Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mary Hunt on Theology and Consequences: An Initial Response to Pope Francis

And on the theme of the significance of the new pope in general--beyond particular issues like the dirty war and gay marriage--Catholic theologian Mary Hunt has just offered another powerful statement at Religion and Politics. Hunt's optic: theology has consequences, and "moral do-overs are few and far between."

That is to say, decisions that top Catholic leaders made in the final decades of the 20th century had serious real-life consequences for many human beings, and making cosmetic changes in the pastoral style of the papacy now is not going to bring back to life the sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers kidnapped, tortured, and disappeared by the Argentinian junta with the active and silent complicity of many top Catholic officials who cast their lot with right-wing dictatorships as they were intent on destroying the liberation theology movement in Latin America. 

Hunt accepts the testimony of Adolfo Perez Esquivel that Bergoglio was not involved with the military dictatorship, and she repeats what she told Sarah Posner in a Religion Dispatches interview last week: namely, that she thinks the testimony shows that Bergoglio sought to shield the two Jesuits under his authority, Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, who were kidnapped, from the junta. But she finds this "small comfort." 

Here's the heart of her stunning argument:

There is something perverse about opposing condom use and then washing the feet of people with HIV/AIDS. There is something suspect about opposing reproductive health care for women who may not want to get pregnant and then generously insisting on the legal baptism of children whose parents are not married. There is something dubious about calling the hierarchical church to a simpler way of being and ignoring the many women whose ministerial service would enhance its output. The Spanish expression that comes to mind is “what you give with the wrist, you erase with the elbow.” This seems to be the Jesuitical pattern of the new pope.

Michael Sean Winters has gone around the bend because of what Hunt says in this article. As I read his attack on Hunt (one in a long series of attacks on women theologians and women journalists, Sarah Posner among them), I hear him saying that Religion and Politics is his journal, because he happens to sit on its editorial board, and shouldn't be posting liberal tripe, when its intent is to bolster conservative readings of religion which slap the feminists down.

And, oh!, how I wish Michael Sean Winters could hear what Max Lindenman and Jeanne Linconnue tried to tell him recently, when he went on yet another rant about yet another Catholic woman who dared to open her mouth and say what Winters regards as unsayable. If we're in a new moment of Catholic history with the resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of Francis, then surely that new moment ought to be a time when we try to include everyone for a change. I'm beyond tired of listening to Michael Sean Winters posture as the defender of objective centrist orthodoxy, while he reads feminists and liberation theologians and everyone to the left of his own quite peculiar brand of orthodoxy out of his church and his Catholic conversation.

Michael Sean Winters doesn't like it in the least that outspoken feminist theologians like Mary Hunt are now giving him a run for his money as commentators about what Catholic identity means in the public square. He wants to be the only go-to boy around when the mainstream media ask for this kind of commentary. 

To my way of thinking, it's all to the good that our Catholic voice in the public square is now increasingly represented by voices that go far beyond Winters's tired beltway centrism, which refuses to engage anyone but other insider powerbrokers like himself--who say the same predictable, going-nowhere, self-serving things over and over ad nauseam. And that's what I hear Max Lindenman saying to Winters in the statement to which I link above: I hear Lindenman saying that what we Catholics hope to say to the public square demands far more than that kind of self-serving, inside-the-bubble thinking.

It demands the contributions of many different kinds of Catholics from many different walks of life. It demands the contributions of everybody. And we can't claim to be catholic in the least in our thinking, if we keep trying to read some members of our community out of the conversation solely because they want to give testimony we're determined not to hear. Even as we claim to be the best and only possible kind of Catholics around . . . . 

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