Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papal Conclave and Transition in Papacy: A Collection of Statements and Resources

I think I heard somewhere that something is going on in Rome lately. Anybody else hear those rumors? I should probably look into them.

To be honest, and to borrow a line that I think Mark Andrews first alerted me to in a comment here (or at Facebook), I'm too pooped to write about popes right now. I'm pooped with popes. Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the fateful day on which I became Catholic at the tender age of 17. I've spent much of Lent, and yesterday, in particular, wondering what that decision was all about.

I had no idea. No idea at all what I was getting into. Having read Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton and John Henry Newman with wide and wondering eyes, I thought, somehow, that I was entering a church of enlightened, loving, truth-seeking, rights-affirming pilgrims, and instead . . . well, it's a bit like the story a friend of mine tells about her first and drastically failed marriage. L. had married a man from an entirely different class than her own, to tweak the nose of her wealthy south Arkansas timber-and-oil family.

And the morning after the honeymoon, she says, when she turned over in bed, she realized that the Rhett Butler with whom she had gone to bed on her honeymoon night had morphed into Jethro Bodine, all in a night. Some days--many days--that's my sense about the Catholic church I entered with such heartfelt delight in 1967: I went to bed with one night with Rhett Butler and woke up the next day with Jethro Bodine.

And as a result, I'm fairly pooped with the experience--with the experience of having chosen a Christian community that, in sharp contrast to the Southern Baptist church in which I was raised, celebrated and defended the rights of racial minorities in the 1960s only to turn around by the end of the century and work ruthlessly to strip rights from other minorities, from women and from gays and lesbians.

Fortunately, with the papal conclave business, other wonderful bloggers are doing the hard work of turning up valuable commentary and of providing that commentary themselves, so I won't have to do it myself today, as I point readers to these resources. Not to miss is Phil Ewing's ongoing conclave reports at Blue Eyed Ennis. These are rich in wonderful resources, and Phil is updating the series each day, it appears--and so I've linked to her blog as a whole rather than to one of her several conclave reports.

At his Faith in the 21st Century blog, Thom Curnutte has also created a valuable compendium of resources for conclave-watchers (and I'm not linking to this because Thom kindly includes Bilgrimage in the list). For those seeking information on the fascinating gay-bathouse-in-the-Vatican story, don't miss Jayden Cameron's discussion at Gay Mystic, Gay Priests' article at Hear Our Voices, or Mike McShea's important questions about the role of the Swiss Guard at This Cultural Christian. And for those continuing to follow the story of Cardinal Mahony's participation in the papal conclave against the backdrop of the abuse situation in Los Angeles, Crystal Watson offers excellent resources at her Perspective site.

For theological commentary proper, there's a great discussion going on now at Colleen Baker's Enlightened Catholicism blog of an article by Fr. James Harvey at America about the shape of the emerging church. At Iglesia Descalza, Rebel Girl does a valuable service for Catholics trying to understand what's happening in our church today by summarizing a number of recent polls which show just how out of step with the views of lay Catholics our leadership elite has gotten. 

Another very important essay at the Iglesia Descalza site right now is Leonardo Boff's analysis of why Benedict resigned as pope; Rebel Girl has translated this essay. In a nutshell, Boff proposes that Benedict resigned because his Augustinian theology, which regards humanity as a massa damnata incapable of building viable social, political, or economic structures in this sin-ravaged world without recourse to God's salvific truth mediated by the church, has simply failed. 

Taking his cue from some tenets of Augustine, Benedict has proposed that only a small remnant of the faithful is capable of conserving Catholic faith intact, and has been willing to write off the majority of Catholics, as he simultaneously teaches that only the Catholic church preserves the fullness of Christian truth--but it does so primarily in its top leadership structures, where apostolic succession preserves that truth in an incomparable way.

As Boff says, it has proven rather hard for Benedict to continue these assertions as we've learned that, in that privileged enclave of the successors of the apostles who alone have the fullness of Christian truth, "there are too many pedophiles even among the cardinals, and thieves of the Vatican Bank money."

By way of theological commentary, I also recommend Tom Cahill's powerful statement, which the Wall Street Journal refused to publish recently in its "The next pope should be . . ." series. Michael Bayly has made a real gift to readers of Catholic blogs by publishing Cahill's commentary at Michael's Progressive Catholic Voice site. An excerpt:

A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.

And so you can see why WSJ refused to publish Cahill's outstanding essay.

Finally, as a companion piece to Cahill's, I'd like to mention Garry Wills's recent essay "Does the Pope Matter?" at New York Review of Books. The gist of Wills's argument, in the opening paragraph of the essay:

The next pope should be increasingly irrelevant, like the last two. The farther he floats up, away from the real religious life of Catholics, the more he will confirm his historical status as a monarch in a time when monarchs are no longer believable. Some people think it a new or even shocking thing that so many Catholics pay no attention to papal fulminations—against, for instance, female contraceptives, male vasectomies, condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, women’s equality, gay rights, divorce, masturbation, and artificial insemination (because it involves masturbation). But it is the idea of truth descending though a narrow conduit, straight from God to the pope, that is a historical invention.

And he's right, I think. When Wall Street Journal has a vested interest in shoring up the antiquated, reactionary structures in Rome and suppressing the plain words of the gospels as Catholics like Cahill and Will remind us of them, then I have to think that something has gone radically awry about the notion of the papacy at this point in history, and about how that Catholic office functions in the world at large.

(As I search for commentary on the papal transition, I have probably overlooked some good resources offered by friends of mine at various blog sites. If so, I apologize for the oversight.) Later: yes, it suddenly occurs to me that I had intended to point readers to Phillip Clark's outstanding essay at Open Tabernacle on a Catholic church poised to meet challenges of hope and reconciliation, or to repudiate that historic opportunity as the cardinals select a new pope. I like very much how Phillip cuts through the media hype about north and south (in global terms) to point out that, no matter what part of the planet we're talking about, "questions of sexuality threaten to deteriorate the binding tapestry of faith and tradition that has composed the Catholic Church for centuries." And so the easy image-management fix of a pope from the southern hemisphere won't fix the deep systemic problems of the Catholic leadership system until those deeper problems of sexual ethics--which church leaders refuse to discuss--are addressed far more openly and honestly.)

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