Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Massimo Faggioli on Shifting Tectonic Plates of Global Catholicism: Europe and Latin America at Forefront of New Openness, North America, Africa, and English-Speaking Catholics Determined to Resist

Massimo Faggioli in Conversation US on how the synod on the family reveals a tectonic shift in global Catholicism, in which old alliances and loyalties are breaking down and new ones forming:

In this new map [of the Catholic world] Europe and Latin America are at the forefront of the new openness. On the other hand, North America, Africa, and in general English-speaking Catholics are more inclined to hone to a firm countercultural line, refusing to evolve the doctrine and pastoral practice of the church with regard to marriage and family. Asia presents a more complex picture, although the Cardinal from Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, for example, was one of the leaders of Francis’s majority.


This October the strongest objections to the German bishops' proposed welcome to gay and divorced Catholics came from the representatives of English-speaking Catholics from the United States, Africa, and Australia. Their opposition was carefully planned even before the Synod as one can see from the long paper trail of interviews, op-eds and books laid down by Cardinal Raymond Burke (USA) and Cardinal George Pell (Australia). Once in Rome they argued with the Europeans in a way that has created a new sense of self-awareness in their churches back home. 

I might add to Faggioli's statement that the opposition of Burke, Pell, and other right-wing prelates to the proposed welcome to gay and divorced Catholics was not merely carefully planned in advance of the synod: it was also heavily financed in advance of the synod. The fear that the Catholic church may simultaneously loosen its hard line about issues of sexual morality (which have been instrumentally useful to the 1% and the political right in the U.S. for a long time now as they play their divide-and-conquer political games) while stepping up its teachings about socioeconomic justice galvanizes economic elites who want to assure that the leaders of the Catholic church continue to dance to their self-interested tune about these issues.

One of the interesting aspects of most U.S. media discusssions of what's taking place in the Catholic church right now is how heavily invested these discussions are in a false, simplistic meme that emanates from the religious and political right. This meme maintains that Catholic teaching about homosexuality and contraception is carved in doctrinal stone and can't be changed. The media have bought into a mindless dualism which keeps parroting what is essentially a line prepared for them by the hard right within the church: that doctrine cannot and will not change, and that what is under discussion right now at the top levels of the church is a pastoral shift rather than a doctrinal shift.

But anyone with even the most passing acquaintance with the history of the Catholic church knows that doctrine can and does change, and that it has always changed over the course of the long history of the church, often because the practice, the lived discipleship, of lay Catholics forces change at the top of the church. And that the teachings about sexual morality are not graven in stone, that they are not doctrine in the sense that affirming the shared humanity and divinity of Christ is doctrine . . . . 

The media in the U.S., including the so-called liberal media, allow people like Cardinals Burke and Pell to dictate the way in which the discussion of what's taking place in the Catholic church is framed as a battle between unchanging truth and louche mercy. With no critical insight at all into how they are being played and with no critical pushback, the American media permit people like Burke and Pell to assert over and over, creating a false meme, that the battle underway at the top level of the Catholic church right now is a battle about preserving Catholic truth against attempts to undermine this truth in the name of false mercy. 

But the most fundamental truth of all at the very foundations of Catholic doctrine is that God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them. This truth, about which the defenders of the so-called unchanging truth about sexual issues have little or nothing to say, does not allow us to play "the" Truth, as in historically conditioned Catholic teaching about contraception or homosexuality, against what is at the very base of the Christian life — love. A base that is obscured for many people both inside and outside the Catholic church by the very people who claim that they are all about preserving Catholic "Truth" right now . . . .

Many of the journalists in the English speaking world, including Catholic ones, writing about these matters are simply dismally informed, when it comes to the history of the church, its teachings, and matters theological. They should not be taking mindless talking paoints from the hard political and religious right.

(I'm grateful to Michael Iafrate for sharing this article with me and others at Facebook.)

The photo of Massimo Faggioli is from his webpage at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), where he's an assistant professor of theology.

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