Monday, July 29, 2013

Ken Briggs on Pope Francis's Statements about Gay Priests: "Is There a Degree of Willful Deception in a Larger Plan to Give the Church an Upbeat, Loving Face?"

Ken Briggs at National Catholic Reporter on Francis's remarks about gay priests: 

A headline on the Internet this morning summed up Francis' visit to Brazil: "Pope Hints at Major Reversal." 
It referred to Pope Francis' welcome of gay priests, vowing not to judge them but rather to "forgive" them of their sins. 
The headline's implication was that a "reversal" in fundamental teachings about homosexuality was in store. 
Is that what the pope wanted? A more open acceptance of gay priests who stay within the existing rules? And to hint an overturn of Pope John Paul II's 1987 verdict that being homosexual was essentially a "disordered" state of being?  
If he didn't mean to suggest a new Catholic teaching on homosexuality, should he have plainly said so? Would that have been in keeping with his image in some quarters as being bluntly honest? Or does he believe that a little dose of mixed signals is justified in order to ease the bitterness that has been swirling around the issue? 
Is the media just grasping at straws or is there a degree of willful deception in a larger plan to give the church an upbeat, loving face? 
It's too early in the papacy to know for sure, but worth noting perhaps that the same patina of double speak characterizes the major issues Francis addresses. Is he the "repair the crisis" pope who sees his mission as reviving church spirits before unloading some concrete, contentious re-designs, or a public relations pope whose effort is to recast the profile of Catholicism without following through on vague suggestions that things will substantially change?

"Is there a degree of willful deception in a larger plan to give the church an upbeat, loving face?" I think that question has to be asked, if the kinds of changes people see Francis's comments portending have any import in the real world. And are we seeing "the same patina of double speak" in each of Francis's remarks about reform in the Catholic church?

That question, too, has to be asked if we care about reform being real and having real impacts in the real world. Though people asking such questions keep being vilified as anti-Catholic and anti-Francis, it seems to me self-evident that they need to be asked if we really care about the church and its effectiveness in the real world in which real human beings live.

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