Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Missed Opportunities of Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium

In a statement at his Christian Catholicism site, Jerry Slevin concludes that, with his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis "missed real opportunities in his Letter, likely intentionally." Jerry writes,

Abused children hurt by priests, disrespected women treated unequally, desperate couples denied contraception and gay persons withheld rights, all deserve prompt support. For them, "wait and see" at this point is another risky approach.

And then he adds,

The People of God, however, remain basically powerless still, notwithstanding this Letter. That is the bottom line! 
Against this background, some of Francis’ Letter’s major omissions are quite understandable. Francis disappointingly ducked the calls to make bishops like Finn, Myers, Nienstedt, Law, Rigali, Mahony, Brady, O’Brien, Vangelhuwe, Norway’s Mueller, et al., accountable for allegedly protecting child predators or worse. Francis also had little to say about helping priest abuse survivors heal or receive justice. 
Francis’ weak endorsement in his Letter of John Paul II’s biblically unsupportable and almost inexcusable "block" on women priests unnecessarily and unwisely preserves the Vatican’s "old boys’ club". Resulting and increasing priest shortages inevitably will likely only preserve, and possibly even increase, priest child abuse occurrences by increasing pressure on bishops to accept questionable seminarians and to keep suspected priests in ministry longer.

Note also Swiss theologian Hans Küng's valuable statement yesterday in National Catholic Reporter about Francis's reform agenda and EG. Küng sees church reform as "forging ahead" under Francis, but notes that Francis's "undifferentiated rejection of abortion and women’s ordination will, however, probably provoke criticism." 

Küng thinks that pressure is being exerted on Francis by the powerful arch-conservative head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, to mute his reform agenda and its pastoral message, in order to adhere to traditional Catholic doctrine and canon law. He also thinks that Benedict is functioning as a "shadow pope" through Müller and Benedict's personal secretary Georg Gänswein.

The clash between Francis's stress on the gospel first and foremost and pastoral compassion, and the old guard's insistence on traditional teaching and canon law, is in evidence regarding the issue of giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. The German Catholic bishops are now defying Müller on this point, as they consider issuing a statement admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to communion. 

In EG, Francis states unambiguously that "[t]he Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak" (#47, citing citing Saint Ambrose, De Sacramentis, IV, 6, 28: PL 16, 464; IV, 5, 24: PL 16, 463; and Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Joh. Evang., IV, 2: PG 73, 584-585). And so Küng thinks the coming synod on the family will be a kind of test of Francis's reform agenda with its stress on the gospel and pastoral compassion. at which we will see clearly whether "[t]he enormous capital of credibility that the pope has accumulated in the first months of his papacy" will "be squandered by the curia."

We'll see.

The detail from Michelangelo's fresco in the Sistine Chapel, showing the hands of God and Adam reaching for each other, is from Wikimedia Commons.

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