In a new essay at Religion Dispatches, theologian Mary Hunt discusses three puzzles that she's trying to make sense of as she looks at the Francis phenomenon and how Pope Francis is currently being lionized in the media:
1. Pope and Papacy
All of the efforts at church reform—whether the ordination of women, married clergy, acceptance of divorced and/or LGBTIQ persons as full members of the community, and many others—are based on the assumption of widespread lay participation in an increasingly democratic church. From that perspective, it does not make sense to ordain more people to a closed clerical caste headed by the Bishop of Rome, however socially progressive he may be.
2. Women and Gays
A second difficulty flows from the first, in that nothing has changed for women or LGBTIQ people with regard to Catholicism during the early months of this papacy. Nor is there much prospect on either issue given what the pope has said publicly.
3. PR and Substance
But substantive structural and doctrinal issues do not evaporate just because the pope does not wear Prada.
Hunt concludes by noting that, as a feminist theologian, she has an obligation to think carefully about many of the iconic photos now being churned out posthaste by a new media-savvy Vatican communications office headed by former Fox News and Time writer (and Opus Dei member) Greg Burke. As much as these iconic scenes of a humble man modeling Christian service to others for the rest of us may grab one's attention and move one's heart, one is left with certain questions about the substance lying behind the image--questions that Mary Hunt feels it's important to raise specifically as a feminist theologian:
Is this the stuff of real change or is it a way of shoring up a model of church that has endured for centuries? Are those who reject the kyriarchal model as I do simply to be told like other protesters before us that we can go elsewhere when we are as Catholic as the Pope?
Where are the women theologians called in to consult, the young people invited to discuss their lives and choices? Where are the lay people who might preach at the pope’s daily mass so he would listen instead of speak sometimes? Where are the lesbian and gay seminarians to explain the facts of life to an old Jesuit who entered the Society of Jesus before gay was gay? Where are the survivors of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops to whom the institutional church, beginning in Rome, owes reparations? I do not see signs of them anywhere, nor do I expect to any time soon. Opus Dei is not a clothing line, but a deeply ideological Catholic group that stands for very conservative religious values. Rachel Maddow was not tapped for the media job for a reason.
And as an openly gay theologian standing in solidarity with feminist theologians, I ask these questions alongside Mary Hunt. Many of the important questions Hunt is asking here are the very same questions I asked two days ago about what Francis intends to do--beyond rhetoric--about the clerical system and the little monster of clericalism it spawns, which are the source of the church's sickness unto death at this point in its history.
It seems to me, in fact, that if we take seriously Francis's call to us to look at our church from the vantage point of the margins and not the center, it's imperative that we ask the kind of questions Mary Hunt is asking. Just as it's imperative that those at the center listen carefully to what they're being told by the many Catholics who have been relegated to the margins--notably, women, survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse, LGBTI Catholics, and the poor.