Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Footnotes to Discussion of Pope Francis and LCWR: Sr. Maureen Fiedler and Fr. Helmut Schüller

Some brief footnotes to the story about which I posted yesterday--the decision of the new pope to uphold the censure of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women in the U.S.:

For National Catholic Reporter, Sr. Maureen Fiedler asks whether Pope Francis received all the information he needed before he made a decision about the LCWR matter (if, indeed, he actually did make such a decision, and if this information, which was relayed to LCWR by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Müller, represents Pope Francis's views and not Müller's). 

As readers can see from a comment I made yesterday to Jayden Cameron in the discussion thread following my posting re: the LCWR story, the questions Sr. Maureen is asking are ones that popped into my head, too, when I first read this story. I am not a Vatican-watcher, and I have no inside information at all about the arcane inner workings of the Vatican. 

I deliberately avoid the popular blog sites and articles by Vatican-watchers that share insider whispers about the dark eructations from the bowels of Rome or the USCCB. If nothing else, those sites reinforce (for me, at least) insider-outsider dynamics within my Catholic church that I find offensive in the extreme. They feed on the none too subtle insinuation that some people have (and deserve) more access to power and inside knowledge than the rest of us do, and that those of us looking in from the outside have ended up on the margins because we haven't been good enough, canny enough, well-enough placed, docile and malleable enough, and so on.

I have never understood the ease with which many of my fellow American Catholics--and, notably, liberal-centrist ones--accept these insider-outsider dynamics, seemingly without much critique at all. I can only assume that many liberal-centrist American Catholics haven't tasted the bitterness of any kind of marginalization sufficiently to know how destructive and corrosive such dynamics are to the humanity of those judged inferior. And so for the sake of my mental and spiritual health, I avoid reading articles full of insider tips about what's really happening in the Vatican, because they only reinforce my own awareness that many of my fellow Catholics and I simply don't count much for those on the inside, even as these insiders lay down the law about what it means to be catholic, someone who welcomes and includes everybody!

All that by way of proviso: please take the following top-of-head thoughts with a large grain of salt, since they come from someone who is by no means an insider or well-informed, a nobody living in a nowhere place whose theological vocation has never counted for anything at all among those who wield power in my church:

1. I seriously doubt that the LCWR investigation was very much on the radar screen of an Argentinian cardinal before he became pope, and I'd be tempted to conclude, as a result, that such information as he has garnered about this matter after having been made pope would be highly dependent on the slants and perspectives of those whom he chose to advise him. 
2. If those advisors have been people like Cardinals Burke and Law, or highly placed Opus Dei officials in the Vatican, Francis would naturally receive a very lopsided understanding of the LCWR matter--and, most of all, he might well not receive much-needed information about how strongly the large majority of American Catholics support religious women and resent what the Vatican is doing to them. 
3. I also suspect that Francis is not culturally and instinctively attuned to critical questions about women's place in church and society. As I've said in previous postings, one of the first critiques of liberation theology (and its offshoot, black theologies of liberation) to come along as the movement got on its feed was that it was tone-deaf to women's issues. It was, in short, unconsciously misogynistic because it had been born in the matrix of a culture heavily dominated by machismo and unreflective notions of heterosexual male entitlement. 
4. To their credit, liberation theologians began to correct this matter of tone-deafness when feminist theologians began to point it out, and the inclusion of feminist perspectives in liberation theology also led eventually to the inclusion of LGBT perspectives--another area in which the founding figures of liberation theology tended to have strong cultural blinders (to shift the metaphor from hearing to seeing). 
5. I wonder if Francis has moved along in his own thinking as liberation theologians have done in these areas. I doubt it. I'm also willing to be surprised. I would hope, at the very least, that in this matter of the LCWR, he would meet with and listen seriously to American religious women--who deserve that respectful and Christian response.

And then there's also this: at her Iglesia Descalza site, Rebel Girl has just provided an article from Periodista Digital focusing on Austrian priest Helmut Schüller, a leader of the Pfarrer Initiative through which a significant percentage of priests in Austria are calling for reform of the Catholic church. As Schüller (who was punished under Benedict XVI) and the group of Austrian priests maintain, disaffection of faithful Catholics has now reached the very core of the church, and "if Pope Francis doesn't undertake the modernization of the Church, Catholics who are disappointed will leave it en masse."

Schüller does find hope in Francis's election, because he thinks it signals a defeat for the powerful Opus Dei group and groups like it within the church. But he's also watching and waiting to see what will happen when (or if) Francis begins to cope with challenges requiring real reform in the church. 

Here are his observations on these points:

"It's clear that for Opus Dei (the election of Francis) was a defeat. But the system is still there. There's a lot of power and money, there are many interests. You almost have to be a bit scared for the pope; it's not without danger," he warns. 
"The (Vatican) administration has been strongly controlled for decades by those movements," he explains. 
"The greatest power of the apparatus is in not doing anything, like after Vatican II, when what was agreed upon was simply not implemented," he recalls.

And I continue to watch and wait--and I try to nurture hope, too. But I will not disguise the fact that, if Francis has upheld the LCWR censure when he has the power, precisely because he is pope, to have revoked that censure, I am strongly inclined to hear this as a warning bell that my hopes may rest on a fragile foundation.

And I think that Helmut Schüller is absolutely correct: more and more Catholics, even those in the most loyal cadres within the church, will continue to walk away if the LCWR decision proves to set the course for this papacy. We will have been given no other choice if this pope stands in continuity with his previous two predecessors in permitting groups like Opus Dei to drive the rest of us from their smaller and purer, but eminently uncatholic, church.

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