Friday, April 5, 2013

Leonardo Boff and Robert McClory on Pope Francis as Franciscan Reformer and Critic of Clericalism

More from Leonardo Boff on the parallels between Pope Francis and Francis of Assisi, at Boff's blog site: Boff thinks that, to understand what Pope Francis is about, it's critically important to recall that Francis of Assisi experienced a calling to rebuild a church that was in shambles during his lifetime. And so,

There is an undeniable common point: the crisis of the ecclesiastic institution. Young Francis of Assisi is said to have heard a voice coming from the Crucifix of San Damiano, that told him: “Francis, repair my Church for it is in shambles”. Giotto depicted it well, showing Francis supporting the heavy Church building on his shoulders. 
We are also experiencing a grave crisis, caused by the internal scandals of the ecclesiastic institution itself. A universal outcry has been heard («The voice of the people is the voice of God»): «repair the Church whose morality and credibility are in shambles». And to a Cardinal from the periphery of the world, Bergoglio, from Buenos Aires, has been trusted the mission, as Pope, of restoring the Church in the light of Francis of Assisi.

What had created crisis in the church of the period of Francis of Assisi was the opulence of its hierarchical leaders, whose explicit goal was dominium mundi, dominion of the world. The church had, in effect, secularized itself and become a primary secular player in world politics, and had lost sight of its originating vision in Jesus of Nazareth, who explicitly repudiated worldly power as he proclaimed the reign of God. And so the poverty preached and practiced by Francis of Assisi was a theological statement about the path the church needed to take in order to recover its originating vision.

In Boff's words,

Francis of Assisi lived the antithesis of the imperial Church. To the Gospel of power, he offered the power of the Gospel: total relinquishment, radical poverty and extreme simplicity. He did not place himself in the clerical or monastic framework, but as a layman, he was guided by the Gospel, lived strictly, on the periphery of the cities, where the poor and the lepers lived, and in the heart of nature, living a cosmic union with all beings. He spoke to the center from the periphery, asking for conversion. Without explicitly criticizing, he began a great reform, starting from below, but without breaking with Rome. We find ourselves before a Christian genius, with a seductive humanity and fascinating tenderness and caring, who openly discovered the best of our humanity.

All this has direct parallels, Boff thinks, to the situation of the Catholic church today. If Pope Francis wants to be true to the path on which his namesake walked, then he will absolutely have to reform the Curia and "the clerical habits" of the church. 

What Boff says on this point intersects with something Robert McClory has just published at National Catholic Reporter. McClory thinks that, with his decision to move into the Vatican visitors' quarters and share communal meals there, to eschew pomp and pageantry in his papal dress and behavior, to wash the feet of prisoners (including women) on Holy Thursday, and to focus on the poor and the fate of the planet, Pope Francis is directly targeting clericalism.

In McClory's view, the style the new pope has chosen to exhibit from the very inception of his papal reign may be making the following statement: 

Instead, he may be building by example a case against the arrogance and self-satisfaction that provides the foundation for a multi-tiered, class-conscious society of those who make the decisions and those who don’t, those who have given up earthly rewards in favor of honorific titles, fancy liturgical attire and, above all, power. 

And this style directly addresses clericalism in the following way:

For many generations earnest, young male seminarians have been taught that they are aspiring to a higher level not available to the laity, a level at which they will have the authority to teach, sanctify and govern those below. They will carry with them sacred powers that will accompany them even into eternity. For such privileges they promise to become eunuchs for the kingdom, and they pledge to defer their own judgments without reservation to the authoritative pronouncements of those on still higher levels, be it pastor, bishop or pope. 
In effect, they become members of a kind of boys club that is warm, supportive and exclusive — and never breaks ranks. For what they give up, they can expect a relatively high standard of living and the respect, even adulation (at least until the abuse scandal hit), of their grateful congregations. 

I hope that both Boff and McClory are correct in what they see in the first steps taken by Pope Francis. The road to reform is going to be a long one, however. Not only does the noxious clericalism of many of the church's ordained elite need to be addressed and the Curia reformed, but many Catholics need some serious education about these and other issues. Just read the thread that has developed in response to McClory's essay, and you'll see what I mean: in this thread, one young Catholic man after another, who came of age in the period of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is absolutely determined to keep alive the theological meme of priests' ontological superiority to layfolks, and to equate that meme with the fundamentals of Catholic faith.

These same young Catholic men are bitterly determined to keep women out of their boys' club, and they equate their misogyny with the fundamentals of Catholic faith. It's going to take some serious educating to dispel these notions among younger Catholics for whom the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with their accentuated notion of the hieratic priesthood and their attacks on women and repudiation of women's ordination, represent the pinnacle of Catholic development.

The graphic of Pope Francis's shoes is from the Abbey-Roads blog.

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