Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pope Francis Continues in News: Jerry Slevin, Sarah Posner, New York Times, Colleen Baker

As the new year goes on, I'm seeing more and more news coverage about news coverage about Pope Francis. All of it fascinating . . . .

At his Christian Catholicism site, Jerry Slevin notes that the wheels seem to be coming off the Vatican's media spin machine, and we're seeing a return to more substantive reporting about Pope Francis in the new year. Jerry zeroes in on the critically important area in which Francis has yet to show his hand--his response to the crisis caused by abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the ongoing cover-up of that abuse.

Jerry suggests that the pope's response to the abuse crisis has, up to now, been fundamentally evasionary--perhaps an extension of Cardinal Sodano's attempt to minimize the abuse crisis as all about "petty gossip." A strategy of which Jerry takes a very dim view. . . :

This stonewalling strategy cannot and will not work. It suggests Francis is just a "subject changer" who will not fundamentally reform the Vatican. Meanwhile, Francis slips past key challenges like women’s equality, divorced Catholics' treatment and contraception by carefully scripted metaphors, photo ops and sound bites with the help of his Opus Dei ex-FOX TV News' spinner.

At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner proposes that the current "Pope Francis moment" offers Democrats opportunities, while also presenting pitfalls Democrats would be wise to sidestep. The opportunities are apparent, Sarah thinks, in Secretary of State John Kerry's recent meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin. 

The opportunity--a chance to change the subject from the culture-war issues that have dominated the right-wing imagination as it engages religion in general and the Catholic tradition in particular:

The Pope Francis moment, even with its hype—perhaps because of its hype—seems to present both Kerry and President Obama with an opportunity to talk about religion on their own terms: as a potential contributor to peacemaking and justice, rather than a battleground for the culture wars. At home, Obama is still the subject of vitriol from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conservative Catholics for the administration's position on contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But Kerry's meeting at the Vatican casts the administration's relationship with Catholicism in a completely different light: emphasizing the Vatican's support for the Geneva II talks to end the ongoing civil war in Syria, the Pope's interest in Kerry's role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, religious freedom in Israel, Sudan, Cuba, and elsewhere, and combatting global poverty. Other popes might have talked about peace and poverty, but Francis's much-discussed "new tone" seems like a permission slip for Democrats to talk religion without a full scale showdown on culture war issues.

The downside: there's always inherent danger in "entangling politics and religion."

Meanwhile, in the mainstream media, Francis remains big news, as evidenced by this recent New York Times article by Jason Horowitz and Jim Yardley, which continues the meme of Francis the reformer of the church. Horowitz and Yardley insist that Francis is dismantling many of the reactionary power cliques that have controlled the Curia and the Vatican in general during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They point to his recent appointment of cardinals from the developing sectors of the world as evidence--a reading of Francis's actions echoed also by Colleen Baker at her Enlightened Catholicism blog.  

And as I read these important pieces of commentary and the many others that I see trickle past my news browser on any given day (when I open the Yahoo page to access my email account, I never fail to see a series of articles about the pope listed in the Yahoo newsfeed for the day), I remain betwixt and between:

Caught between hope, since we must live in hope, and unwilling to let myself settle for smoke and mirrors, since we have an obligation to base our lives as disciples of Jesus in what's true and not what's illusory. Caught between hope and the determination to try to avoid being seduced by illusion and media spin, as I wait and listen for Francis to do something meaningful to address the marginalization of women in the world and in the church, to accord compassion and justice to survivors of abuse, and to recognize that the institution he leads has done serious damage to those who are gay--and this damage needs to be addressed in the name of Christ.

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