, asking participants such questions as:
- Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
- How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
- Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
- Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
- What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
- What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
- In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
- What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
- How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
- How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
That last question can be a tricky one in the U.S., where there have been several cases of children being barred from Catholic schools because their same-sex parents have decided to live together as a couple or marry.
So After Pope Francis’s Opening, These Things Happened
September 25th, 2013
After the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with Pope Francis last week in which the pontiff chastised the church for “insist(ing) only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” a couple of events took place which, in my view, reinforced my caution that while we can be greatly encouraged by Francis’s comments, its important not to get too carried away. Specifically, I pointed out that nothing in church doctrine had changed. Further, I cautioned that just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. A couple of events since last week bring all of that back into sharp focus.
First, there’s the excommunication of the former Father Greg Reynolds, of Melbourne, Australia. Fr. Reynolds says that he was excommunicated over his support for women’s ordination and gay Catholics. That excommunication took place last May, before the Pope’s more recent comments and before his comment last July responding to a question about gay priests with another question: “Who am I to judge?” Chronology may or may not explain the church’s inconsistency in its approach to Reynolds. Another explanation may be found in this report by the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter:
The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.
I have no idea as to the circumstances or veracity of that middle accusation. It may be real, or it may be a red herring. Of the three accusations, that one by far would be the most serious, and its inclusion here greatly clouds the issue. Reynolds has addressed the first and third accusation, but so far I’ve found no comments from anyone on the second one, except for Reynold’s broader comments saying he doesn’t know why he was excommunicated. As I said, there may be nothing to it, or there may be more than Fr. Reynolds is disclosing. Until that is sorted out, the question of Reynolds’s excommunication remains not so cut-and-dried in my mind.
Much less murky is the decision by Providence College, a Catholic institution in Rhode Island, to rescind its invitation to John Corvino, chair of Wayne State University’s philosophy department, to discuss the ethics (and not the theology) of gay marriage in a debate with a Providence theologian. Corvino’s invitation, which was co-sponsored by nine departments and programs, was cancelled in an announcement last Saturday by college provost and senior vice president Hugh F. Lena, who cited a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” This, of course, wasn’t an “honor,” but a debate and discussion, which, last I checked, was supposed to be one of the hallmarks of higher education. Corvino responded:
The reference to “awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” applies, for example, to allowing such politicians to present commencement addresses or to receive honorary degrees. By contrast, I am an academic speaker. Both the person introducing me and I would state clearly that my views were not those of the Catholic Church; moreover, a respondent from the Providence College theology department, Dr. Dana Dillon, would follow immediately to explain the Church’s position on marriage. Far from suggesting “support” for my views, the College would have ample opportunity to express precisely the opposite.
The silver lining however is a pretty big one. It exposes Providence College to suspicions that it is not confident in its ability to defend church doctrine when it comes to marriage equality. That’s a pretty pathetic patch of ground for a supposedly prestigious Catholic college to stand on, if you ask me. Also, the timing of the cancellation’s announcement — on the Saturday after Pope Francis’s interview went online — couldn’t have been better to guarantee the most favorable publicity. For Corvino:
So, Providence College has done wonders for my media exposure. In the last 24 hours I’ve talked to The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, the Providence Journal, the Detroit Free Press, a half dozen radio producers (I’m about to go on WPRO with former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci), and MSBNC (which may have me on “Last Word” tomorrow or Thursday night).
Pope Francis’s Remarks About Gay People Are Bigger Than You Think
September 20th, 2013
The Jesuit magazine America, in a joint project with its Italian counterpart La Civiltà Cattolica, published an interview yesterday with Pope Francis which has the potential of representing a new starting point with regards to the Church’s fractured relationship with gay Catholics in particular and with social issues in general.
The entire interview reveals a humble man who takes his time to think before speaking, and to just simply jump to the particular paragraphs which we care about as LGBT people, I think, would miss the broader mark. So I’m not going to do that, not just yet. I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview.
He begins by discussing how he identifies as Matthew in Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew,” which is essential to understand how he sees himself first, before all other identities and roles that he has taken on. I don’t think it’s possible to understand him without seeing how he sees himself. I also think it’s important to read the interview as it progresses to where Pope Francis describes his leadership style when he first became a superior in the Jesuits:
“In my experience as superior in the Society, to be honest, I have not always behaved in that way—that is, I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. Yes, but I must add one thing: when I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.
It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems. My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
I’m tempted to perhaps read more than is warranted into the fact that the only predecessor he mentions (aside from his immediate predecessor while discussing some of the church’s current problems) is Pope John XXIII and the only Vatican document he cites is one from the Second Vatican Council. But this line, in particular, leapt out:
“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. …”
Let me interrupt here, because it’s impossible not to read what he has said so far without recalling the many, many ways in which the “people of God” are in tension (at the very least) with many of the teachings that have emanated from the Church’s hierarchy over the past several decades. This tension has been most visible in the laity’s overwhelming rejection of the Church’s teaching on birth control, masturbation, and other social and sexual issues, including marriage equality. This Public Religion Research Poll from just two years ago found that nearly three quarters of American Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, an opinion that is endorsed by nearly two-thirds of Catholics who attend Mass weekly. Keep that in mind as Francis continues the paragraph that I so rudely interrupted:
“…. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”
This idea then ties pretty directly to what follows, the section that has us all excited:
“The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”
I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
“…We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … e have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
It’s important not to get too carried away. Just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George will continue to call same-sex marriage “irrational,” Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt will not backtrack from his comments saying that Satan is behind gay marriage, and Cardinal Dolan will continue his fight against civil marriage equality — although he is fervorously trying to find his footing in the shifting ground underneath him. And if it’s hard to see how the Pope’s opinions will quickly filter down through the American hierarchy, imagine the difficult road those ideas will have to take in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and other more socially-conservative parts of the world.
And, more critically, nothing in Church doctrine has changed. The Catechism still refers to natural law arguments to describe our relationships as “objectively disordered.” I still don’t see any moves to suggest that paragraphs 2357 through 2359 will substantially change in my lifetime.
But what is clear is that this pope pointedly rebuked those Cardinals, Bishops, priests, and laity (I’m thinking here of Maggie Gallagher and others at National Organization for Marriage) who have abused the church’s teachings to further their own narrow political agendas. Not only that, but he accuses them rather specifically of “lock[ing] (themselves) up in small things, in small-minded rules.”
But what’s most encouraging to me is that if you were to see this only in political terms, you would miss most of the story. This is not just a potentially momentous shift in politics (it will only become truly momentous if Bishops take heed), but is is also a landmark shift in the spiritual life of the Church. It took the Second Vatican Council three years, two thousand bishops and nearly a thousand constituting sessions to bring the church out of its legalistic middle ages. Much of that work was threatened under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who served as JBII’s right hand man and chief enforcer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But Francis, in one bold move, has once again called for throwing open the windows of the church, as John XXIII did fifty-one years ago next month. While it’s important not to get too carried away, I think getting rather excited about this is certainly in order.
Breaking: The Vatican Blows Smoke (UPDATED)
March 13th, 2013
We’ll habemus a Papam soon, although I hear Karl Rove is throwing a fit because the votes from Cincinnati’s suburbs still haven’t come in.
Update: The new head of the Roman Catholic Church is His Holiness, Pope Francis, the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. This sets several precedents: He’s the first non-European Pope in many centuries (some early popes were north African), he’s the first Jesuit pope, and he’s the first to be named Francis. The regnal name is chosen with care, and is intended to signal the kind of papacy the pope intends to pursue. In this case, it’s unclear whether this one intends to follow the path of St. Francis of Assisi, or perhaps, St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits.
Nevertheless, the speed with which two-thirds of the 115 Cardinals settled on Bergolgio can only be seen as a stunning rebuke of the back-stabbing, infighting, scandal-plagued Roman Curia, which is badly in need of a complete reboot. While Bergolgio is a theological conservative, he can be somewhat more “left” leaning on economic and (non-sexual) social issues, for whatever meanings those labels may carry within Catholicism. (He’s no Paul Ryan, at any rate.) The National Catholic Reporter has a very good rundown on his background here:
Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.
“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.
…Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he’s no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”
Among the issues that Bergolgio was “basically conservative” on was homosexuality. He first crossed our radar in 2010, as he was campaigning against a proposal to bring marriage equality to Argentina’s same-sex couples:
“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God,” writes Bergoglio in a letter sent to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, where he is archbishop. “We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
He has affirmed church teaching on homosexuality, though he teaches the importance of respecting individuals who are gay. He strongly opposed legislation introduced in 2010 by the Argentine Government to allow same-sex marriage. In a letter to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, he wrote: “Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” He has also insisted that adoption by gays and lesbians is a form of discrimination against children. This position received a rebuke from Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who said the church’s tone was reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition” [By the way, the page was changed moments ago to replace every instance of "gay" to "homosexual"]