Monday, October 6, 2014

Pope Francis and Synod: Coercive Top-Down Model of Church, or Consensual Bottom-Up Lay-Dominated Model? Recent Analysis Worth Reading

The synod on the family opened in Rome yesterday, and as this gathering begins, journalist Robert Mickens states, in an interview with Ari Shapiro of NPR,

Married people need to be heard. Gay people and their struggles need to be heard. Single mothers need to be heard. It won't do for a bunch of celibate men, so-called, to be parsimonious with God's mercy.

Yes, as Mickens notes in his recent "Letter from Rome" column at Commonweal (a regular feature of that journal that he's now resuming after he has been named editor in chief of the journal Global Pulse), Francis is facing open resistance from younger priests, seminarians, and some bishops. Mickens reports that those hostile to Francis and what he appears to stand for have "placed the bull's eye on the backs" of several of his close advisers.


Precisely because there is substance to changes the seventy-seven-year-old pope is trying to make, especially in his efforts to root out clericalism, resistance to him has grown. It is not, however, good form for priests or bishops to go around bashing the bishop of Rome. (Nor is it particularly good for one's clerical career.) So they must select another target. That is exactly what happened during Benedict XVI’s pontificate, when the former pope’s enemies chose his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as their surrogate punching bag.

Mickens observes that Cardinal Walter Kasper is the latest and most prominent adviser of Francis to have had a bull's eye placed on his back, due to his suggestion that mercy might dictate that the leaders of the Catholic church relax their opposition to admitting divorced and remarried people to communion — a stand that has earned him a rebuke from Cardinal Raymond Burke, as David Gibson recently reported. Burke: Catholic leaders are "held to obedience to the truth." End of story.

Vatican observer Marco Politi, who has recently published a book entitled Francis Among the Wolves,  tells Ari Shapiro and others in the NPR interview linked above that Francis is definitely surrounded by wolves in the Vatican, and they're becoming very aggressive. 

What I have just written about Pope Francis and my attempt to listen widely and maintain hope is a preliminary to a selection of articles I've earmarked for your attention lately. These are some of the statements about Pope Francis that have particularly caught my eye, and which seem to me worth recommending to you. Each one deserves careful attention, and I hope you'll use the excerpts I'm offering you here as a springboard for diving into the entire text from which the excerpt is taken:

For Jerry Slevin, what happens at the synod on the family will prove a test case of Francis's vision of what the church needs at this point in its history. that he In a valuable overview of ten goals of Pope Francis with the synod on the family and vis-a-vis the coming elections in the U.S., Jerry Slevin frames his argument as follows:

The unprecedented ongoing crisis, of bishops and priests who sexually assault children often with impunity, presents Pope Francis with a fundamental choice — Francis can either try to save the coercive top-down Vatican dominated Church, and thereby risk losing the hierarchical Church to legal onslaughts by prosecutors from the USA, Australia, Ireland, Italy, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, or he can try to begin to restore a consensual bottom-up lay Catholic dominated Church, like the one that Jesus’ original disciples, including some women, left behind.

Jerry doubts that, despite what the media keep telling us, Francis is moving towards restoring a "consensual bottom-up lay Catholic dominated Church." And because I have committed myself to listening widely about Pope Francis and his purported agenda to reform the church (a point I'll discuss in a separate posting), and to listening, in particular, to the community of abuse survivors and those standing in solidarity with survivors, I take Jerry Slevin's testimony seriously.

When one looks at the synod and how it has been set up to permit no lay voices to be heard at the decision-making level, how can one avoid asking whether Jerry is not absolutely right in his conclusion that Francis is continuing the coercive top-down model of a Vatican-dominated church, even as the media tell us he's building a consensual bottom-up lay-Catholic-dominated model? And as one looks at how the synod is being managed in a completely top-down hierarchical way, so that the people of God will hear only what the top leaders of the church want us to hear about the discussions that take place at the synod . . . .

I listen carefully, too, to Betty Clermont as she encourages us to remains skeptical about the media spin regarding Francis and his reform agenda. In this recent piece, she reminds us that, though the media have reported otherwise, when the Vatican recently removed Opus Dei bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano in the diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, the Vatican's statement about this action did not mention the fact that Livieres had promoted Father Carlos Urrutigoity, a priest with a known track record of abusing seminarians in the U.S., to vicar general in the diocese.

As Betty points out, 

As is often the case, it was the blessed work of and Abuse Tracker which exposed Urrutigoity’s promotion to vicar general resulting in a series of articles written by Grant Gallicho in Commonweal and the international condemnation of Livieres which forced Pope Francis to take action. Yet, "Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of Catholic officials – from pastors to prelates – have ignored or concealed clergy sex crimes [including Pope Francis] and many are still ignoring and concealing clergy sex crimes."

Betty also points out that the Vatican moved against former bishop and Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic Józef Wesołowski only after Vatican investigators discovered that he had a cache of child pornography on his computer.

Finally, as I listen widely from the marginal place the leaders of my church have accorded me, trying to make some sense of what's happening in my church today, how can I not share Frank Cocozzelli's hope that Pope Francis's decision to have his fellow Jesuit (and archbishop) Terrence Prendergast investigate Opus Dei bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City may turn into a "transformative moment" for the Catholic church and its dealing with its abuse crisis? Except there's this: I happen to know Archbishop Prendergast personally.

And what I know of him does not give me hope that Pope Francis is in any way abandoning the model of the "coercive top-down Vatican dominated Church," to use Jerry Slevin's phrase cited above, so that the church may return to (again, Jerry) restore "a consensual bottom-up lay Catholic dominated Church." Jesuits who climb to high ranks in the Catholic hierarchy, as Francis and Prendergast have done, simply don't get there by representing that second model.

They get there because they are deeply committed to the first of the two models. So even as I take hope in Francis's decision to investigate Finn, the person he's choosing to do the investigation reminds me of how muted, how tentative, my hope for real reform under this pope has to remain. As Alan McCornick wisely reminds me, "We live in the drops and in the inches.  And that’s where we ought to try to make a difference."

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