Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Benedict Critiqued Francis's Interview about Church of "Small-Minded Rules": Your Take?

I haven't seen any mention of this interesting story at Catholic news sites today. I haven't seen much mention of it at all, in fact, after I first read it at the Talking Points Memo site today. I now find similar reports in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, ABC News, the New Haven Register, and the Edmonton Journal, all pointing to an AP article by Nicole Winfield which reports that Pope Francis asked Emeritus Pope Benedict to critique Francis's remarks in America last September about the church's obsession with "small-minded rules." (America conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, if I understand things correctly, and so you may see the latter cited as the source for Francis's interview.)

Nicole Winfield is citing as her source for this story the papal secretary Georg Gänswein, who recounted the story to the German television network ZDF (Mainz) in its recent "Tango im Vatikan" series marking Francis's first year as pope. YouTube now has a video from the series, in which Gänswein is interviewed.

I should say immediately that I have not yet tried to listen to the video or to read the ZDF material, all of which is in German, and so my remarks are based solely on what I've read in the reports to which I point above, citing Nicole Winfield's AP article. It appears that Benedict critiqued Francis's remarks in the America interview after the interview was published, and the gist of various reports is to suggest that Benedict's four-page critique of the interview was apparently highly critical--but that the story illustrates that Francis collaborates closely with Benedict.

I'm frankly afraid to comment on this story, not primarily because I'm more or less ignorant about it (that hasn't stopped me from commenting on lots of things in the past, has it?), but more because it seems I must be out of kilter these days when I comment on anything having to do with the current pope. And so I wonder what the rest of you think?

I'm honestly not very interested in speculation about what goes on in the halls of the Vatican. Have always been bored to tears by the reports at some Catholic blog sites about what this or that bishop or cardinal or Vatican official has whispered in the ears of this or that well-connected Catholic insider-blogger. I'm not very much interested in the Vatican because I don't see any compelling reason to give it much mind room or much power over my own spiritual life--though I recognize that it does, in fact, exert tremendous power worldwide, some of it deeply harmful to me and others I care about it, and for that reason, I do try to figure out what's happening "over there."

I am interested specifically in figuring out whether Francis represents any kind of viable promise of any kind of viable reform. My own feelings about this matter have been all over the place on this blog from the time he became pope, and I've taken knocks from right and left for not finding myself in the "right" place--whatever that is at any given moment--vis-a-vis the new pope.

Hence my trepidation at saying much at all about this current story. What does strike me as I read it is that, though it's being spun as a story about collaboration between Francis and Benedict, the fact that Francis didn't give a copy of his remarks talking about "small-minded rules" to Benedict until after they had been published tends, to my way of seeing things, to undercut the collaboration meme.

And so I wonder about this "collaboration." (This story puts me in mind of a story I read several years ago about the "collaboration" between Sister Consuella Bauer, OSB, principal of Saint Scholastica Catholic girls' academy in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Bishop Fletcher when Saint Scholastica, which had been an all-white school, chose to integrate in 1952. After Fletcher gave the nuns running the school permission to integrate it, he informed them that the young black women admitted to the school could not be allowed to attend its annual prom, since that would mean that black and white couples would be dancing together.

They could help plan the prom. They could help set the room up for the prom. They simply could not attend it.

Sister Consuella begged to differ, and so she "collaborated" with Bishop Fletcher by sending him a letter inform him that she intended to integrate the school's prom too late for him to intervene in any way. As the article by Jennifer Barnett Reed to which I've just linked notes, in 1968, when Catholic high school students throughout Fort Smith banded together to protest Bishop Fletcher's ban on permitting interracial dating among Catholic school students, Sister Consuella wrote Fletcher to say, 

I feel in conscience bound to tell you how I really and truly feel about this. I think the time has come, in fact is long past already, when the matter of who dates whom can no longer be legislated. I think those who protest have a just grievance.

So, as I say, there's collaboration, and then there's "collaboration," where Catholic officials are concerned.)

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