I have not referred yet to another remark Pope Francis made (pdf file) in his meeting with some 120 (male) religious superiors last November--the meeting I've previously discussed as I've looked at his comments about viewing things from the peripheries rather than the center. As media outlets have now reported in many places, in this colloquy, Francis also reminded his audience that younger Catholics now often live in "complex situations, especially family ones."
The pope then went on to speak out of his pastoral experience as archbishop in Buenos Aires, recounting a story of a little girl who told her teacher that her mother's girlfriend did not like her. Francis notes that Catholics now live in a situation that "provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult to understand." And he asks,
How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing? We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.
Many news commentators have taken these questions to represent "an opening" to gay people in the Catholic church. But as Joshua McElwee has reported at National Catholic Reporter today, when this interpretation was given to the pope's words, the Vatican's media spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, quickly stepped in to assure Catholics (and everyone else in the world) of the following:
To speak of an "opening to gay couples" is paradoxical, because the pope’s comment is completely general and because even the small concrete example made by the pope in this regard … alludes to the suffering of the child.
An opening to gay couples in the Catholic church? Unthinkable! Unheard of! Preposterous!
And if this Vatican spin of Pope Francis's pastorally oriented statements doesn't say everything about the serious challenge facing LGBTI human beings in the Catholic church--whose gospel proclamation is all about God opening her arms with total welcome to everyone in the world--then I don't know wheat it does say. There will be no talk of "opening" when it comes to gay couples and the Catholic church, the papal spokesman wants to reassure us (and the many conservative Catholics, quite a few of them with deep pockets, furious at talk about "openings" to gay couples).
Look for a lot more statements like this in the coming year. Look for more centrist spin of the kind John Allen offers National Catholic Reporter readers today, when he reports that Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica and author of the summary of the pope's remarks to religious superiors cited above, is intent on letting us know that Francis is neither of the right nor the left, and his words are being manipulated by both right and left. A centrist journalist helping a centrist editor of a journal presenting the words of the pope to the world remind us that those words are, after all, centrist words--and not the new "openings" to those on the margins we've taken them to be . . . .
You know what's paradoxical (to use Father Lombardi's word) to me about all of this? It's that, in seeking to spin papal remarks that critique "centralism" and which call on us to move away from "the central position" and view things from the perspective of the margins, the powerful centrists who dominate the Catholic media are immediately seeking to re-establish a centrist reading of Francis's words--which protects their own power and privilege as the objective and balanced voices of the center who see more clearly and know more fully than we little peons on the margins see and know.
Another prediction for 2014: we'll see a lot more of this kind of centrist spin as the new year unfolds. And if Francis continues to be silent as spin doctors in the Vatican and the Catholic media reinterpret every utterance he makes that appears to be about the new and not about shoring up the dead world of the old, then more and more people will begin to ask if we're not simply being duped by Vatican media gurus intent on polishing up the tired old image of the papacy, while nothing at all new is afoot in the Catholic church.
The graphic is from the website of the "Ellen Degeneres Show."