Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope Francis's Bombshell Interview with America: A Church That Is "the Home of All, Not a Small Chapel"--10 Initial Reflection Points

And another voice well worth listening to right now (I'm echoing here what I said in my previous posting): as I type this, the lead headline at Huffington Post reads, "Pope: Church 'Obsessed' with Gays, Abortion & Contraception." This points to an article reporting on America's exclusive interview with Pope Francis published today entitled "A Big Heart Open to God." I've just read someplace--perhaps at the Commonweal blog (yes, I now see Bill Mazzella's comment)--that so many people are clicking on the America article this morning, it's hard to access. John Allen has also published a summary of the interview for National Catholic Reporter

I haven't yet read the interview in its entirety. I've read several reports on it, including those linked above. My initial thoughts:

1. Francis frames his critique of the obsession of some Catholics in recent years with abortion and same-sex marriage by talking about how "the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent," and how some of us have become fixated on transmitting a "disjointed multitude of doctrines" that we're intent on imposing on others in an insistent way.

2. In many ways, what Francis is saying here is deeply rooted in the theology of an extremely significant 20th-century theologian of his Jesuit community, Karl Rahner, who pointed out repeatedly that there's a hierarchy of truths in Catholic doctrine, and not all truths occupy the same central place and function at the same neuralgic level.

3. Rahner's notion of the hierarchy of truths is enshrined in the teachings of Vatican II. 

4. During the restorationist period of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, some Catholics have given both fellow Catholics and people outside the Catholic church the impression that moral teachings about abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage function at the same level as teachings about the divinity and humanity of Christ, or about the necessity to live salvific faith by works of mercy in order to reach heaven.

5. This is to say: they've snatched moral teachings that occupy nowhere near the most central role in the Catholic hierarchy of truths out of their context and have presented them to fellow Catholics and the rest of the world in a disjointed way that obscures what's really important at the very heart of Catholic faith, while making their own pet moral teachings into test cases for Catholic identity, into doctrines on which the church rises or falls--when these moral teachings are not and never have been infallibly defined, when they remain open to serious theological discussion, and when they may well change over the course of time as other Catholic moral teachings have done.

6. In all that I'm saying here, I'm emphasizing it's no accident that a Jesuit pope is stressing theological concepts developed by a leading Jesuit theologian who had critical importance on Vatican II, and is doing so in an exclusive interview in a Jesuit journal.

7. In a journal of his own religious community, which recognizes the importance of the gospel command that Christians seek to reach out to all human beings everywhere--to be "all things to all people"--if we're to be faithful to the example and teaching of Jesus.

8. Francis is rooting himself in the gospels, in the spirituality of his Jesuit tradition, and in the documents of Vatican II as he seeks to reset the Catholic conversation after a period of reaction against Vatican II in which the very brand of Catholicism has increasingly become connected in the minds of many people with exclusivity and not inclusivity.

9. In line with the gospels, with the spirituality of his Jesuit tradition, and Vatican II (as well as with St. Augustine in his classic response to the Donatists), Francis is capable of saying something which is at the very center of the Catholic hierarchy of truths, but which many of Catholicism's most ardent defenders of "orthodoxy" in recent years find it impossible to say: "This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people."

10. And it's interesting to see, from the reaction to such words both inside and outside the Catholic church today, how hungry many people seem to be to hear them.

The graphic: the dream of Pope Innocent--Francis rebuilding the church as Jesus commanded him to do--from the Saint Francis cycle in the upper church of San Francesco at Assisi, traditionally attributed to Giotto.

No comments: