Friday, March 15, 2013

Commentary on New Pope: Three Voices That Stand Out for Me

Amidst the torrent of commentary that has appeared in the last two days about the new pope, several pieces have stuck out for me. I'd like to point readers to them today, with some notes about why they've caught my attention--and, in contrast to much I've been reading about these matters, have caused me to keep thinking and asking questions that, in my view, I need to ask, if I'm faithful to my calling as a Christian and a theologian.

First, while a great deal is being written about the question of what Pope Francis knew and did during Argentina's dirty war, and while much of the commentary is valuable, no statement shines so bright for me as does Eugene Robinson's in the Washington Post. It's measured, fair, probing, and honest.

Robinson summarizes what has come to light thus far, and concludes,

Now that Bergoglio is Pope Francis, his record and recollections of nearly 40 years ago are important not so much because of what he did or did not do but because of what lessons he did or did not learn. There were Catholic prelates who openly collaborated with the dictators and those who openly opposed them. Bergoglio was somewhere in the middle. He disapproved, surely. He did what he could. But by his own admission, he didn’t try to change the world. 
Now he has more than the duty to lead 1.2 billion Catholics. He also has a chance to atone.

It's a question not so much of what Bergoglio did or did not do then, as of what he learned or did not learn.  And now that he is the pastoral leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, he has a chance to atone. That word again: putting at-one what has been sundered.

Why do I trust Robinson's analysis here? Because I trust and admire Robinson. He has long struck me as a man of integrity, unlike those of my brother and sister Catholics who occupy the bully pulpits at leading centrist Catholic journals in the U.S. right now, who are doing everything in their power to blow up honest conversation about Bergoglio's record during the dirty war.

Telling people that they're self-righteous stone-throwers for wanting to know this record, or that they're colluding with the nasty secular media and nasty leftists to smear the new pope, won't stop this necessary conversation. And this defensive approach to the conversation only compounds the very problems of our church that we all hope Francis will address in a fundamental way that revives the moral credibility of our witness in the public square.

Second, I'm taken with Margaret Hebblethwaite's essay in The Guardian to which several good readers of this blog--Mary O'Grady, evagrius, and am I forgetting someone?--drew our attention in comments yesterday. I'm less familiar with Hebblethwaite than with Eugene Robinson, but I trust those recommending Hebblethwaite's essay to me (and, clearly, a lot of the assessing going on now as the new pope's past history is discussed comes down to questions of whose voice to trust, doesn't it?).

As does Robinson, Hebblethwaite concludes that what's important now is not precisely what did or didn't happen with Bergoglio and the dirty war, but what he chooses to do now that he's pope with that record and the lessons he learned. She also notes that she has spoken to Clella Luro, a Catholic radical feminist who is a friend of Francis's, who has the "highest opinion" of the new pope and his pastoral approach to complex moral issues. Hebblethwaite concludes,

Now he is pope, we can hope Francis may start not only with a new name but with a clean bill of moral health, and that the world can make its own judgment on what kind of man he is – not based on misunderstandings that come from painful and difficult moments in the past, but responding to his call from St Peter's balcony for "fraternity, love and trust among us". I believe he will not let us down, and will be a beacon of Franciscan poverty and simplicity in a Vatican that still operates like a medieval court.

Third, I wrote on the day of the papal election about the pronounced fatigue that seems to characterize my church and its leaders at this point in time. "Tired is the operative word," I said, as I assessed the events of the eventful day that brought my church a new pope.

And here's Sister Joan Chittister, another voice of integrity I have long valued and to which I listen far more carefully than I listen to the voices of the centrist chattering class who dominate the journalistic sector of American Catholicism:

People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than the love of Jesus. 
People are weary of seeing whole classes of people -- women, gays and even other faith communities again -- rejected, labeled, seen as "deficient," crossed off the list of the acceptable. 
They are weary of asking questions that get no answers, no attention whatsoever, except derision. 
They suffer from the lassitude that sets in waiting for apologies that do not come. 
There's an ennui that sets in when people get nothing but old answers to new questions. 
There's even worse fatigue that comes from knowing answers to questions for which, as laypersons, they are never even asked.

As Sister Joan concludes, many of us hold high hopes for the new pope. We were impressed by his decision to bow to the people of God and ask our blessing following his election to the papacy. But everything now depends on his willingness to listen: "The question now is, Does he know how weary they are? And does he care? Really?"

And she's right--as right as rain.

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