Saturday, September 21, 2013

And Yet More Commentary on Pope Francis's Interview: Resetting Catholic Conversation, People of God, and Nuns on Bus

As I noted yesterday, Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffin sees Pope Francis's recent interview as a "reset button" for the Catholic conversation about gay folks. For Catholic ethicist Daniel Maguire, the pope has now not only taken the locks off the doors that John Paul II and Benedict slammed fast shut, he's unscrewed the doors from their jambs. Jim Yardley and Elisabetta Polovedo offer yet another metaphor for what Francis is doing to the Catholic church--he's changing the conversation from the center:

But there seems little question that Francis wants to change the papal conversation. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, often seemed engaged in an angry verbal jousting match with secularism and modernity, usually delivered through formal encyclicals or speeches that, to many Catholics, felt like a personal rebuke. The church seemed like “a rigid institution dictating impossible norms to follow, an overly severe mother,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a scholar of Catholicism in Rome.

Scaraffia then goes on to observe that "[p]eople have been wounded" in the war over secularization to which JPII and BXVI chose to commit the church's resources, and Francis is saying to us now, "Let’s look after the wounds. That’s more important than winning the war."

For Drew Christiansen, one of the critically important moves that Francis makes as he pushes the reset button, unhinges the locked doors, and shifts the conversation from the center is that he brings Vatican II's ecclesiology of the church as people of God back front and center. As he does so, he reminds us of something many of us lay Catholics have refused to forget: that all the church's preaching, including about moral issues, has to be subordinated to the gospel message of God's all-embracing love and God's preferential love for those on the margins.

Christiansen concludes:

Like the Gospel of Jesus itself, the Gospel Francis preaches also shows up the Pharasaism of the moral righteousness that seeks to establish public morality according to abstract norms without making pastoral allowance for context and persons. Can there be any convincing answer to his question, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?"

For Jim Burroway, the emphasis on the theology of the church as people of God also stands out. But: 

Let me interrupt here, because it’s impossible not to read what he has said so far without recalling the many, many ways in which the “people of God” are in tension (at the very least) with many of the teachings that have emanated from the Church’s hierarchy over the past several decades. This tension has been most visible in the laity’s overwhelming rejection of the Church’s teaching on birth control, masturbation, and other social and sexual issues, including marriage equality. This Public Religion Research Poll from just two years ago found that nearly three quarters of American Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, an opinion that is endorsed by nearly two-thirds of Catholics who attend Mass weekly.

Catholic theologian Mary Hunt also stresses Francis's recentering of the Catholic conversation on the people of God, as she notes that what's remarkable in Francis's (very traditional) formulation of thinking with the church as the people of God is the following:

It remains important, however, not to think that simply because the pope says something that it is so—even if one likes it. To do so is to fall into the trap of giving even more weight to the papacy, more deference to the hierarchy, more power to those in power. No, something is so because the people, whom this pope freely admits are at the core of the church along with bishops and himself, have discerned and lived into new Catholic ways of thinking and being. That is what the sensus fidelium means. 

Hunt notes that three things in Francis's interview leave her warm:

1. "First, Pope Francis is a person who freely admits that he can change his ways." 
2. "Second, the compassion, humanity, and simple lifestyle that Pope Francis manifests is refreshing after decades of John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s personalities and actions." 
3. "Third, postmodernity is not lost on Francis. Woven through the discourse of this lengthy interview are indications that the many sciences, not just theology and philosophy, are sources for religious reflection."

But three things leave Hunt cold:

1. "It is amazing how little this pope seems to know about women, other than his grandmother Rosa whom he places right next to the Virgin Mary." And: "Little change will come to the injustices a kyriarchal church perpetrates on women until there are more insights than endless references to women’s motherhood, Mary as more important than bishops, the institutional Church as Mother, and so forth." And: "Likewise, I await a clear definition of 'female machismo' that has him so worried. How about worrying instead about plain old 'machismo' that has caused such havoc in the world? 
2. "A second issue I find troubling is the lack of transparency about the shape of the institutional church. The cardinals realized on the resignation of Benedict XVI that the institutional church was in ruins." And: "My hope is that out of all of this will come not more emphasis on Good Pope Francis, and by extension more papal power, but a new model of church in which his role as pope is as a symbol of unity, not authority." 
3. "A third area of concern is the major matter of church doctrine—what this pope jesuitically says he affirms as a 'son' of the church. If that’s the case, what hope is there that things will be substantively and structurally different in years to come? If some issues are closed—not just the ordination of women but how other faith traditions are understood; not just same-sex love, but what we mean by Eucharist—is this interview simply a puff piece, a case of the Jesuits promoting their own and their own promoting Jesuits?"

John Nichols sees Francis getting on board the bus with American nuns:  

The Pope’s call for a "new balance" will itself be controversial. But it suggests an opening for the message that Sister Simone [Campbell] and others have—for many years now—been advancing about the importance of dialing up the church’s moral advocacy on behalf of peace and economic justice. 

Dr. Donohue of the Catholic League is Not Pleased with the papal comments because Obama. 

And through it all, Francis keeps right on talking about the need for dialogic structures in the Catholic church that give the people of God an authentic voice in the Catholic conversation at the center of the church.

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